Pew Research have published a new infographic on the “six structures of Twitter conversation networks“.
Looking at this, I realised that number 6 – the “out-hub and spoke” shape, a “support network” where the organisation responds to complaints and requests – is how I’d always envisaged a successful library Twitter account to be. Lots of conversations, with lots of users, yay! One of our followers tweets a question about 3D biological models and I can share a link of something I saw mentioned at VALA – it feels pretty good (and apparently made him happy too). —But as the text points out, these are still disconnected users.
What I now think might be a better(*) structure for a library Twitter account is something more like number 2 – the “unified” “tight crowd”. That is, where the library isn’t the centre of the universe, using Twitter as yet another medium in which to guard gates. Instead it’s one member of a group of equal members who all just have conversations with each other.
Fortunately this revelation ties in nicely with my unofficial policy of only following back people who are part of the group(s) we want to be part of. (Staff, students, other departments, local community groups.)
This has paid off pretty well because one such group where I work is actively developing a great wee tight-knit network, and by keeping an ear to that conversation we’ve been able to just slip on in. So they were organising a “Twitter for Academics” session and in preparation one of them asked for top tips to share. I said that what you see on Twitter depends on who you follow. Other people said other things. The library’s not just answering a question: we’re taking part in a conversation (which subsequently got storified).
So if you asked me today my top tip for twittering libraries, I’d say: Don’t just try to start conversations. Also find the conversations that are already happening and join in(**).
(*) Someday I need to blog about “good”, “better” and “best”. Short version, I think the words are actually meaningless unless you’ve answered the questions “Good at doing what?” and/or “Good for who?” Note that I’m not actually answering these questions in this post. Really the best structure depends on what your goal is.
(**) This raises as much as ever the question of “When is this proactive community engagement and when is this creepy stalkerish behaviour?” I think you’re safe if the conversation has a hashtag; pretty safe if there are otherwise a large amorphous group of people discussing something; and likely safe if someone is asking a question to the world at large, but you’re going to have to use your own judgement to figure out if they’re actually intending to ask the world at large or just their friends.