text on a magnetic board that reads "whisper in the library not today"

It’s a common misconception that word of mouth is “organic”: that it just happens; but this belief negates the agency required for word of mouth (WOM) to be successful. WOM requires antecedents: specifically, customer commitment, trust, and customer satisfaction, according to one meta-analysis of 60 years of WOM research (Lang and Hyde 2013). These positive traits need to exist prior to WOM marketing efforts, which can be either direct or indirect and produce both positive and negative affective, cognitive, and behavioral effects on customers.

It is the role of the outreach librarian to play three leadership roles vis-a-vis WOM marketing: building the foundation; indirectly managing WOM; and directly managing WOM.

Building the foundation requires working with all units within the library to ensure high-quality service, collections, and programs, and then aligning external messaging with that expectation of quality. Indirect WOM management involves much of the usual promotional work that raises awareness of the library (e.g., videos, blog posts, and testimonials), but also includes work that encourages student-staff relationships (e.g., student engagement activities, meet-and-greet events, student advisory boards). Direct WOM management involves far more targeted work, including paid testimonials, viral marketing, rewards for sharing library content, and student ambassador programs.

I would hazard to guess that outreach librarians spend most of their time on indirect WOM management, not enough time on building the foundation, and almost no time on direct WOM management (the latter for lack of funds no doubt). 

We are at a distinct advantage being on a college campus. While colleges are not completely closed information systems (cf. Chatman’s seminal work on information sharing in prisons), messages can get trapped within the system even when the nodes (i.e. students) swap out every four years. Like any pseudo-insular organization, ideas that develop on campus can linger long after their initial spark. This is word of mouth. Moreover, we have a captive audience. So while our ideas have to compete with many other units on campus, we are somewhat shielded by the marketing influences of the off-campus world. 

So when something spreads “word of mouth” on a campus, don’t be too quick to attribute it to the innate qualities of the message or the nature of the service, collection, or program you’re promoting. Instead, consider the foundation that has already been established and how you might continue to actively maintain that foundation into the future. This is the work of the outreach librarian.


Chatman, E. A. (1999). A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American Society for information Science, 50(3), 207-217.

Lang, B., & Hyde, K. F. (2013). Word of mouth: what we know and what we have yet to learn. Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, 26, 1-18.

image credit: Charles Hackley Agency on Flickr, cc-by 2.0

burning star in space

It’s a mad world. Mad as Bedlam.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Trifles make the sum of life.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I don’t run the social media account for my university, but I do oversee the accounts hosted by the library. As Head of Outreach and Engagement, managing the various external (i.e., campus facing) channels is part of my portfolio. This is of course in addition to research and service, collection development, faculty liaison work, leading a department, and all the other “normal” academic librarian duties. Social media is only a tiny fraction of how I spend my time. 

That said, a recent article by the Chronicle, “This is One of the Loneliest Jobs on Campus” by Megan Zahneis made me feel seen. But before I get into it: have you said thank you to your social media manager yet today? Have you told them how much you respect and appreciate their work? Have you given them a bottle of wine? Go do that first. I’ll wait.

Drink bleach and die

“To manage an institution’s social-media accounts is to act as its voice to hundreds of thousands of people, and to take in those people’s thoughts, questions, and complaints in real time.”

When things are going well, you can feel like you’re on fire. The excitement of developing new content (yarr!), seeing people fall in love with it, watching engagement numbers rise… all of that can be thrilling. But just as quickly it can turn sour. I once posted an image of a new book from our popular reading collection that was about Trump’s legal troubles: I immediately found myself the target of MAGA trolls. They were not even our students! That didn’t make it any easier to read. I’ve internalized negative reviews of my organization, even though I know that’s absurd. When you’re the one creating and pushing out all the messaging, it’s difficult not to take it personally. 

Keys to the brand

“[Social media accounts are] the keys to your brand. Surprisingly often, those keys are held by a single person.”

