As a communicator whose occupational focus is educational, I often find the social media landscape both exhilarating and downright annoying. Truth be told, the never-ending stream of articles, presentations, and books that focus on social media more often than not fall into the “annoying” category. Too many of these resources lack real-world examples that include an instructional or educational component and yet they often purport to convey methods or approaches that work outside of their specific domain.
For many, the sweet spot of social media is marketing. I don’t necessarily disagree. Marketing is extremely important to any organization, but social media need not always be constrained or driven by a marketing objective. How often have you run across this basic social media message: “Product X or Group Y is über cool and you need to act in some way if you want to join the campaign or affiliate”? Or, “I wasn’t generating a lot of revenue using traditional marketing, but with social media I turned my ‘Whuffie’ into serious waffles.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with either approach and social media can indeed be a powerful marketing tool that helps individuals feel connected with a brand, organization or other individuals. What’s more, brand management and connection with educational consumers is particularly big business and the likes of the Gates’ Foundation, Cisco and many other big players have been parked on this block for some time; looking to grow market share, influence policy, and improve the educational experience in a more equitable fashion.
But utilizing social media for educational outreach or research activities in state-funded organizations? Over the last few years, I’ve seen numerous examples of social media working well within learning contexts here at our university (and others), but have not come across a cohesive vision that informs the practice. Is Cooperative Extension too rooted in face-to-face outreach to augment their communication efforts with social media? In fact, Extension groups are perfectly primed to leverage this form of communication based on their core goals and focus on meeting community-based needs.
A recent eXtension talk by Lee Rainey of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project unpacks this notion in brilliant detail. While the practices driving social media usage are still emerging in tandem with the evolution of the tools themselves, Rainie’s talk helped me envision a time when social media will indeed become a part of the university’s research and outreach effort and a crucial part of how it does educational business. Paired with Harold Jarche’s discussion on the historical psychology of communication (and its predictable shifts), I can only say that I was inspired. I’ve been following Harold Jarche’s blog for a few years now and have found his dialog around managing information (TMI—too much information) and network participation crucial to understanding the theory behind social media practice. Those working in large organizations where technology adoption occurs more slowly would benefit from these two presentations.
A university is in many ways an independent and relatively manageable entity, but what about an entire country that seems to push back on the use of social media, or a government?
GCN or Government Computer News provided numerous recent examples of how the U.S. Federal Government is using social media to build more transparency and efficiency into its communication practices while a Harvard Business Review article tackles the issue of social media adoption in France. Both resources document real-world examples of how social media can be used in a “blended” environment where a sizable portion of end users are still entrenched in traditional communication modes.