Face behind the logo with Greg Leurs

Episode aired August 5, 2021: Behind The Logo

What’s it like to manage and post content for a nonprofit, such as a prestigious institution in London? Greg Leurs is a member of the team who manage the social media content for the Royal Holloway Library at the University of London. Their content is smart, engaging, funny and creative. How do they do it? In this episode Greg discusses 

  • the pressure of being the face behind the logo
  • tips for preparing content for a brand that engages followers
  • the importance of setting up guidelines, policies, calendars
  • building a content strategy and showing personality
  • how to deal with mistakes and
  • how to deal with negative comments/responses.  

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us Greg Leurs. Greg how you doing today?

Greg: I’m not doing too badly. Thanks for asking.

Ephraim: Excellent. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Greg started out as a school teacher before retraining and moving into librarianship. He is passionate about engaging library users with services and developing their information literacy skills. He’s previously worked at the Open University and his master’s dissertation examines how health libraries in the U.K. use social media to engage their users. As part of his current role at Royal Holloway’s Library in Surrey, England, he leads a small team which manages the library’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. The accounts are run on three principles: Be wholesome, be authentic and have fun. I love all of those.

Posting As An Individual vs. A Brand

In today’s episode we’re going to discuss the face behind the logo, how brands can connect with their audience. Let’s dive right in. Greg, how does posting on social media differ for an individual and a brand, in this case a library?

Greg: I think probably the biggest difference for me is that you’re not posting for yourself. With your own personal accounts, there’s the temptation which you obviously you’re allowed to indulge, to be indulging for your own points of view, your own politics, your own opinion, your hot takes on particular issues. When you’re doing a brand or an organization’s account, you’re mindful that you’re representing an institution but the people who work in there as well. So with any of the kind of content we’re writing, whatever we’re putting our social media, it’s not representative of me writing or any of my colleagues within the comms group. It’s the library, the organization, from our managing director down to the frontline customer service team. So what we try and do is rather than put across my opinion on things, it’s the kind of ethos and values of the people within the organization as well.

I think one of the ways that kind of actually manifests in how we write our content is you probably, if you ever look through our Twitter account, we don’t ever use I as a singular. We don’t ever say like, “oh I think” or anything like that. We use, to probably use a British term, “the royal we” in that we say we as in the library, the organization and we kind of feel with that that people are going to associate not with the person or the individual writing the content but we hope with the service and the account and that kind of then values and ethos behind it. So yeah, as much as we want to put across some of your own personal opinions and it’s being mindful that the difference is you are representing a cohort of people and the values that they represent rather than your own. You’re not writing for yourself.

Pressure When Posting For A Brand

Ephraim: That’s a fantastic answer. So given that, do you feel greater pressure or responsibility because you are the face behind the logo and you represent a prestigious institution?

Greg: It’s an interesting one, so perhaps I’ve not overly thought about the idea of the individual or the face behind the logo and I think we’re  looking with how we set up with how we run our accounts And this is where I’ve got to give some very much due credit to some of my colleagues and team members that yes, there’s myself who oversees it but we’re lucky that I’ve got Patrick Walker, a very good colleague and friend of mine who helps run the Twitter account and we co-write a lot of the content. Claire Hunter, one of my other excellent colleagues. She manages our Instagram account and what we actually do is we have an hourly meeting each week where I’d like to say it’s structured, professional and organized.

But actually we just bounce a lot of ideas off each other. We are quite organized with planning content ahead. Yes there’s bits we do that’s spontaneous but a lot of it we’ve got ideas and thoughts, themes and trends. We’re thinking already ahead to September and our next academic year and intake then. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt necessarily a pressure on me individually. 

