Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Reflections on Libraries and Social Networks

I am surprised to find myself out of the technology advocate role, and in the seat of the questioner. Maybe it comes from having spent nearly a year working for a dying local business. Maybe it comes from having just completed my Evaluation of Library Sources and Services class. (Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky like my Hoosier grandfather did at an early age.) Whatever the reason, I’ve rediscovered the feeds I subscribed to via Bloglines, and found a posting on the InfoBlog that has my inner critic rubbing his hands together with glee.
Justin Perkins at has created an online ROI (return on investment) calculator for social network campaigns:

Wonder if you should spend your time campaigning in social networks?

You can use this tool to calculate an estimate of cost and return on investment for the recruitment and fundraising efforts of your staff in social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace. It works sort of like an online mortga
ge calculator. Just enter the starting assumptions in the yellow boxes below and the tool calculates results automatically.

Playing with the amounts in the yellow boxes, it appears that if you just change the Average Direct Donation per friend, each friend would have to donate at least $439 just to break even! And that would not happen until the fourth year! While that assumes a very low donation rate of 0.10%, it does not appear unrealistic. Social networks seem to grow very quickly, if not exponentially. In a study released in July 2007, comScore detailed how Facebook, when it opened its services to the general public in September 2006, saw the number of users grow from 14 million to 26.6 million by May 2007. Since participants can be anywhere in the world, only a very small fraction of a group of “friends” may actually be local. In addition, one must ask how many of those are in a place to make financial contributions of a substantial size. In an earlier study (comScore, October 2006), also by comScore, the authors note:

Visitors to and generally skew older, with people age 25 and older comprising 68 and 71 percent of their user bases, respectively. Meanwhile, has a younger user profile, with 20 percent of its users in the 12-17 age range, about twice as high as that age segment’s representation within the total Internet audience.

Clearly, if we as librarians are to justify time and effort involving libraries in social networks, we must bring the same critical evaluation skills used in selecting traditional library materials (books, etc.) to bear upon this process. What is the goal of becoming involved with X social network? How will we know we are successful? How can we measure this? (Thank you, Dr. Applegate!) Once we get past the “Wow!” of the next new thing, we must ask “How?” and “Why?”.

1 comment:

Mary Alice Ball said...

Wow, you really are an Applegate groupie! :-) I also wonder about the whole social networking thing and librarians' involvement. There clearly seems to be a generation gap. I guess I think that it all comes down to engaging more library users and if social networking can reach new people than it's worth it.