Deanna Lee: Social Media and The New York Public Library

Deanna Lee is Vice-President of Communications of The New York Public Library, (NYPL.) Before that she was at the Asia Society and before that she was a Senior Producer at ABC News.

As part of her current role she has been active in extending the reach of the NYPL’s social media presence. In one instance, through her efforts and the efforts of her team the follower account for @NYPL has risen from about 4,000 in January 2010, to over 65,000 as I write at the end of August 2010, seven months later.

I asked her how she did approached the task of managing the NYPL’s online activities.

Making content that really stands out and then very proactively and consciously pushing out all this great content. Because, of course, we are all working in a world that’s very exciting but the sea of content is growing and growing. So how do you make what you do stand out?

First of all it starts with quality content. We all think this is New Media but guess what, not everything in New Media is new. Certain things have never changed. You have to tell a good story that teaches people about things that they otherwise aren’t hearing, that has great, compelling characters that makes a difference in people’s lives and says to them that you need to care about this story because it’s directly related to what is going on with you.

How easy is it to create content?

It’s shockingly easy and that’s the challenge. We work for a big organization, The New York Public Library and to a lot of people there who haven’t been creating their content doing it seems a really daunting thing. My job as a manager is to inspire people and to say, “You’ve got all the goods. You have the great content for stories. You know how to tell the stories and, guess what, making the stories is just not that hard.” And when people start, invariably they find that’s so.

Of course the easier it is for people to make that great content the easier it is for that sea of content to grow. But the challenge to what I call, ‘market it out there,’ is even greater. So the very thing that is exciting is making it harder at the same time.

So, there’s no place to rest in this New World?

There are changes every week. There’s exciting new technology every week. A lot of those new technologies are helping us. Just look at what we are all able to do now with Google Analytics. It used to be you used to go trial and error and see what punches through to people, what gets you more eyeballs. Now you can actually measure it. In traditional media we were never able to really do that. You would wait for news of television ratings through sweeps and those were very imperfect.

Google Analytics can be very precise and you can and should be trying different techniques and measuring them constantly.

Nobody seems to know where it is all going so where should people start?

You should make content that interests you. You don’t want to just throw anything out there. You want to feel good about what you are doing. Presumably, if you are a content maker you want to make content that makes a difference to other people’s lives. Isn’t that the ultimate definition of Social Media? It’s that you can reach other people. Not just reach them and make them look at you but reach them and make them care about something. In an ideal world even make them act. In the broadest sense that’s what the definition of what Social Media is. You better care about it yourself and care about what you are doing.

I never know if everybody know this term from that old Kevin Costner movie “Field of Dreams;” “Build it and they will come.” Well that’s an old movie and that’s and old thought. Because it’s not “build it and they will come.” You can make the content that interests you. You can make the content that’s full of good story-telling but more and more people are doing that every day. You can make it but then you have to figure out how to make them come.

Which is how?

You just don’t it out in one place, in one blog, on Youtube. You have to multi-purpose your content. The great thing about what we are all doing now – and certainly technology and devices are making this more possible – is that a blog post doesn’t have to be what an old blog post was which was primarily text. Or, if you were lucky, a slide-show. Now with tools like Tumblr a blog post can incorporate that video that you made. You could start it with a video and add a little bit of back story and you’ve got a blog post on Tumblr in addition to a Youtube video, or a Vimeo video or a video that you are putting out on your Facebook page. It should all be circular. You should me multi-purposing everything.

How does collaboration work in this mix?

We like to partner with people that add something that we don’t have. Partners that can add a huge ready-made viral marketing machine for example. We don’t have a lot of marketing dollars. We are a non-profit, we’re the ‘public’ library. We partnered with this group Improv Everywhere and every video they make automatically gets tons of views and massive press. Old Media, New Media, everyone writes about everything they do. They’re the ones who made the famous no-pants subway rides. Their motto is “We cause scenes.” We figured that they would love to get the chance to cause one of their scenes in the famous Rose Main Reading Room at the Library. We said to them, we are going to invite you in but in return let’s think of something you guys and your creative team can do that will promote an advocacy campaign we had at the time to fight dramatic City budget cuts. It was a great partnership. They got something great out of it and we got something great out of it.

With all this information moving around what about the issues of openness and transparency?

Many people would say that the jury is out. People can post more easily to more and more places and right now and transparency is considered a very good thing. I do feel that in these times when many people don’t feel that they have very much control over large parts of their world then feeling like you can see how decisions are being made in the institutions you care about or in politics, or in arts, culture and entertainment plus feeling like you get an inside look at something, that kind of transparency is considered a good thing and New Media and Social Media is making that possible.

What do you see coming over the horizon? What should we be paying attention to?

What young people should be looking at is that you may think you may know what you want to be doing in five years but new disciplines, new fields, new possibilities are opening up. More then at any time in history you are the ones defining what the next fields shall be. I would just hope that young people looking forward aren’t trying to fit into careers, fields or jobs that are set. Or if you do go to a set job you’re asking yourself every day, “How do I expand the bounds.”

Deanna Lee is speaking at BlogTalk 2010 on Friday, August 27th.

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