Why libraries should proactively scan Twitter & the web for feedback - some examples

I have shared in the past techniques that allow you to be aware of what users are saying about your library online. By using free tools, one can easily set up a system that alerts you in real time when your library is mentioned and gives you the opportunity to respond immediately if you wish. (See Twitter scan techniques and Facebook scan techniques).

Twitter is the main channel one should scan, but monitoring the web as a whole (Facebook, YouTube, Popular forums) using google alerts is also quite important.

So what type of information do you get from such scans? Are users happy when you respond to them almost immediately online?

To do this, I have decided to post tweets, blog posts etc I have found online from such scans in my own work for my institution.

I will only post public tweets, updates or blogs, and will blur out avatar pics and nicks. Obviously with some work you can still work out who was the author, but I believe as everything is public, there shouldn't be any privacy concerns anyway.

In most of the cases below, tweets were found by users that drew my attention to things I need to know about the library. They were usually not directed to the library Twitter account directly but were found using scanning techniques mentioned in earlier posts.

Complaints about library service

When users are unhappy about your service, they don't necessarily email or even tweet you. It's a truism that for every 1 negative comment you do get, there might be more from users who don't bother to contact you about their unhappiness but instead voice their unhappiness in public, and increasingly these days it means posting on Blogs, Facebook or Twitter.

As you will see in examples below, in almost every case, users were pleasantly surprised and delighted when the library noticed their unhappiness and responded with solutions or workarounds.

Here are some complains I picked up and responded to.

Surprised and delighted users

The library holds the responsibility of uploading "e-reserves" (electronic copies of readings placed online by professors).

I spotted the above tweet and tweeted the user asking which course he was talking about. The user kindly explained that the professor promised that the reading would be up by noon and it was past noon.

It was just before the start of the term, and the library department in charge was swamped, but a quick email and my efficient colleagues managed to get it up almost immediately. The response from the user can be seen below.

Clearly the user was very pleased, and couldn't stop raving about it. This led another 3 of his followers (themselves fairly influential with 1K followers) to inquire why and what the twitter account url was, and they themselves eventually followed and retweeted.

Similar kudos can be seen below from another user who made a request/wish on Twitter. I spotted it and made sure his request/wish went to the correct authorities. Though we ultimately could not fulfill his request , he was still nevertheless impressed

Server issues

Another thing I noticed about scanning Twitter alerts is that whenever our server is down, Tweets about it start appearing almost immediately. We were having a spate of problems with this, for a month or so and whenever that occurred, Twitter would light up with complaints.

I've selected these 3 representative tweets

In the first case it was a scheduled disruption but the student stated that it was not a good time as it was the day just before the one week break ended, and students were rushing to finish their assignments.

In the other cases, I was able to assist them, tweeting workarounds, in particular while the front page did not work, one could still go directly to our library catalogue and access electronic resources (which was what most people wanted anyway).

It is important to note that most of these tweeting did not tweet directly to the official Twitter account, even though many of them followed our Twitter account. This is where proactive scanning of Tweets is very powerful and you can head off problems even if they don't come directly to you.

The users were obviously very grateful. Here's a small sample of tweets.

Recently I spotted the tweet below. Basically it was the exam period and the library was more crowded than usual, and as a result there were not enough bins. The user even kindly linked to a photo showing the situation.

I alerted my colleague and by the next day we had extra bins just in case.

We also tend to get complains or queries about the temperature in our library, both directly or indirectly (picked up via scans)

Besides the fact that people have different sensitivity to temperature, the air conditioning is also centrally controlled, so it takes some time to adjust but users are appreciative, when we manage to do it.

Interesting enough, when one user asked another why he was following the official twitter the account, you can see the awesome answer below.

Breaking events

We open part of the library for 24 hours during the examination period as a service for students who want to study. During this period, the library is manned only by student assistants. I was at home relaxing, when an alert was sent to my phone about this tweet.

Apparently, one of the water pipes burst! The person tweeting even kindly linked to a photo.

This was not the only tweet of course, I even got a tweet to the official Twitter account asking if this was really happening! Most tweets were semi-humorous, including one joking update wondering where Spiderman was... (a joking reference to this incident)

In fact, not only was there a photo, but someone also recorded a video of it, which was duly picked up in a google scan.

Fortunately, when we called to check, it was only a minor incident affecting only one of the sprinklers, but nevertheless it could have being worse.

Help needed

I've being trying to proactively find users who tweet about needing help but tweeted not directly to the library. The idea was to find people tweeting about EndNote, citation management, needing databases or articles for assignments and to proactively step in and help. In practice currently while I have detected border line cases, very few are full blown examples.

There was one example when a user Tweeted something along the lines of "Help! How do I use the electronic resources on the NUS library portal". I responded of course. Interestingly enough, another Twitter account run by another University department actually retweeted that cry of help and directed to me as well. This would have being helpful, if my scans had somehow overlooked this.

BTW the reason why I'm not showing this tweet is because since then the user has chosen to make his account private.

Some other tweets I received included the tweet below needing help to set up his Mac to the print release service stations. Eventually, this also led to a discussion about the databases he should use for his business assignment.

I've also received/spotted tweets complaining about noise levels, food issues and questions about loan policy.

Below is an unusual tweet by user pointing out that the noise level in the library is actually roughly 40 decibels instead of the targeted 20. When asked how he measured , he pointed out that there were free and paid iPhone apps that measured sound levels in decibels!


There is some evidence that compared to blogging tweeting tends to yield more positive comments (determined via sentiment analysis). The theory seems to be that blogging requires a lot of effort so naturally only the most unhappy customers would make the effort to blog and hence a selection effect would lead blogs to be generally negative in nature.

On the other hand, tweets tend to take less effort to tweet, and hence users are as likely to tweet about positive issues as to negative issues.

Here are some comments I picked up via Facebook/Twitter generally praising the strength of the library collection both print and electronic. Remember these compliments were all unsolicited and most were not directly communicated/tweeted to the library account.

Clearly, students love our electronic resources!

Beyond Twitter

While Google alerts in my experience tends to give more false hits, it is still important to monitor them. I can relate 2 cases. In the first, a user posted a blog post with the provocative subject
"Getting irritated at the incompetence of NUS departments"

The library was mentioned and we responded and helped to resolve the situation. The user stated he was satisfied with the responsiveness of the library.

In another case, my scans spotted a user who was unhappy about the poor usability of NUS webpages, particula... and mentioned this in a blog.

As it happens we are aware of the problem and was in the midst of doing usability testing for a new portal design and it made sense for us to invite him to assist. The user was delighted and was eager to help.


This blog post just provides a sample of some of the gains received from a proactive scan of the web.
For privacy and space reasons, I've left out some other transactions that are probably even better examples.

While the library Twitter account currently only has a modest number of followers as it is currently only in the piloting stage and has not being officially advertised yet (it's not even linked to the library portal page yet), this alternative/complimentary technique of using Twitter seems to be surprisingly effective.

By proactively scanning for stories about user negative experiences and quickly responding, the library can use this technique as an excellent service recovery tool.

Like what you just read? Find more awesome posts by me at my official blog at http://musingsaboutlibrarianship.blogspot.com/

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