Volunteer Coordination at Libraries: How Social Media Can Help

Editor’s note: Last month, as a part of a unique partnership with California State Library to help boost volunteering at libraries in the nation’s most populous state, VolunteerMatch presented a webinar on Social Media and Volunteer Engagement to an audience of library administrators.

Although the training was tailored to the needs of California libraries, its advice on how to use social media to recruit and coordinate volunteers isn’t restricted to the Golden State. We thought we’d share these best practices with the rest of our network.

By Rebecca Hunt, VolunteerMatch Intern

How can libraries transform themselves, and their communities, through volunteer engagement? A lot will depend on how they reach out, share, and connect with the people in their community!

This webinar looked at how libraries can use social media can effectively engage and attract new volunteers. It explored how social media is changing the way libraries communicate with volunteers and provided an overview of some of the main tools library administrators and volunteer coordinators can use. And it offered ideas for those libraries who are just getting started with social media and, for others, advice on how to maximize their results.

Shhhh…Time to Listen

Importantly, libraries need to listen and share — not just push information out.

That’s because social media allows you not only to disseminate information quickly, but also to monitor and see problems that individuals are having — problems that can be addressed on a case-by-case basis in a way that can then be shared publicly with others who have the same problem.

Social media also allows you to identify crucial supporters and connect with them authentically. They will share your message and a strong voice for the library.

So the benefits of listening and sharing, for libraries, include: support from people who support you, access to new people, feedback on how you are perceived, and instant feedback on services/initiatives.

But How to Engage?

What specifically can libraries do to engage with their communities? For inspiration look online at what other libraries and nonprofits in general are doing. Some strategies include:

  • Post videos on YouTube to introduce the community to your library programs or volunteer opportunities. Creating engaging content will help your community connect to your work and recruit new volunteers.
  • Ask patrons or volunteers to play the staring role in these videos – this is a great way to get your community involved and for them to see their peers participating.
  • Use Twitter as a service –  a quick and easy platform for communicating with your library users and help them reserve books or gain information. Follow others in your cause area and pass along (retweet) any of their Tweets that you find interesting. This will create interest and exposure on your library’s cause or issues.
  • Create an account with Delicious.com and set up a personalized virtual library of content. Users can then search your bookmarks quickly for the information they want.
  • Google Reader is an easy way to subscribe to different blogs and keep up to date with the news that may affect your community.
  • Run competitions or offer free stuff online. It’s a great way to promote your cause and give something back to the community.
  • Save time and money by advertising volunteer opportunities online at VolunteerMatch.
  • Share photos of library events or competitions involving volunteers at Flickr to show the community what your volunteers are up to.
  • Check out Causes on Facebook for volunteer-led fundraising tools and ideas for your library.
  • Create a Facebook group for your library volunteers and post articles, news, events, volunteer opportunities, etc. You can reach a wider audience online via your status feed and show the community what you’re doing.
  • Post your volunteer opportunities as events on Facebook and invite all of your Facebook fans to sign up. This is a great way to recruit volunteers and let technology do the hard work for you.
  • Social media can save you time and effort by creating a standardized message to use across all channels.

Ok, great list of to-dos. But what should libraries be focusing on while doing it?

Know Your Audience

what do they respond to? Make sure you are being useful. Adapt your language and use a conversational tone. Make updates relevant to the audience and time. Avoid posting events that are too far in the future, this information is overwhelming and people don’t plan that far ahead. Get the balance right – don’t post too often or not enough. Don’t cram updates together – instead post small nuggets of information which are easier to digest. Respond to people who make comments.

If your library has never used social media before and is starting from scratch, these pointers are useful:

  • Do some research and find out which platform your audience prefers.
  • Decide what type of audience you have.
  • How much time can you spend on social media? Be realistic and allocate a proportion of your day.
  • Facebook is a good platform to start with. It is the fastest growing social networking site and has a global reach.
  • You can build a community quickly using Facebook without spending too much time on it.
  • And finally – bring it all together. AddThis is a bookmarking and sharing service and a great, free, way to boost traffic back to your site by making it easier for volunteers and prospects to share your content.

Need more help? The VolunteerMatch website lists some helpful resources and trainings that any library volunteer coordinator take, many of which are free. Check out some great blogs and guides on using social media and download our Getting Started with Social Media Guides.

(Photo: Flickr /Santa Teresa Branch Library, San Jose)