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Leveraging the Knowledge Of Your Social Media Connections

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on March 4, 2014

One of our first outlets for information as we grow is the people around us. We begin with our parents, and as we age our circle grows. As librarians, when we have professional questions, we often share those queries on listservs or other professional gathering spots. What do people outside libraries do when they have a question?  With the advent of social networks their circle of knowledgeable friends is potentially bigger and more diverse than it ever was before. For many people their social presence is a mixture of friends, family, and work acquaintances. The question is how to take advantage of this collective knowledge?

Until now, there didn’t seem to be a good way to leverage the knowledge of your social media connections. However, just released on January 7, 2014 in Google Play and the Apple App Store is Jelly — http://jelly.com.  People utilizing Twitter or Facebook on their smart phones or tablets can use their built-in cameras and a little bit of text to ask their social media contacts a question.  While not a totally unique approach Jelly does raise a question of the social media capabilities of the reference desk. Does Jelly or similar apps like that become part of the chat reference or other online reference services libraries provide ? People have always been able to ask questions of their social networks. However, with Jelly, the app is solely dedicated to asking visual questions. Questions asked through other social media get lost amongst the myriad of comments on the news, photos of food, and videos of cats. Can the library become part of people’s social contacts to ask their image-based questions through the Jelly app? With libraries being in the “question business,” is Jelly a new way to connection people with answers they need?

One “real world” example that the company provides is how Jelly was used by a person who posted a photo and asked if a tv could be mounted on the wall photographed. Perhaps purposefully or maybe by serendipity the question poser was following Lowe’s Home Improvements Twitter feed. Someone at Lowe’s capitalized on the opportunity and responded back with the tools and materials (from Lowe’s of course) that the questioner would need for his project. This example had us thinking, if Jelly were to take off in the next few months, should libraries try to be followed by jelly users? Is this a new avenue for our mission as informational professionals helping our patrons where ever they may be? Much certainly depends on how well the “infant app” grows up. It also seems that currently Jelly is tied to the rise and fall of the sites it feeds from, like Facebook and Twitter. We have all watched the rise and fall of the next big thing, but if we, as librarians, wait will we miss getting in on the ground floor? Perish the thought, will Jelly or something similar finally push us to enter or revisit the world of Twitter?

At the time we are writing this, we are already past our deadline for submission because we were having some issues getting Jelly to install and working on our mobile devices. We are both confirmed Android phone users, and we both got error messages that our operating systems were not the version we needed to run Jelly even though our phones told us we were running the most up-to-date versions. The non-technical one of us had a complete frustration induced meltdown. The tech savvy one, discovered we could successfully install Jelly on the two library iPads. However, we next found that while in theory you can be on Facebook and use Jelly, it really does appear to work best off your Twitter account. Of course, neither one of us are big Twitter-ers but instead Facebook afficiandos. Again, one of us melted down in the face of this next technical challenge, and someone else found this a great reason to start the library Twitter account HE always thought we should have for the library. Thinking the problem was solved, we posed a question via Jelly only to discover that we needed other friends to have Jelly to ask questions to AND we needed to be following people on Twitter, neither of which we had!

The moral of this story we have decided is perhaps it’s worth putting more of an investment into our library’s social media presence. If Jelly isn’t the next big thing, something else will be. Maybe trying this app was a more gentle way for us to realize our patrons are so much broader than the ones who come into the building or even live in within our official geographic service area. We need to become part of their lives, and having a robust social media presence will allow them to invite us into their lives wherever they physically reside.