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David Lee King: Eight easy ways to humanize your digital branch

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Image: Photos

At my library (, we like to say "It's not about the stuff, it's about the people." Sure, we have a lot of cool books, videos and services, but our staff are awesome and they help make the library what it is. They help give the library a human face.

How do you present that "human face" of the library online? Here are eight ways to humanize your digital branch:

Image: David Lee KingDavid Lee King

David Lee King is the Digital Services Director at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, where he plans, implements, and experiments with emerging technology trends.

He speaks internationally about emerging trends, website management, digital experience, and social media, and has been published in many library-related journals. David is a Library Journal Mover and Shaker.

His newest book is Face2Face: Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections.

David blogs at

Read David's other articles…

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An easy way to give your digital branch a human face is to post photos of staff. There are a couple ways to do this. For starters, make sure to have an online staff directory available to customers that includes name, phone number, email address and photo.

After that, place photos of staff (and customers) judiciously throughout your website. For example – have a bookmobile? Don't take a photo of the outside of the vehicle. Instead, take a photo of staff serving customers inside the bookmobile.

Why do this? It puts a face to a name and a face to services, events, and other content created for the digital branch. Putting a face to the content helps humanize your online services.

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2. Conversational Writing

After photos, the second most important thing to do for your digital branch is to improve your writing. I know – writing is hard. Writing in a style you're not used to might take some practice! But, this part is easier than you think and I have a trick to help you get up to speed quickly.

The trick is called typing like you talk. Next time you type a tweet, a Facebook post or a description of a new service, read it back to yourself – out loud (embarrassing, I know) – before you post. If it doesn't sound like something you'd say to a friend or your aunt Marge, rewrite it until it sounds like something that you would actually say.

Why do this? When some people read, they "hear" a voice in their head. If it sounds like someone talking to them … bingo! You have just made the website that much more human.

3. Videos

Make some videos and share them on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and your website. Like photos, videos also put a human face to your digital branch.

Video is also the hottest content on the web right now (have you looked at your video-heavy Facebook feed lately?). So you'll help humanize your digital branch and provide content in a currently popular format. Not bad, eh?

4. Being Available

This one's easy. Make sure you have multiple modern ways to connect to a person. At this point your library probably lets people call or email questions, maybe even send a text message.

You should also offer web-based chat on your website and be available through the social media accounts that your library uses.

Make sure that each of these contact points have someone on the other end tasked with answering questions.

5. Responding Fast

This one goes hand-in-hand with #4. Staff should respond quickly in each of these contact points. "Fast" does not mean "We'll respond within 48 business hours." In today's world that's simply not acceptable.

Assign staff to watch each social media channel and contact point, have a plan to respond to emails, telephone questions and text messages.

Do this well and people will feel like there's an actual human at the other end of their question.

6. Cut Extra Words

This one seems to contradict #2, conversational writing, but it really doesn't. When sharing information on the modern web use the inverted pyramid style of writing.

That means to front-load your content, or put the most important piece of information first. Most of us, when we write about a new service, like to introduce the topic then the reasoning behind the new service and then finally get to the actual way to use the service (usually laying out all features in excruciating detail).

Instead, get right to the point. Start with how to use the service. Think about what you want your reader to do next (i.e., click the link, sign up, check it out, etc.) and make sure that content comes first.

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7. Reach Out

If you've ever worked the reference desk, you probably have some regular customers that you know by name. I'd guess that some of those more regular customers know about new services first.

Your digital branch can have "regulars" too. You might start to recognise frequent Facebook commenters for example. Make sure to share new services with those online regular customers.

You can also ask your online regulars to share and retweet a new service. Unlike regular customers in your physical library your regular online customers also have an audience – friends and followers – in their own social networks. See if you can use those extended networks to reach out to customers you don't normally have access to.

8. Tell The Customer's Story

When possible, be a storyteller. Tell the story of why this new service is amazing. Tell the story of how to find a book in your catalogue.

Even better – let your customers tell the story. For example, some customers take photos of events they attend and share them on Facebook or Instagram. When they do that your customers "tell the story" of their fun time at the library. Help customers tell their story by providing them with hashtags to use.

You can also help customers tell their story via comment boxes on a blog post or a Facebook post. You start the conversation and customers add their own information.

The best part? None of these eight things are really all that hard to do. So implement these eight simple things and you will have just humanized your digital branch.