I think there’s a degree of pride knowing Royal Holloway and the institution, that for anyone who has looked to their account or works for an institution when you’ve got a rich history and for our own example, one of being women’s education and what that’s achieved through Royal Holloway and Bedford College, there’s a pride in being one of the people who gets to talk about that in a public platform. There’s histories that we’re proud to share the stories, we’re proud to tell and even with the work that we’re doing now, there’s the work that we’re doing now under difficult, challenging circumstances that we’re proud and we want to tell people about and we want people to engage with. So the idea that a face behind the account, I think there’s many faces behind the account in that sense but it all comes together as in the account is the library. That’s who we represent and we’re proud of what we do. Maybe a little bit of pressure is we want to keep people being proud of it but I don’t think a pressure as we must achieve something specific or attain something. It’s a pride in what we do, because of the stories we get to tell. 

Tips For Preparing Content

Ephraim: I love that idea of taking pride in your work like that. That’s excellent. Today’s actionable item: Please share with us three tips and best practices in terms of preparing content for a brand that you hope will be engaging and illicit reactions from your followers.

Greg: If I knew what the magic formula was to always get good levels of engagement I would bottle it and sell it a premium I think.

It’s a very good question and there are three points, there are three points that I could share. There’s probably many more and I think the one kind of caveat I’ll put to this is, I can share tips that have worked for us. I think for one of the things that I’ll say is there isn’t a set template that people can follow. There isn’t a set rule. There’s things that we’ve just found for whatever reason clicked and worked for us. I think that kind of ties into actually one of the points I will share but I’ll start with my first point of thought.

I think the first bit of advice I’ll ever give if you’re ever trying and  aiming to write engaging content is, you’re not an island. For being one person to run a social media account or accounts is really really difficult. It’s a challenge and some of the best content we’ve done has been collaborative. So that’s probably my point, my first kind of tip or trick would be is develop your content collaboratively, because everyone’s going to bring a different perspective, a different view and if you’ve looked at the sense of humor we use on our accounts, you can definitely see that we’ve run it past a few people. We don’t think we’re comedians. We don’t think we’re funny and we deliberately aim for bad humor as in we think that’s more uniting than perhaps being divisive of trying too hard to be funny on something. But first tip, be collaborative, bounce ideas, share information with colleagues and develop it that way. We’ve got our email and Whatsapp groups where we’ll just drop an idea in and there’s a lot that’s on our cutting room floor that didn’t make it but then there’s a lot of good stuff that’s gone out as well.

Tip number two then, my second tip would probably be thinking about how you actually structure and write your tweets or posts or content. Like Instagram’s obviously a very visual media and so whatever you’re writing as the text, it needs a good, relevant picture to kind of go along with it. With Twitter, where it’s the text that does the heavy lifting with it and the engagement, especially when we’re trying to promote a service or something about ourselves, we try and follow a little bit of a structure which we kind of call the hook, the message and the takeaway.

The hook will be like an opening sentence or phrase or something that could be quite derivative or only tangentially related to what we’re actually talking about, but it hopefully makes people really go, oh, what are they on about? What’s this library on about? What are they talking about? Then we’ve got their interest. The message then is what we actually want them to know and following from that then, what do we want them to do with it? So the hook, the message, the takeaway and that’s probably quite standard fare for writing any kind of marketing materials in that sense. But the challenge is condensing that into 260 characters. I think Twitter limits you to or your Instagram post that you got a picture that will cause people to click through to it.

I think with one of the things we’ve kind of done with that structure of writing is the hook in particular will try and subvert expectations sometimes as we’re very aware people perhaps have a stereotyped vision of what a library or a librarian is and a lot of what we try and do with how we write our content with our hook is we turn that on its head where we can.  

The last thing that I’ll say and this is kind of linking into what I’m saying at the beginning is, if you’re trying to write engaging content, one of the things that I’d always, for myself, in our experience recommend is that you’re doing the account with a personality. And I’m not saying that’s the personality of the individual writing. I think the origins come from there but it evolves into something that then becomes the personality of the account and in that sense, you’re trying to write things that they’re not too corporate unless there’s like certain messages that have to be. They’re not robotic.

