Column Description: Being a social media manager can be a daunting task. What's trending? Am I up-to-date on what's relevant and cool? How do I create reels? Is TikTok worth it? So many questions with countless answers. Journey with me into Memeland as I share some of the tips and tricks I've picked up along the way to help you survive the task of being a library social media manager. You can be sure there will also be some pit stops along the way to far-off places like Marketing Mountain and Outreach Beach - so buckle up and prepare for an awesome journey! 

As social media managers, we already put in so much care and forethought when looking to connect with our library communities through social media. When we find ourselves in the midst of a major crisis, whatever it may be (natural disaster, breaking local or world news, a pandemic, etc.), the pressure to post the right message soars. Do we post about items in our collection that relate to the current crisis? Do we post our stance on the issue? Do we continue with our regularly scheduled content? Or do we shudder our account(s) for the day? 

There is one question you should ask yourself before posting anything: will what I post help? 

I think our biggest real-world example right now would be the COVID-19 global crisis. We have been at this for so long now that it might be hard to think back to those early days. How did you handle posting content when the shutdowns started happening back in March of 2020? Here at the University Libraries at UAlbany we paused about all of our planned “fluffy” content and focused primarily on getting information on policy changes out as they became available.

As we moved further away from the shock of what was happening, we began to post content that let our users know that we were still there for them even if our building was physically closed. This content consisted of such things as reminders about in-person services that we pivoted to providing virtually and pictures of librarians working from home with messages of encouragement to our students. Below are eight tips that I have found to be helpful when considering how you or your team will respond on social media during a crisis.

Here are 8 Tips for Posting During a Crisis

  1. Use social media listening and monitoring to stay informed about how your community is reacting to the crisis.
  2. Review, and potentially pause, your social calendar: context is key! A major world event could happen and an upcoming post you have scheduled could now be taken out of context. You want to make sure that what you planned on posting does not now come across as insensitive, tacky, or inappropriate. Worried about the posts you worked so hard on going to waste? Fear not! Just because you may not be able to post something now because of the timing, does not mean that you cannot bank that carefully crafted post for a more appropriate time. You may also just want to revise your calendar to include posts related to current events – i.e. you have a collection that fits well with what is happening (posting books related to the history of insurrections the day after the events at the Capitol in January of 2021 or books on the history of protests during the events of summer 2020). 
  3. Have a social media policy you can refer to: I feel like this one is obvious. Having a defined social media policy is not only good in a crisis, but just in general. A social media policy might also just be a good place to document the steps that you or a social media team might take if a crisis arises. Remember, a good policy is flexible and should include things like emergency contact information (yes, you may encounter an issue with social media that is beyond you or your team), guidance on accessing social account credentials, information on how to identify the scope of a crisis (local, global, will this impact library policies or daily operations?), a plan for internal communications, and a thorough approval process for how you plan to respond. 
  4. Make sure you are aware of your organization’s position: I speak more from a University Library perspective here, but it is imperative that you know where your organization stands before you address anything on your own social channels. I have found it helpful to wait until our university makes an official statement before I decide how to move forward on our channels. It is also a very good idea to run responses to big topics past your library administration. 
  5. Double-check that information you are sharing is timely and correct: information that comes out during a crisis can be very fluid. Always make sure that you are citing credible sources and the most up-to-date information you have from your library administration and/or organization at large. 
  6. Communicate with compassion and honesty: there is a good chance that, given whatever may be going on, your community may be struggling – they could be angry by changes of policy, they could be said that your building had to close because of an illness outbreak. Members of your community are bound to comment on your posts. Make sure that your responses are honest and relate back to why the policies might have changed to adjust to whatever is going on. Be compassionate and make sure that folks feel heard – example: library user:  I don’t understand why the library building is closed. I need to be able to come in and print these forms. Social media team member: I understand the frustration and I know how stressful this can be. Unfortunately, we needed to close our physical buildings due to increases in positive COVID-19 cases in our county. If you send a direct message to our account, I can see what we can do to help you in the interim. Maybe we can find another way for you to print those documents! 
  7. Avoid trends: During the world coming together over the tragic death of George Floyd, we saw some social trends like the social media “blackout” that occurred in June of 2020. There were mixed feelings over that trend – some felt that instead of silence, it could have been a time to share and elevate Black voices. Others talked about how, though the trend was well-intentioned, social tags from the posts clogged up important channels for protestors to get the updates and information they needed to stay safe.  Simply not participating in a trend can avoid any blowback that that trend might have elicited. You never know how something will be taken and just because it is the trendy thing to do does not mean that it is the right thing to do. 
  8. Do not disappear: If you decide that not posting is what you need to do at the moment – and I mean regular content posts – then at the very least make a post letting your community know that you will be taking a break from posting content, but you are still there if folks have questions about resources and services. Sometimes this is needed beyond operating during a time of crisis (do not worry, there will be a future article all about social media management and burnout). 

Amanda M. Lowe is the Outreach and Marketing Librarian at the University at Albany, SUNY. In her role, she serves as a reference librarian and the marketing maven for all three campus libraries. When Amanda is not engaging patrons on social media, you can find her doing all sorts of outreach programming. Her research focuses on library marketing and outreach with a concentration on social media, reference services, and library programming. Amanda has an MLS from the University at Buffalo and a BS in English with a minor in Theatre from Oneonta State College.