Infinite Jest: How NBC’s The Office Helped Me Solve the Social Media Enigma

I needed a year of big changes.

Floundering through my twenties, I created a list of everything I wanted to accomplish before my thirtieth birthday: eat a cheeseburger in every European country, learn to dance so I’d no longer be limited to “the shopping cart” at weddings, and finish reading David Foster Wallace’s 1,088 page novel, Infinite Jest (after five years I’d made it to page 28).

Accomplishing such Herculean feats would require a significant chunk of time. I quickly realized the only way I’d achieve these goals required abandoning my television.

My television, my beloved 70” Samsung, had become a confidant. We shared the happiest times of our lives together: The Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory, Derek Rose’s MVP season, and that unforgettable moment Pippa Middleton walked toward the entrance of Westminster Abbey wearing that white bridesmaid’s dress…But, this was my year of big changes and these changes began by saying goodbye to my old friend.

As I swaddled my television in bubble wrap, my girlfriend walked into the living room.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“It’s my year of big changes,” I said. “My year of self-discovery, the year I finally finish Infinite Je…”

“Discover yourself next year,” she interrupted, removing the bubble wrap. “This is the year we watch the farewell season of The Office.”

“Do you really need to spend another year watching a fake documentary about the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company?” I asked.

“No,” she said,  “I need to know if Jim and Pam stay together. I need to know if Dwight marries Angelia. I need to know if Michael returns for the final episode.”

That word, “need,” resonated with me. Yes, I too needed to know about Jim, Pam, Dwight, and Michael. But the way my girlfriend communicated that need, the defensiveness in her voice, caused me to realize that she (and I) had formed strong emotional attachments to these characters. This emotional attachment persuaded me to keep my television and to recalibrate my library’s social media strategy.

Imagine you’ve “friended” the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company on Facebook. After a long day of work, you spend a few moments scrolling through your newsfeed. Would you give more than a cursory glance at a status update announcing a paper sale? No. But if Jim Halpert posted a video where he gathered Dwight’s office supplies and placed them inside a vending machine would you be more likely to “like,” comment or share? Absolutely.

I wouldn’t follow Dunder Mifflin because I’m passionate about paper. I’d follow because I care about the people who work there.

I applied this principle to our library’s social media campaign. The Glen Ellyn Public Library had previously used social media as a delivery service promoting our products and services. Our Facebook posts hadn’t been particularly imaginative (usually a status update with direct information about an upcoming event). But, I decided to initiate a more human social media experience teeming with personality, hoping the result would promote interactions and build emotional attachments between our staff and our followers.

The Glen Ellyn Public Library now uses social media like one of your friends. We post pictures of ourselves at Rolling Stones concerts or playing pranks on our co-workers. We share childhood stories and celebrate Blackhawks victories. We post about Wes Anderson, Bill Murray and The Great Gatsby. We share our lifelong dreams (like my quest to have a major rock band: [Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Jack White] play our monthly open mic night).

These posts promote interaction. After posting my thoughts on a Bob Dylan concert, I engaged in conversations with followers about their favorite Dylan experiences. After posting my appreciation for Moonrise Kingdom, followers started discussing their favorite Wes Anderson characters and soundtracks.  I learn so much about our followers through these interactions and that knowledge has proven invaluable. When our library stocks new Bob Dylan products or organizes Wes Anderson themed events, I can now pinpoint my marketing campaign to reach individuals I know will be interested.

For too long I used Facebook solely as a platform to market our services. I now realize that social media is its own service to market. Just as our patrons have a desire to check out books, they also have a desire to interact and build relationships on social media. The Glen Ellyn Public Library provides that service through our Facebook page.

During the 12 months before implementing our new social media campaign, our library created a total of 326 posts that reached 40,234 people and generated 1,276 engaged users (that’s 4 engaged users and 123 views per post). Since our campaign launched 9 months ago we created 120 posts that have reached 53,374 people and generated 7,006 engaged users (that’s 58 engaged users and 444 views per posts). Even with 60% less posts than last year, we have increased our audience by 260% and increased our engaged users by a staggering 1,350%…and we still have three months to go!

I needed a year of big changes.

I traveled to Europe and ate a cheeseburger in almost every country (Switzerland has the best), learned to dance in Paris, and improved my library’s social media experience. Not bad for a guy who is sometimes distracted by television…just don’t tell anyone I still haven’t finished Infinite Jest.

Anthony McGinn is the Marketing Coordinator at the Glen Ellyn Public Library. He might attempt to read Infinite Jest next year.

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