Sara Leavens: Communications, Marketing, and Social Media Coordinator

This blog post is the kick-off for a series of profiles that I will be doing on Penn Libraries staff and how their work coincides with the use of social media to reach patrons both traditionally (as in, in-person) and digitally (as in, via blogs, social media, websites, etc.).

The Penn Libraries has been a personal, intellectual home for me over the last five years, and as I wrap up my time as a graduate student here, I hope to share with you some behind-the-scenes insight into the people and resources that have made it possible for someone like me–a non-traditional graduate student–to do the amazing work I’ve been able to do with social media and working directly with library patrons.

My hope is that by the end of this short series, you will come to appreciate all the Penn Libraries has to offer its patrons, and share in my wonder that we have access to these space and resources.

–Jaime Marie Estrada
Social Media Intern, Weigle Information Commons, Penn Libraries
Master of Liberal Arts Candidate, Philosophy and Communications, 2017

For the first blog post of the series “Social Media at Penn Libraries,” I’d like to introduce you to Sara Leavens, a recent addition to the Penn Libraries staff. Sara Leavens came to UPenn from the University of Kansas where she studied creative writing. Sara’s strengths lie in that she understands how to engage with students, faculty, and staff to make the resources available at the libraries more visible using social media and other forms of communications and marketing.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sara and learn how she came to Penn and what her first few months on the job were like:

Sara Leavens started at the Penn Libraries as Communications, Marketing, and Social Media Coordinator in 2015.

Since Sara comes from a creative writing background, some of her role comes naturally to her! Sara has an MFA in Creative Writing and had originally planned on being a professor. However, she didn’t want to pursue a PhD, and with a technical communications background from her undergraduate work, she realized there was a need for social media at her academic department at the University of Kansas. Sara started the department’s Twitter and FB pages at the University of Kansas. Eventually, these pages became the most visited departmental pages at UKansas from 2013-2015.

When Sara first started at the Penn Libraries as Communications, Marketing, and Social Media Coordinator in 2015, she found the libraries’ many social media accounts to be quite established. She described her first few months here as a “good will tour,” where she met with head librarians and directors of the 14 (!!!) libraries, to learn about their current social media management and future needs.

From there, Sara went about the challenging and fun work of trying to ascertain and corral all of the social media accounts that each center and library had established for itself. In some cases, it took her as long as two years to hunt down and redirect some of the accounts! Centralizing communications and social media is a common trend being undertaken by many college and university campuses as they are starting to see social media less as a grassroots initiative and as more central to the branding and marketing of higher education to its most important audience: the students.

Sara inherited the main @upennlib handle from Dorothy Espalto, Digital Media and Design Specialist (to whom she credits making the main library social media brand beautiful and unified!), and she researched the extant Penn Libraries brand when she was first applying for the job. Sara shared that she put together a proposal for what the future of the Penn Libraries social media brand could be. Thinking strategically about communications with library patrons isn’t just Sara’s job! The libraries are undergoing a branding initiative for the first time. As everything we do in the academy becomes more digital-first, the libraries must learn to keep up with the communications that digital natives, aka current Penn undergrads, are already engaging in!

In addition to drafting and crafting words, Sara’s work is about juggling many different demands on her time and communications needs. Managing, social media for the Penn Libraries brand is only one third of Sara’s overall communications role. I asked her if the work she does on the marketing and communications drafting side makes the social media part easier. She explained that the hardest part of her job is unifying the voice of the writing across all the outlets she works on and also finding time to “steal” from her long-form communications to craft tweets, FB posts, and other social media content.

With her experience starting social media profiles from scratch, Sara was able to teach herself how to use social and combine it with her professional and academic writing experiences. She gives some quick and easy tips that most social media professionals accept as biblical at this point:

  • Always conform to the genre conventions of the platform.
  • Using different forms of media engages your audience, but make sure it’s clear and free of visual or written confusion.
  • Mine your longer writing projects for tidbits that can be turned into tweets, IG posts, and FB updates.

We will be following up this Q&A with a recorded interview going into more specific questions about how social media affects Sara and her interaction with patrons on a daily basis.

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