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Monday, February 28, 2011

Lifestreaming and Twitter

The Web has been heading in a new direction for a while now.  No longer are we looking at it with a destination in mind, per say, it has started an evolution towards the customizable, the human content filter.  The Web is slowly becoming more and more platform oriented, where users are able to use services such as Twitter and other lifestreaming software to filter Web content and customize their experience.  As Eric Schonfeld discusses in his blog post, Jump into the Stream, you have to think of the Web as a stream versus pages.  The stream being fluid and constantly changing and the pages being static and updating periodically.

I've had a Twitter account for a couple of years now and have loved using it.  It has become an effective way for me too keep up with some of my family members and friends, while also becoming a source of news and information.  For news and information I read or scan the tweets like I would the headlines of a newspaper or a national news website.

Besides my personal use of Twitter, it has significant applications for libraries.  This is especially true for the immediate and distant future and libraries will need to become experts in lifestreaming technologies in order to maintain their relevancy within their respective communities.  In order to unlock the potential of the Twitter libraries only need initially use it for advertising their services and events.  The next step for libraries is to use it to 'connect' with their patrons by interacting with them.  This interaction will establish a library's sphere of influence within the lifestreaming realm and within the attention of patrons using Twitter-like technologies.

A couple of blogs and wikis that mention using Twitter and similar technologies for 'connecting' with patrons and extending the libraries' services via these trending mediums are Twittering Libraries, How Your Library May Not be Using Twitter But Should, and Twitter Update and how I was able to exploit the latest social networking site without really trying.  All of these posts have wonderful, ingenious suggestions on how to use Twitter and and RSS to further a library's reach and stay relevant to their patrons.

One of my favorites is creating a blog devoted to aggregating RSS feeds and Twitter posts by the library.  This way patrons only need to subscribe to the library's blog with their RSS aggregator and the library filters the content for them.  This would undoubtedly cut back on the amount of maintenance needed for the blog and tweeting new content only takes minutes, the process is automated.  Another great idea was to create a library Flickr account to be tied to Twitter so a library could tweet events happening at that time with text and images.

Twitter and technologies like, not to mention all the third party applications that have been developed to enhance Twitters usefulness and experience are here to stay.  As one blogger has written, I cannot think of their name now, the 'stream' is the next layer of the Web, the third layer and it is in its infancy.  This new layer will bring new innovations and more opportunities for libraries to extend their services and relevancy.  The ride should be interesting, ... hang on!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

RSS and the Possibilities

Recently, I had the chance to briefly talk to the Director of Library Systems at WSU Libraries, where I work, about how WSU Libraries use RSS feeds.  We were both sitting in the same supervisory training session and he was able to show me on his smart phone.  Not surprisingly, I had been using RSS feeds every time I loaded the library’s web page or used its vast collection of Libguides and had not realized it.  The director mentioned that his department also used RSS within the Washington Digital Archives of the Washington State Library system for monitoring the archive’s most recent additions and other system updates.  We did not get to discuss the topic much more, since our training was starting soon, however it did manage to pique my interests more than they already were.

I took a closer look at the Washington Digital Archives Web site also noticed that the site offers an RSS feed to its site visitors for the latest news regarding the archives.  But that was all that was available for users.  It was still great to see how that site used it.

All this, along with the materials I read for class this week, made me think about how I did not realize I had been consuming information via RSS for a while now.  The push and pull nature of RSS has a passive nature to it, when considering it as information being consumed on a library’s portal or homepage.  Users are not necessarily aware they are using it or aware of its presence.  That is one of the most appealing aspects of the technology, users do not need to have an awareness or a high degree of technical know-how in order to use it to consume the information it provides.

This is mostly true for those information creators as well who want to use RSS as a way to update their users quickly and with the least amount of hassle.  For instance, free RSS softwareis available for bloggers and webmasters alike that generates the javascript code needed for embedding in a webpage to provide the content from another page.  One site is rss-to-javascript.

I feel like m eyes have been opened even wider than before, because of the seemingly infinite ways RSS can be use, and not just for libraries.  One of the articles I read this week for this blog post was “35 Ways you can use RSS,” by Steve Rubel, which was written in 2006, so I’m sure there are even more ways RSS has been implemented since then.  Some noteworthy uses mentioned in his list were “get the tides for virtually any coast in the world,” “identify key blog phrases or themes”, and “track the latest uses of RSS.”  

I had used RSS before and was aware of how to subscribe to blogs and other Web sites using an aggregator, but I was not aware of the multitude of other ways to use this technology for libraries or otherwise.  I learned that not only can RSS be used by librarians to keep their patrons up to date on new materials at the library, but it can also be used by library patrons to stay on top of changes to library database subscriptions (via Libguides or otherwise), to gather content and information from other Web sites for library patrons to consume, and it can be used to alert patrons of changes to their library account (overdue books and fines) or that third parties provide ‘hack’ RSS software for library patrons to gain access to their library accounts at libraries that do not already provide the software, such as LibraryElf.

