Earlier this year the Law Library of Congress (LLC) published its Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2011-2016 (Strategic Plan, 2011). The Plan includes substantial content for the development of LLC’s social media presence. This post will provide a brief analysis of the social media strategies that are a part of the LLC’s Strategic Plan, as well as this author’s opinion of how LLC’s social media presence has worked to market and brand their services.
Social Media and Public Law Libraries in General – A Quick History
A quick search of Facebook and Twitter for “law library” returns a slew of accounts for academic law libraries, but much fewer for public law libraries. Historically, governmental agencies have forbidden employees from accessing social media sites through agency computer terminals (Law and Technology [LTRLP], 2009). To enforce these policies, agencies have gone so far as to use Website blocking software on employee computer terminals (LTRLP, 2009).
Promise lies in a trend among governmental agencies supporting the use of social media (Chief Information Officers Council [CIOC], 2009). The federal government announced its decision to “embrace social media technology” in September, 2009 (CIOC, p. 6). As a result of this policy shift, LLC was able to initiate its own social media initiative beginning in late 2009 (Sellers and Webber, 2011).
LLC’s 2011 to 2016 Strategic Plan
Breaking the mold of public law libraries, LLC has held a social media presence for several years, including a blog, accounts with Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube, as well as a shared presence with the Library of Congress on iTunes (Sellers and Webber, 2011). However, LLC recently announced an increased reliance upon social technologies in its Strategic Plan. There, LLC reported that it will utilize social media to achieve two of the four Goals comprising the Plan (Strategic Plan).
Goal 1 of the Plan, LLC seeks to “Provide authoritative research, analysis, and information to the Congress; offer research and legal services to the U.S. Federal Courts and Executive Agencies; and provide reference services to the public (Strategic Plan, p. 6).” To achieve this LLC proposed to increase staff roles for participation in social media initiatives and place links to the organization’s various initiatives throughout its Web pages by September 30, 2011 (Strategic Plan, p. 10). Additionally, annual reviews are scheduled to evaluate the potential of new and existing social networking opportunities to help LLC achieve Goal 1 and align it with Library of Congress Partners (Strategic Plan, p. 10).
Goal 4, “Manage proactively for demonstrable results,” also includes the use of social media for achievement. There, LLC seeks to encourage social networking in order to “establish, maintain, and engage professional networks worldwide (Strategic Plan, p. 17).”
Social Media and Marketing
LLC was founded in 1832 to serve the information needs of Congress and the Supreme Court (Strategic Plan, p. 7). As time passed, its patron base grew. Today LLC serves executive branch agencies, the judiciary, law practitioners and researchers, students, foreign government officials, and the general public (Strategic Plan, p. 4). With such a broad audience, LLC must market its services using as many tools as possible. While one patron may enjoy the brevity and informal nature of Facebook or Twitter, another may favor the more traditional full-length article format of LLC’s In Custodia Legis: Law Library of Congress blog.
Regardless of which format a patron prefers, all content is easily accessed through the LLC homepage. Links to each social media outlet are prominently placed on every LLC page, in both the left index column and the footer. In addition, patrons can opt to have LLC content sent directly to them through subscriptions to the site’s many RSS feeds. Even LLC’s iTunes and YouTube channels offer free subscription options to interested patrons.
The variety of ways in which LLC makes its content available to patrons are a strength of the Library’s marketing plan. Even though content may often be the same from one LLC outlet to the next, each one permits a different level of interaction. For example, patrons are unable to comment on content on the LLC Webpage, YouTube, and iTunes accounts. However, the same content posted to LLC’s Facebook page, blog, and/or @LawLibraryofCongress Twitter account allow, and even encourage, patrons comments. The blog also allows users to customize their experience by selecting from the “Categories” tabs along the left side of the screen. These tabs can be used to limit posts to specific types of content. A person interested only in congressional content can select the “Congress” tab, thereby limiting viewable material to that subject.
I mentioned above that content among LLC social media outlets is generally the same. There are a few exceptions. First, LLC’s Webpage and blog both post unique legal research guide content. Second, the blog also contains distinct posts from guest authors, including analysis of recent industry events, book reviews, and interviews. Lastly, LLC’s @Thomasdotgov Twitter account is entirely devoted to updates from the U.S. legislative information system, THOMAS. @Thomasdotgov posts are limited to links to bills and resolutions, information on congressional activity and schedules, committee information, and guides specific to locating federal government documents. These content exceptions are good examples of how LLC’s social media marketing reaches all of the Library’s patron groups, without overtly favoring one group over another.
Social Media and Branding
LLC’s brand is largely established by its affiliation with the federal government and its mission to provide legal information to Congress and federal courts. LLC’s brand is also influenced by its association with the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress. Together, these relationships make LLC the leading US law library authority and potentially the leading law library authority worldwide.
LLC’s leading image is furthered by its online exposure. By creating social media content, LLC has expanded the number of forums from which patrons may access content. Across these online forums, the authority of the LLC brand is consistently supported. Content among LLC’s numerous social sites is professional, containing information of interest to the Library’s patron base in well-organized formats.
In my opinion, LLC’s adoption of social media reflects the organization’s commitment to placing information content where patrons find it most convenient. It also shows that LLC is open to patron interaction with that content. Lastly, the strong involvement of LLC staff in the Library’s social media presence reflects a softening of the brand to some extent. The voices of LLC staff as they are “heard” through the various social media outlets humanize an organization that, up until now, was just a big law library.
Room for Improvement
As I have discussed, LLC’s social media presence softens the brand’s image, making it more of a place people want to be, rather than a place they have to be. I believe LLC could further this image makeover by exploiting the personalities of the staff a bit more. This could be done in a manner that does not threaten the Library’s professional image.
LLC posts light-hearted biographies of its blog authors in the About section of its blog (http://blogs.loc.gov/law/about/). This type of content is interesting, as LLC employs a diverse group of librarians, each with a unique background and perspective. Unfortunately, neither the LLC Website or its social media outlets allow patrons to interact to any measurable extent with this attractive group of people. While patrons can post comments through the “comment” link on the blog roll, such a forum all but nullifies spontaneity and personality.
A solution to filling this void might be for LLC to host periodic, live legal topic discussions, research guides, and/or question and answer forums. These live interactions could be hosted by several librarians at a time utilizing an interactive social application such as Skype, Second Life or Google Chat. Librarians could guide conversation and provoke discussion with and among the patrons in virtual attendance. The result would be to add a voice to the Library, creating a real forum for discussion with LLC staff.
Law and Technology Resources for Legal Professionals (2009). Access to social Websites in the Legal Environment – Fall 2009 – Part 1: Survey of law librarians in selected firms, county/state law libraries and law schools.