There’s this idea that there is a kind of voice that you can engage and interact with, that it has opinions- in our sense wholesome, nice ones for the most part- that it’s something that people can kind of relate to. One of the ways we’ve tried to actually do this as like a tangible example I can give you with our account, if you look through it over the past year, you will see certain reoccurring jokes, themes, stories, threads. We have an ongoing story about geese in the library. Dinosaurs get referenced quite a lot. Cardigan wearing librarians A kickstall menace, the idea that kickstarts are sentient in the library and causing a bit of mischief. Also kind of just certain stock phrases that we use. Like if we’ve got an announcement, we’ll start with “good news everyone!” If we’re trying to tell someone some information, we might use the… I think it’s a GI Joe phrase and knowing and now you know… oh if I could get it right…. knowing is half the battle. I think now you know and knowing is half the battle. You can tell I haven’t watched that cartoon for a while and anyone who hasn’t watched it doesn’t understand the reference either. But it’s that kind of drip feeding and we’ve been doing it for 12, 18 months of having these ongoing stories, these narratives, jokes that we’ve found that people engage with. They’re interested to follow it.

We get comments as in like oh, what have they been up to. Now they’ll comment on other posters and whether the kickstalls been behaving recently or what cardigans are you wearing today? What’s the knitwear today? With the geese, the whole kind of ongoing narrative with that is this idea that there was a rampaging geese in the library that may or may not have happened. I can’t confirm but this idea that there’s this story that’s happening, that’s live, that’s going on, that whether people are in the library physically or engaging with us from anywhere in the world, that we’re an active community. The phrase that I’d use is what we try and create is a digital community. This sense that there’s something active, something happening, there’s this story being told that people can engage with about our library, the people and the services there. So I think that’s my three tips. 

Guidelines And Policies

Ephraim: Okay, I love all of it and we’re actually going to follow up on that last one about personality. Let’s talk policies and rules. Are there guidelines about what you can and can’t post and do those guidelines include a brand persona, a personality which dictates your online voice and outlines how you’ll engage followers?

Greg: So there’s a couple of layers to this. In terms of like policies and strategies, there’s obviously Royal Holloway Library. We fit into the larger brackets of the Royal Holloway College University and the University of London. So there is in that sense as with any institutions or organizations, you’ll have a social media policy. It covers your obvious points of avoiding your particular isms, you’re not looking to upset anyone. That especially for us that we are the library at Royal Holloway, we are representative of the views of the college as well. So we’re not kind of breaking away from those values and their ethos. That’s kind of standard fare in many organizations.

What’s kind of unique to us… or not unique to us actually, sorry, but what is unique to us is the content within it, as in our strategy document and there are kind of a few hard and fast rules in there. But I’d say a good half of it is what describes like the pirate code. It’s more of a set of guidelines than fixed rules kind of thing. So with a few kind of set rules and this is kind of an interesting one which not specific to us but there’s some definite other accounts that are very successful that don’t follow this rule as in: We don’t use generic GIFs, we don’t use any kind of stock generic images from free image websites. Any videos, any photos, pretty much anything you see that’s on our feed is going to be a photograph or video that we have taken and we have created and is it is of our services or about our services. So like my background picture now of the library, if you look through our feed you will see it’s not a generic photo of a faceless student sitting in any library anywhere. It will be a student from Royal Holloway sitting in our library with one of the excellent views that we have. So one of our kind of rules is that if we’re showing images, they are of us. We want people to relate to that, we want it to be unique content to us.

Ephraim: That’s extremely smart. 

Greg: Thank you. Smart and our social media content are not always words that go hand in hand because of the humor but I’ll take it. I’ll take a compliment.

One of the other kind of rules that we have around it as well is the humor that we use and this is where it’s an interesting one, that it kind of called a couple of things. We either call it like the cracker joke principle or dad jokes. I don’t know how much Christmas crackers are a universal thing that everyone will understand but at Christmas, you’ll open a cracker and there’s always a joke in it that is awful. It is bad and the whole idea of it or the principle they understand is that you read it out, everyone groans and they agree that it’s bad and it is uniting in that sense, rather than something that tries to be funny and some people might go well, I don’t find that funny. It’s actually easier to write something that everyone just goes oh oh, that’s bad. So if you look at our humor, it’s quite deliberate.

