Friday, 8 June 2012

Social media; time waster?

Social media seems to be here to stay, irrespective of which platforms or systems are in vogue, and is becoming the primary way many people find the information they need. Information professionals therefore need to get to grips with it, according to no lesser a personage than Phil Bradley, CILIP President; whether to be able to give advice on which systems and how to use them to patrons or to use them to find or track information for your users. 

Out of the many systems currently in use, the two that I most commonly hear the cry ‘I can’t see the point of using them’ about are LinkedIn and Twitter. The former generally because ‘it’s just an online CV’ and the latter because ‘it’s just silly gossip’. I feel that this is a bit like a librarian of 20 years ago dismissing Dialog ‘because it’s too hard to remember all the different stuff it’s got in it’ and trying to use hard copy reference books instead. 

While anything new can seem daunting, social media is easy to access, user friendly and intuitive to use and above all forgiving, so any initial uncertainty in what you’re ‘supposed’ to be doing won’t cause any comment and in fact will probably go unnoticed. So what can these two social networks offer? Are they a waste of time or a useful resource? 


I use Twitter as a newsfeed, to keep track of interesting articles, seminars & conferences. I also use it to keep up to date with issues in the industry, and what people are talking about, as well as to have discussions with people (eg recently there have been chats going on about whether / what hobbies and interests to put on your CV, whether ‘personal branding’ is a good thing or not, and about CILIP’s policy on volunteers replacing paid staff). 

It’s also great to be able to ‘meet’, read the ideas of, and talk to, people I would probably never get to meet ‘in real life’. It’s a good way to test out your own ideas, too, and see if people agree or have a different view, as well as to ask for help! 

Of course Twitter can be ‘full of silly gossip’ – but only if you just follow the sorts of people that only have inane chatter about celebs, etc, to offer! To realise all the benefits I’ve listed, simply follow some of the very many engaged and interesting library, information and records management people already using Twitter to share information. No one minds if you ‘lurk’ for a bit (I hate that word, so many negative connotations, but it seems to be the one that’s come to mean hang about and read what’s going on), but my guess is that pretty soon someone will say something that you really agree with (or vehemently disagree with) and you’ll just have to reply to their comment! 


LinkedIn I am more ambivalent about. It has very high Google rankings, so if you are ever likely to be changing job or hoping for promotion it’s good to have a decent profile on there, so someone doing a search will see at least one positive online mention about you. It’s also very useful when you’re going for interviews to find out more about the person/people you’ll be meeting. LinkedIn also has an active discussion community for the library sector that revolves around the Groups. CILIP, SLA, BIALL and many other associations have Group pages on LinkedIn – and the incredibly successful LIKE started life as one. 

On the other hand, as soon as you join a group, you find your email inbox rather deluged with update emails. It’s possible to set these to periodic digests, but if you belong to several groups even these can get irritating. There is also the need to keep your profile updated, and the fact that you may get connection requests from people you don’t really know or want to know. 

Of course these are only two of the many social networking tools out there, and I’m often asked how I keep track of everything and avoid getting overloaded. 

Here’s how I organise my work – this may help some people or not be a good fit for others, feel free to pick and chose whichever bits work for you! I generally have several browser tabs open at once (two email accounts, Twitter, Google Docs, Blogger, etc) and switch between them all the time. In fact most of my work is browser-based now, rather than in ‘offline’ packages like Word. For Twitter I tend to let a bunch of tweets build up and then skim read through all of them, clicking on links to interesting looking articles and responding to any that catch my eye or where I feel I can add something useful to the discussion. For LinkedIn I tend to only log in every now and then, either to post something to share or to look at others’ updates for links to discussions that look interesting. 

It does take a bit of self discipline not to keep peeking *every* time that little (1) pops up next to Twitter in the tab header! It’s the same as email though – I think it’s good to switch off the ‘new mail’ ping and only look at your emails once every half hour or hour or whatever, and deal with those in batches too. That gives me a chance to focus on whatever I’m doing in sensible blocks of time. 

This blog is my contribution to the LIKE Ideas Conference Blog Carnival.

Here are details of the LIKE Ideas Conference event. 

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