I’m sure there is much more out there for me to learn about RSS and how it can be effectively used by libraries.  The different ways RSS can be used seem to be endless, there are many possibilities.  My own awareness has been heightened by what I’ve learned this week and I am excited to learn more.
For anyone still not sure about how RSS works, I found a short video on (3:45) explaining how to use the great technology.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Impressions of Successful Blogs

There are so many blogs to read on so many subjects.  Meredith Farkas states in her book there were 5 million blogs in existence at the end of 2004, which was almost five times larger than the number at the beginning of that year (Farkas, 2007, p.11).  I’m sure that number has exponentially grown since then and there are way too many to keep up with.  But how many of those are considered successful blogs?

I read five blogs this week that are considered successful:

From them I got the impression each author in some way felt connected to the topics they decided to post about.  Also, they seemed to have a certain passion for the topic they were discussing.  Additionally, each blog author discussed their topics from their point of view, whether it was an academic or public librarian or an information consultant.  They each discussed their topics from their perspective and how it was significant to their sphere of influence in a way.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the five blogs.  They each had their own uniqueness and interesting formats.

Farkas, M. (2007). Social Software in Libraries.  Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Blogging, Subscribing, & Success

This week we are studying blogging: what it is, it’s history, the different topics discussed in them, and what characteristics make them successful.   

Differences Between my Instructor’s and My Blog Pics
The differences between the five blogs (In the Library With the Lead Pipe, Librarian’s Commute, The Distance Librarian, Librarian by Day, and David Lee King) from out instructor and the three I picked (The Bamboo Project Blog, SarahGlassmeyer(dot)com, and The Medium is the Message) are mostly subtle.

There are more similarities with them than differences, since most of them all have a wide range of posts.  From Ebooks, reference questions, and goals for social media sites to temporary employee issues, digital literacy portfolios, and technology in general it is all there.  In addition, there are various types of librarians blogging on these sites; librarians at public libraries, academic librarians, and free-lance consultants.  

The one major difference I noticed was the length of the blog posts between our instructor’s and the ones I chose, our instructor’s blogs had much shorter, more to the point posts, with the exception of the In the Library with the Lead Pipe blog.  Some were even a short statement with a list or a list of links for additional information.  This made them more scannable and easier to read.  Another difference I found was that the instructor’s five blogs used more images and videos to supplement their posts than in the three I chose.

The Kinds of Blogs That Hold my Interest
The posts I found most appealing between the eight blogs were the ones discussing technology, patron interactions as the reference desk, and the short synopses of projects and collaborative efforts.  Technology is always exciting and I feel that it is how libraries embrace and use it to their advantage which will dictate the future of libraries.  Plus technology is fun and can be taken apart and repurposed according to a library’s needs.  I work at the reference desk of a large academic library and am constantly keeping my ear to the ground about different and new ways of assisting patrons with their research, such as tiered reference services or different approaches to the reference interview.  I find librarian and patron interactions fascinating, because of all the underlying factors that are at work during the reference interview.  Finally, I greatly enjoy working in a team that has the same vision for the end result of the team’s work and hearing people’s creative ideas.

The 3 Blogs I Chose
Here is a short synopsis of the three library blogs I subscribed to:
1)      The Bamboo Project Blog: As the blog’s banner says it is primarily a blog for “career development, technology, and learning strategies for lifelong personal and professional growth.”  This blog’s author is Michelle Martin, an information professional consultant, and she covers a large range of topics including blogging, wikis, knowledge sharing, and professional development. 

2)      SarahGlassmeyer(dot)com: This blog has a unique format that uses a table to display the titles of each post with a different background color for each.  Sarah Glassmeyer is the sole author of the blog and she is a law librarian.  This blog covers a wide range of topics from open-access and digital legal information to Facebook and mobile.

3)      The Medium is the Message:  This blog was the one with the most straight forward message and consistent topics covered.  It is authored by Eric Schnell, an academic librarian at the Ohio State University Libraries.  There are many posts regarding technology and how it relates to libraries, the author discusses technology trends as well.

Successful Characteristics
Based on the blogs I chose, there are certain factors that make a library blog successful.  Blog success can be measured by looking are readership, trackbacks, and the amount of comments left by readers for an individual post.  This shows community and that there is a discussion developing around the topic being blogged.  Also, keeping blog posts succinct and to the point so that they do not seem long and deter readers from actually reading the post is key.  Additionally, using hypertext links the post adds depth to the content and is one way to cite sources, which gives the post more credibility.

Other factors that help a blog achieve success with regard to appearance and organization are also important.  Using pictures and videos helps supplement the content of the blog post.  Having the broad topics that are covered in the banner of the blog is extremely helpful as well and allows readers to decide almost immediately if they want to read blog or if they should continue looking.  All of these factors contribute to the likelihood of a reader returning to a blog again in the future and the blog's success.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Thoughts on Personal Branding as a Future Librarian

As we have seen through this week’s readings and exercise, personal branding it extremely important for individuals who want to maintain their positive ‘brand’ online. Your identity online is not only the content that your posts, it is also what others who have either interacted with you or your organization have also posted online.