One of our kind of personality rules is our humor, it’s going to be puns, it’s going to be bad jokes, plays on words or almost they’re kind of looking down the camera breaking the fourth wall nod and wink. And it leans into this stereotype of we’re librarians. People perhaps don’t expect us to be funny and self-aware of the humor as well. 

Talking about the kind of personality as well, as you said at the beginning, like a wholesome, authentic and have fun. With so much of our content when we’re writing it, coming up with posts, we ask ourselves, is it wholesome? Is it promoting a positive message? You will find examples where we’re occasionally, if I say sassy, I think that’s a kind of nicer way of saying our humor can be a little bit sassy and when it is, it’s usually at our own expense. We don’t want it at the expense of our followers or anyone else. But for the most part, we want positive messaging, we want upbeat messaging. Yes we want to be authentic and honest with it but we want people to think this is fun, it’s something they want to engage with and go with it.

So again, one of our kind of personality rules or personas is is it wholesome, is it a positive message, is this giving people a good impression of us, the library and our services. The rest I think are kind of guidelines that’ll come into us in rough things, as in you kind of come up with things as it goes. I know one of the things we’re trying to do at the moment is be a little bit more mimetic with our humor.

One of the examples I use, actually an account that does use GIFs really well is the SparkNotes account who use a lot of memetic humor like pop culture references or talking about books and they’ll use a generic GIF to play off it and they do very very well on that. Whoever does that account, I’m in awe of them and their sense of humor. It very much ticks a lot of my boxes. But I think at the end of the day, this might apply to most institutions or brands but like for one of our audiences we’re a library, so we stay in our lane in that sense. We want to talk about library books, we want to talk about library services, we want to talk about librarians and we can then talk about certain issues around race and intersectionality, social justice LGBTQ issues through the resources that we have. We’re not offering our opinion on it. We’re offering the resources that we have on it, that people can explore these topics for themselves. So I think that’s probably one of our rules as well, that we we’re not getting political, we’re not getting opinionated in that sense. We’re sharing the resources for people to have an informed opinion on those topics for themselves and I think we probably tweeted once like, Warning! Visiting the library may result in having an informed opinion. That probably edits into the slightly sassy end of the humor but a positive message of come and see our resources, whether online or in the books. But that idea that they’re engaging and they’re making up their own minds on certain issues and topics as well. 

Creating Engaging Content

Ephraim: You discussed a little bit about being funny. Let me follow up on that. I’ve used Royal Holloway numerous times as a great example of a brand and institutional account which is smart, engaging, creative, funny and keeps me coming back for more. I think you’ve touched on this but I’ll go a little bit deeper on this: Does that come naturally for the people running the account and if not, what’s the secret sauce in creating that content that you’re producing?

Greg: First of all thank you. That’s a very kind compliment to say.

So I’m gonna take that and writing social media content, for us it’s an element of hard work but it’s working on what we can do and do well. I don’t know if that quite works in a sense but we’ve found a type of humor that seems to click, we’ve found a kind of tone of voice that seems to click and I kind of alluded to earlier that the origins of that- and I think with any good account- are in the people who write it. Because one of the things we said is we want the account to be authentic. Yes, the personality account is representative of the library but it’s got to come from somewhere and so we can’t say it’s like any one person. It’s not entirely me, it’s not entirely my colleague Patrick, it’s not entirely my colleague Claire. It’s an amalgamation of picking out the bits from the different people that have worked, seem to have chimed, seem to have clicked. So in that sense there’s an element of okay, it’s not easy but there’s a natural intuition from those people of what we’ve picked and chosen from it to do the certain content.

But if there was a secret sauce, again if I knew what it was, I’d bottle it and sell it at a premium. But I think there’s certain little tips and tricks we’ve found ourselves that have just worked with this. If I speak for myself, one of the things I do is, if I’m watching TV, I’m watching a film, I’m having a conversation with friends and every then and again you’ll pick up like a little phrase or a way of saying things or a joke or something, oh I quite like that, oh how can I take that or use it. And so I’ve got on my phone like a digital notepad with probably over 100 kind of just scribbled ideas that I’ve put down that may never make it to Twitter or Instagram feeds but we’ve kind of got there that we’ll bring to the meetings, we’ll discuss and go through. 