In one survey cited, 48 percent of respondents were the sole individuals running social media accounts for their uni. Another 35 percents were on teams of two. While the article didn’t mention it, I would bet those 35% are much happier and well-adjusted than the other 48%. There’s solidarity in teams, not to mention the comfort in knowing that it’s not all on you to figure out. Creating content daily that is engaging, unique, up-to-date, and useful is … painfully difficult work. I’ve been doing this type of work for almost a decade, but even I have days where I’m at a complete loss for ideas. More often, though, it’s the lack of time that’s the killer.

I have been advocating for an assistant to my position for years, specifically someone with a few years experience creating content for the web. As the article notes, most of the people doing this work [well] are not 18-year olds and interns: they are professionals who have been working in higher ed social for years. Understanding internet culture, knowing how to critically follow and examine trends, being able to create content that matches the platform and algorithm you’re posting to, and being able to do all that within the limits of your institution’s mission and branding guidelines: that takes skills, knowledge, and experience. In an academic library setting, moreover, you also need to juggle the overlapping context of our own professional standards/expectations for how libraries “do” social media. 

“[Social media managers] are the Swiss Army knives of a college’s public-outreach apparatus, often incorporating copywriting, photography and videography, graphic design, marketing, and public relations into a day’s work.”

Collaborating from Day 1

“Our team — including social media — is involved at the outset of any planning, including the strategy for releasing those plans,” [Wilson] wrote.

I cannot count the number of times colleagues have come to me and said “Hey, we’ve just [done this thing]. Can you get the word out on social?” As if taking a photo and writing some copy is all you need to “get the word out.” Sure, I can do that, but it’s a waste of my time and won’t get you the outcome you think it will. Instead, as the person quoted above notes, loop in your social media leads from the start. Include them in the initial planning meetings. For most projects, if I’m involved from the beginning, I can develop a much more robust and interesting promotional campaign.

Or I can just Tweet about it.

image credit: European Space Agency on Flickr, cc-by 2.0

“When we, as educators, allow our pedagogy to be radically changed by our recognition of a multicultural world, we can give students the education they desire and deserve. We can teach in ways that transform consciousness, creating a climate of free expression that is the essence of a truly liberal arts education.”

–bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

A Guide for Resisting Edtech: the Case against Turnitin, by Hybrid Pedagogy

There is so much to unpack here, but this was my favorite part: “Plagiarism detection services ‘undermine students’ authority’ over their own work; place students in a role of needing to be ‘policed’; ‘create a hostile environment’; supplant good teaching with the use of inferior technology; violate student privacy.”

(via @agwieckowski) While reports of any thing’s death are always greatly exaggerated, the demise of the college degree, at least in the estimation of employers, does worry me. I’m not surprised that it could come to this. IHE’s created a market for alternative forms of accreditation the minute they started using graduate hireability as a rubric for success. However, should IHE’s find ways to illustrate the benefits of a degree that go deeper than employable skills and can successfully market those benefits, they just might stick around to see the 22nd century. I’m still putting money into a college fund for Aletheia.

Academic libraries are becoming more than adjuncts to their home institutions with the increase of interdisciplinary research institutes, but that essential role, as adjuncts, is still at the core of everything we do. It also reminds me that I need to read WBT’s book.

“Because academic libraries are adjuncts to the institutions they serve, philosophizing about libraries is also philosophizing about higher education, specifically about the origin and purpose of research universities and the effect they have had on higher education and academic libraries […] Academic librarians are trying to support a scholarly mission to create better human beings and a better society through the creation of knowledge in all areas. That’s why we do what we do. There are worse jobs to have.”

Source: Library Journal

“Perhaps in the futility of undergraduate careerism lie the seeds of a new vocational outlook in higher education. It is worth remembering that monasteries were the first institutions in the West that allowed people to explore options beyond the circumstances into which they were born. […] Why not bring together a core group of serious-minded but underemployed academics—who already have adopted a life of poverty, more or less—to form a college that has none of the superfluities that have made higher education the equivalent of a four-year Carnival cruise?”

Source: “Getting Medieval on Higher Education” by Thomas H. Benton, the Chronicle of Higher Education.