One of the things that I love about my job is that it presents an excuse to indulge some of my nerdish interests and pass it off as work. Sometimes one feeds the other and a workish thing becomes a procrastination thing. In any case, a large aspect of my job involves current awareness activities which involves me scanning RSS feeds daily as well as keeping an eye on our corporate Twitter account. (And sometimes making remedial infographics about Twitter, using Microsoft PowerPoint. I know. I hate myself for using PowerPoint too. Point me towards a good user-friendly infographics generator and I will stop. Otherwise, I’ll have to wait for Easel.ly to come out of beta.) So Thing 4, well, it’s my sort of thing.
I never really got Twitter until I started tweeting professionally. Within the first few weeks of my job, I set up a Twitter account for the online specialist library that I was responsible for. The Twitter feed acted as a surrogate for all the related ephemera, flotsam and jetsam that I came across on my scout for content for my online library. If ever there is a perfect medium for ephemera, it’s Twitter. What wasn’t so perfect was that Twitter isn’t readily accessible for those working in the NHS (the NHS networks are notoriously restrictive). You may notice that I used the past tense in that sentence. The NHS contract I work on provided a different service to the one it does now and so when it changed a year ago, the Twitter account died a natural death. (A humane one, I do assure you.)
Since then, I’ve risen like a tweeter from the flames and have been taking the lead on our corporate Twitter account @kingsfund_lib. Previously, the account had been fairly static with Twitter only being used for notices on opening hours (rare); enquiries (rarer); and information product updates (actually fairly frequently but not nearly enough for Twitter).
We started using Twitter as another arm of our current awareness services by automatically feeding through the RSS feed from our current awareness bulletin. This kept our Twitter feed ticking over nicely and provided another way for our audience to keep up-to-date (if your bag is health management and policy. No? Well, I don’t blame you…)
Whilst this has proved moderately successful in terms of encouraging a higher level of engagement from followers (more RTs than previously, for example) I am a concerned that this is a) highly irritating to have @kingsfund_lib flooding you (well, more a steady drip) and b) drowning out other Twitter content from the service.
So drowning not waving is my dilemma at the moment and I’ve recently been involved with writing a guideline for Twitter usage within our team. We’re also looking at expanding out and engaging more with the LIS and Koha community as well as sharing more of the interesting items in our archives (want to know what people ate in hospitals in 1952? We have sample menus. It appears that liver and kidney was offally popular back then. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
I’m also involved with some work on measuring our impact on Twitter. This, like many impact measuring exercises, is a bit of a Holy Grail for services with few tangible measures and deliverables. There are statistical measures which are more nuanced and can paint a better picture than number of followers (as any tweeter knows, about half of your followers are, well, to put it delicately, ladies whose clothes have fallen off). The how of it is not my thing, the dark arts of statistics is beyond me. What I do know is that the Twitter API being open provides you with a host of data if you are technologically able enough to pull it out and it has proven to be an interesting exercise so far. Like anything statty, the data in isolation isn’t as illuminating as the accumulated set which provides more scope for comparison. It has also led to the aforementioned rudimentary infographic efforts on PowerPoint (I may as well have drawn a Venn diagram in crayon to be honest.)
But wait! I’ve made Twitter sound boring when it’s really a marvel and a joy! Yes, it’s great for sharing information and it’s snappy and dynamic. It’s also good for stalking your favourite celebrities (I’m enjoying George Michael and Will Young at the moment. Sadly, only in the sense of Twitter and no other). It’s also great at doing that thing the Internet has done since it’s inception: pictures of kittens; ridiculing the Daily Mail and talking nonsense with your mates about The Avengers. Oh and if you are stuck in traffic crawling towards Trafalgar Square like I am now, you can use it to soothe your ire by searching for more information through other people’s tweets and procrastination, by talking nonsense with your mates about the Avengers.
RSS was another thing that I was aware of when I started my job but never really used. Now I’m a slavering convert with the suspiciously bright eyes of a zealot.
What’s not to like? It’s a great thing, having the Internet come to you (and only the bits of the Internet that you want!) Sometimes, in my more fanciful moments, I liken that being on Google Reader is akin to ruling over a select court and that effectively this makes me queen of a small, dank corner of the Internet.
And yes, I use Google Reader even though I’m not entirely convinced it’s the best thing. Both feed.ly and paper.li are brilliant and aesthetically pleasing aggregators (complete with mobile apps too, nice if you have a smartphone which is at least 10% speedier than my ancient iPhone 3G) but my reliance on other Google products and the subsequent integration of services which arises means that I’m yet to leave Google Reader yet. I’m like one of those girls who knows that her boyfriend is Bad News but doesn’t leave because, well, she just fancies him something rotten. (Disclaimer: I do not fancy Google Reader. Or in fact any other RSS reader. Or any other inanimate thing. Right.)
My interest has been piqued by Storify ever since I started seeing it on The Guardian. I can see why it’s been adopted by online media outlets – it gives you a way of corralling social media into a cohesive narrative. In much the same way that Our Kind exists to help people sort the information wheat from the chaff; I can see that Storify is a tool to help people pull out the narrative from the pulsating mass that is the Internet.
Rather fortuitously, last week brought an opportunity to use Storify (prior to that, I struggled to see how I would be able to use it for work). One of the things that I’ve been working on recently is measuring impact on Twitter. It’s a difficult thing to do and there are various external tools out there which look at this (Klout and Twitterlyzer, I’m looking at you) but if you’ve got an in-house Master of the Dark Statty Arts, then you try and do it better yourself. So, we were looking at monitoring Twitter activity across a hashtag for one of our events and one of the data bundles we wanted to include was all of the tweets using the #kfleadership hashtag. Previously, we had just pulled this data through the API and reformatted it in a Word document. So far, so lo-fi. Then this time, I decided to trial Storify which is not only more efficient from our end but more user-friendly for our audience. (It also looks prettier than a Word document which gains instant points from me).
In terms of pulling a narrative out of all of the disparate bits of the Internet, I’m now thinking of trialling it next for a big news story (social care white paper, I’m looking at you). I’m not sure how well it will work or how easy it will be, but like with any social media tool, you just have to muddle along and try it. You never know, you might even have fun…