I think as well, I’ve got to be honest and select, if we select all the accounts. I think for the bubble and this type of account, we’ve got a good level of engagement. There’s a lot that hasn’t worked as well and we’ve learned from our mistakes of what didn’t work. There’s so much that for anyone who runs a social media account. There’s times where you think this is going to be great, people are going to love this and you put it out there and it goes nowhere and you’re like oh.  Then there’s other times you’ll just kind of spontaneously throw something out, fill this afternoon with a quick offhand comment and that just chimes for some reason and that just goes and runs.

We’ve started one… if I give an example of what I mean by that, how that’s happened with this and this is where for other people running different accounts to think oh okay well, how is it you start running and building something that has this engagement? As in we did kind of like a funny take on the book Peter Pan where we said, actually the book Peter Pan’s about a man child who recruits a child army. He’s cut off the hand of the one man brave enough to stand up to him- being Captain Hook- and he’s got an addiction to fairy dust to make him fly. And we thought oh, that’s quite funny. We’re making a joke about Peter Pan in a light-hearted way. But the idea is we’ve got Peter Pan actually in the library, if you want to read it for yourself. That kind of chimed with people for some reason. So now we’ve got this kind of series of ongoing tweets and jokes just off that offhand tweet. We’ll do like a funny take on a book and the punch line now is “and we got kicked out of our book club” kind of thing.

So we did one recently saying that the Iliad is about an ancient Mediterranean lads cruise, where a bunch of warriors fight over a woman, will get you kicked out of your book club. Classics Twitter is the bubble that that is, so all of your classicist’s picked that up and for a small library account in Egham Surrey that’s gone up to nearly 700 likes for us, which for us, that’s good numbers for a small  library in Egham Surrey. So it’s just something that’s naturally grown out of that, that we’ve hit into something, we’ve ran with it and we’ve got an idea that we can now drip feed over the next six months as an ongoing narrative from it. I wish I could say we had a source that we planned it, we bottled it. Sometimes it just comes from something spontaneous and we run with it.

Using Images And Videos

Ephraim: That’s awesome. So you had mentioned a little bit earlier something I really liked about using authentic and original images. Now let’s talk for a second use of images and videos. Royal Holloway is very creative with how you use utilize video and pictures to engage the audience. How important is pictures and video to your overall content strategy?  

Greg: It is important as I kind of alluded to earlier. It’s probably one of our set rules within our kind of strategy documents. And this all ties into this phrase I’ve used before- digital community- and we’re very conscious and this is where I think social media, the strengths of it… for whatever kind of criticism you can lay at social media and the kind of the negative aspects of it, there are some really positive stories and things that you can do with as well for building engagement, building understanding, having meaningful conversations. For us it was the idea that we’re building a nice supportive, again I’ll use the word wholesome, digital community and the images and the videos that we include with that then are really important too, because like I said, we don’t want the association to be with the individual writing account. We don’t want people to just go oh, it’s just a generic image that could be from anywhere. We want to use photos of our building.  Obviously they’re nice photos as well. We’re very very lucky that our library building and the campus is very photogenic. We’re very lucky with that and so we lean into it in that sense, because we want people to have that association.

With the videos as well, there’s a number of different ones we’ve used and this is where I think there’s an example like mimetic humor that we’ve used. There used to be a meme. It was a step-by-step instruction of how to draw an owl originally and it was, step one draw two oval, step two draw a beak, step three draw the rest of the owl. So we kind of took that where we had a sketch then at the library of draw one box, draw another box, draw the rest of the library kind of thing, as in we skipped all the important details. But the idea again being that there’s this bit of a sense of humor, subverting the humor that perhaps people might expect of librarians, but again link it to something specific about the library. That’s the library building and association with that.