In order to maintain your brand, an individual needs to have a clear idea of how to maintain and manage their brand online using social media. This idea should include what social media or mixture of media technologies will be used and the amount of personal information the individual is willing to share or what specifically the focus of their online brand will be.

As a future librarian, I think that focusing in on professional issues and leaving out most of my personal information would be the best approach. This week’s readings made me think about what kind of personal brand I am portraying online and how I could better engage it and anyone interested in it. Creating a blog would be a great start, I could create posts that are important to me professionally and that will allow me to further research those topics, link to them, and strengthen my brand. Also, creating a profile on Google, as discussed in the readings, would be an extremely easy way to manage the information that is available about me on Google, at least within the first couple of search results. Even more, creating a twitter account and linking to it from my blog will be another great outlet to manage my online brand.

Also, using Twitter, Facebook, and some of the other social media monitoring sites to monitor my personal brand online will help me find and resolve any negative content related to me. This could be the key to finding a job once I graduate from library school, especially if a prospective employer finds content about me that impresses them.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Exercise 1: Branding & Online Social Reputation

What people are saying about Costco

People absolutely love Costco, they could not have better things to say about the national warehouse retailer. Here are some positive posts from twitter:

"Costco is soo cool, It's like USA in a building :D"

"You probably have other way cool stuff that we don't get. We love Costco. It's a fun place!"

However, there are some customers that don’t hold the retailer in high regard according to their Twitter posts:

“I feel fatter and dumber just for walking into Costco.”

"Costco is always fun. I do like samples"

The retailer has mixed reviews on Twitter, from what I saw it was mostly positive.

Interestingly, Costco does not maintain an official Twitter page. There is an unofficial page, Costco_online, which reminds its followers by tweeting that it is not the official feed for the company. However, this feed does boast 5,943 followers.

Costco also has an official Facebook profile. It has a welcome page and others that really add great content and create a positive and inviting atmosphere on the company’s profile. Besides the welcome page, the profile has a wall, info, what’s new, new offers, and terms & use policy page. The terms & policy page is interesting because this is where the retailer solicits feedback, stating that they welcome positive and negative feedback, will adhere to copyright law, and there is a section for Costco employees that would like to post to the profile.

The posts to their FB profile page wall are mostly compliments and thank-you’s from their customers, with a few exceptions. This is the bulk of their social media presence, an official FB profile and multiple un-official Twitter feeds.

In addition to browsing the social media tools I am already familiar with, I used Social Mention to gain a greater understanding of how Costco could at the very least monitor what is being posted to the internet about the company. Mostly there are pictures of people showing which free samples they received while shopping and others have posted their opinions of the products they purchased. Many posts are positive and some are negative. I also used Google Blog Search to see what people were saying about the company. I found many blogs related their products, such as the Costco Wine Blog and the I Love Costco blog. Both are unofficial and have a positive perception of the company.

Costco’s response via social media to user base

Unfortunately, the company does not seem to be actively engaging their customers or users through social media. The extent of their interaction is to allow customers, those that are FB members, to post to their profile wall, but not respond to them. Since it is Superbowl weekend, the company FB status update says, “Hey Sports Fans: how does Costco get your Game Day party started?” Also, the company does not use social media on their own Web site.

I am stunned, to say the least, that Costco doesn’t have a more robust social media strategy. This is because from all indications they have a huge support base to draw from. As we have all seen/read this week, there is much to be gained from using social media to help maintain a company’s brand. Moreover, social media is certainly an efficient way to help quell negative information about the company and develop better customer service and customer satisfaction.

The tools used by Costco for proactive communication

Although there are many social media tools out there, Costco is not proactively communicating with their user base or customers. There apparently is not even an official blog maintained by the company or any of its employees. As can be seen in the Balwani article, 10 of the Smartest Brands in Social Media, it benefits companies greatly to sell their products and interact with their customers by taking full advantage of social media. Costco could learn a great deal from reading this article, paying close attention to number three, soliciting ideas directly from their customer base, and number ten, creating a social media strategy that could greatly increase revenues.

The learning process

I learned much more than I thought I would during this exercise and throughout the readings this week. I found the readings regarding online social reputation and branding enlightening and informative. Browsing and using a few of the brand monitoring services was hugely exciting, since using them is unlike using a regular search engine. They are specifically for monitoring your ‘brand’ and are powerful tools for individuals and companies.

Most importantly, I learned this week monitoring your brand online is important to a company future. Many of the articles provided graphic examples of how not implementing a degree of corporate transparency and engaging your customers can have negative consequences to company’s social reputation and overall their brand.

While I was reading I could not help but think about what content has been posted about my employer or me as an individual. I was forced to think about how corporations perceive themselves, to what degree they proactively communicate to the online community, and how it engages the online community in order to maintain what they feel is their intended identity or brand. Even if the company is not actively using social media to monitor or promote their identity or brand they are still affected by the content posted by other using social media. The rest of the online community can still post content that will affect the company’s standing in the minds of current and potential customers. So whether the company’s overall revenue is affected positively or negatively by the online social content that the company is not aware of, they will still have to change and evolve. It is better for a company to be an active participant in shaping the content online regarding their company by using a social media strategy.