Week 4 -Social Networking: Facebook #23thingscity

This is the first week where I’ve written one the “things” mine is the cool extra thing – Facebook. A week about social networking and Facebook is only a cool extra? I hear you ask. Well, it was felt we couldn’t ignore Facebook but we were also aware that some people have good reasons not to join and others wouldn’t want their work world venturing into their private/facebook world. So we have suggested people look at how other libraries have used Facebook. I am wondering what the thoughts will be …

Library and university presence on Facebook always makes me think back to Facebook’s early days and the theory that students didn’t want their studying life to intrude into their social space. They wanted to keep the two separate, logging on to VLEs for study and Facebook for fun. I am wondering how true this still is? 18 year old students today have been using Facebook/Bebo/Myspace for almost all their teenage years so are the divisions still there?

Interest in Facebook and formal university connections has existed since its beginning. Possibly because of its roots as a university communication network unlike MySpace and Bebo. Research from Nicole Ellison at Michigan State University in December 2007 suggested 79-95% of all undergraduates had Facebook accounts. I have no idea what today’s precentage would be but it probably is similar.

What I find interesting is why and how different people use Facebook. I use it a lot. I use it to keep in touch with friends and family near and far, I play scrabble on it (again with friends and family near and far), I arrange events with it and I have reconnected with friends from the past. I know people who have committed “facebook suicide” and I know people who have very strong privacy settings. I also know people who are far too open and seemingly live a virtual life at the expense of a real one. I think some of my friendships and connections have strengthened because of it but also sometimes you realise you have little in common with people beyond the setting you know them in.

I recently saw what can happen when people from different areas of your life collide on Facebook. I posted a link to a story connected with a close friend’s brother. I knew the whole story but the article didn’t tell it all (more here). Two friends ( ex- colleagues) then commented on it without much regard for the feelings of those involved. For a few hours I felt that I was in the crossfire of an argument with people feeling very hurt. I defended my friend and her brother but I didn’t remove what my other friends said because while I disagreed with them I do believe everybody’s entitled to an opinion. I hope my subsequent comments (if they read them properly) calmed things down properly and possibly informed them of the facts. It was a reminder that Facebook isn’t just a medium removed from real life but very much part of my life where people can reveal sides of themselves that make them seem a little less than I thought they were but also reminded me how strong my other friend is. This could have happened in a discussion in the pub but the record of the exchange remains on Facebook whereas in the pub nobody could keep going back over it.

Returning to the more professional aspects of Facebook. There was an article on the Guardian website which highlights the dificulties faced by universities in maintaining contact with students and controlling their image. Students can discuss courses, universities and even slag off the library’s fines. It seems that despite the early boundaries it is essential that all university libraries have a presence in social networks not least Facebook.

Looking through the pages I found for this week’s post it is clear students are interacting with the university presence on Facebook more than they used to. One post on the University of Sussex page shows the way that students are using Facebook to interact with their library:

Susex Facebook Post
Post from Sussex's Facebook

Previously this student would have had to find someone to complain about the heat but instead he could just post on the page. However the pages aren’t hugely popular. The British Library leads the field with 32,991 likes but Harvard lags well behind with a mere 110 (ironic as that is where Facebook started). Of the university libraries listed Brunel is the most popular with 1068 likes. It makes me wonder if the lack of interest is because students aren’t interested or if the pages aren’t interesting enough. Should we look at how companies use Facebook? I think we need a presence there because people look for us there but it needs to be interactive and not just because other people have done it.

Maybe Twitter is a more natural place for libraries to give out information? Orkney Libraries have only 837 likes on Facebook but on Twitter they have a big following of 3278. I can’t instantly explain why this is.

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