Another video that we did was actually like ambient library sounds that we did, where we had just nice photos of the library building internally scrolling across, where we then had like pages turning, paper rustling, keyboard going and for anyone who did actually listen to the end of the video, there was a goose honking away at the end and someone sighs and then goes, “not again” which kind of layered then into one of our other ongoing stories of this idea that some sort of goose based scenario that happened in the library at some point. So it is an important part. It’s something we are conscious about with our strategy. We are deliberate about with what we present on our feeds.

Dealing With Negative Comments

Ephraim: Okay, for those of you who happen to be watching this, if you notice me laughing or smiling, it’s because I remember what he’s referencing and I remember laughing and smiling when I saw it. Greg is absolutely… he’s 100% right. It makes the audience smile, laugh, connect. It’s great. I love it. Greg, last question for you. How do you deal with negative comments or negative responses?

Greg: It’s a very good question and in the sense of we’re very very lucky that we don’t usually get people who are mad at the library kind of thing. There’s the Twitter feed for Yorkshire Tea I think. Not the twitter feed but Yorkshire Tea in particular managed to upset a few people because of a certain politician who used it and their kind of response was, “you’re shouting at tea.” We’re lucky we’ve never kind of had that with the library that anyone’s been shouting at the library.

But having said that, we’re always mindful that while we never aim to upset anyone, we never aim to offend anyone in that sense, there may be an instance where we put something out that someone takes some umbrage with and we have in our strategy document a kind of step-by-step thing of how we will approach it and how we’ll deal with it. If it is what we would just call outright kind of trolling, hostility, bad language, something that’s trying to elicit a negative response, it’s in bad faith, we ignore it. Anything that we engage with, it’s just adding fuel to the fire and it’s almost certainly someone who’s engaging in bad faith where they’ve got an agenda behind it. You’re not going to change hearts and minds in that respect.

The other side of it is that if we know it is a member of staff or a student at Royal Holloway and they’ve asked a legitimate question about it, we will give them an honest and open response to it and we will answer their question. Again, providing they’re not being hostile, swearing at us. No one’s sworn at the library yet in that sense but just in case.

The other kind of little level to it as well is that there may just be something where we get our language wrong, we get it wrong. That’s always a possibility and so there’s probably two ways of dealing with it. One is that you can delete the tweet and try and move past it. But actually what we’ve said we’ll do is, if we make a mistake that we sit back and realize on reflection we got this wrong, then our actual policy as it’s written at the moment- which we’ve not had to put into practice to see how it works yet- but we said we’ll leave the tweet up. We’ll add a comment or comment to it apologizing and taking ownership of that mistake, because for us we want to be open, we want to be authentic, we want to be honest and if we do get it wrong and people point out and this is where we would hope with our student body and our staff, if we did get it wrong, there’s people who would call us out on it. We apologize for it. I think for us with social media, if you’re trying to show like an authentic personality to the account, you own your successes but you own your mistakes as well. So our policy idea is we own the mistake, we apologize for it and we show how we’re moving then past it. So we’ve not had to put that into practice thankfully yet but we do have that as an idea of approaching it, if it ever were to occur.

Ephraim: That’s excellent. I hope that everybody who’s listening heard what Greg said. What is the most important thing there is they have a policy and it’s laid out for them step by step what to do, so they’re not struggling to figure out what next when they’re in a crisis. They know what they have to do as soon as something happens and they’re ready to go. That is unbelievably important to avoid even more mishaps or adding more fuel to an already largely burning fire. That’s excellent that you guys have that and you are ready to go just in case but I’m glad to hear nothing yet and let’s hope that that continues that way.

Greg, thank you so much for appearing on the podcast. I encourage everyone to follow Royal  Holloway Library on Instagram and on Twitter. They’re at @RHUL_Library and from them you can really learn how pros manage a branded institutional account. Greg, it was a pleasure learning from you today. Thank you.

Greg: It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for inviting me on.

Ephraim: A pleasure. Have a good day.