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SMCEDU: Changing Higher Education Through Social Media

As most of you know, the topic of using social media and education is one that I’m very interested in – whether that means using social media in the classroom or teaching social media, I believe that there is a lot of opportunity to use technology to improve the ways the next generation learns.  As I detailed in this post, this is one reason that I got involved with the SMCEDU project at the very beginning. Founded in July 2009, SMCEDU has established more than ten chapters at colleges and universities across the country, it was officially granted a 501(c)(6) non-profit designation, and it’s forming its Advisory Board now. There are a lot of exciting things happening now with SMCEDU and that’s why I was excited to talk with Yong Lee, a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and current director of the SMCEDU project.

I got the opportunity to ask Yong seven questions about SMCEDU – what it is, what’s going on now, and what’s in store for the future. The full interview is below:

Finish this sentence – the Social Media Club Education Connection (SMCEDU) is the:
SMCEDU, a division of Social Media Club, is a formal attempt to gather the lessons and experiences of educators, students, and professionals across the country to address the need for social media education, including what social media are and how to use it for different purposes. You can follow the conversation surrounding social media and higher education under the #SMCEDU hashtag.

What’s the mission of SMCEDU?
The mission has three parts:

  1. Bringing about awareness of social media and its impact on both personal, professional, and civic engagement to educational communities
  2. Studying how this impact is affecting social dynamics, especially as it relates to higher education.
  3. Connecting students to professionals with the intent of creating internship and mentorship opportunities.

SMCEDU seems to really be growing – I’m hearing more and more about the need to integrate social media into higher education, from Twitter to New York Times to blogs across the world.  What are some of the new and exciting things that SMCEDU is doing now and where do you see it going from here?
One of the most exciting things to me is the growth we’re experiencing right now. The project kicked off in July 2009, and this semester alone we’re seeing new chapters forming at American University, Kansas University, Kansas State University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Penn State University, and the University of Texas.

Since awareness and connection are the first steps, what I would like to see in the future is students that are actively engaged with SMCEDU making connections with the professionals in their fields of study, and documenting how they’re using social media to make classroom learning experiential and engaging rather than insulated and theoretical.

There’s much discussion around education reform right now, and I see social media being an aspect of that. I don’t know how “tomorrow’s classroom,” or whatever you want to call it, will shape up in the coming years, but I know that the social component is becoming increasingly influential in our daily consumption of information. How can we let something that important go by unstudied? There might be research underway, but from speaking with several educators I don’t know of any peer-reviewed journal or accredited source of information regarding social media use or impact.

Social media has traditionally been the realm of either communications or IT professionals. But what about those college students studying things like biology, chemistry, math, political science, etc.?  Is there a role for them in SMCEDU too?
So this question interests me because I’ve had a different experience when it comes to finding IT/techies on social media. I often wonder why I don’t find more programmers on Twitter. I follow the #coding and #code hashtags, but I don’t see Twitter being leveraged the way I think it could, as a personal learning network that can answer questions in real-time. I can think of many nights working on a project and reaching a point where I couldn’t find an answer on my own, I needed to ask someone. But who’s available at 3am to answer a question like that? The traditional means of communication for this situation, forums, are responsive within a day or two and are comprised of great communities. But they don’t respond right now, and are limited to just the people participating in those forums rather than a broader audience. Granted, in programming, you don’t need answers from everybody, just the experts that know the answer…but why limit the question to just that handful? Why not give questions greater exposure, and give the people that credibly answer them the same?

Communication happens in every field. Universities were traditionally just places where scholars could get together and discuss/argue about the problems they were thinking about (which is why I don’t think physical classrooms will ever go away). But a classroom shouldn’t be defined by campus boundaries. Generations that were/are raised on the Internet expect greater (in terms of number) conversations, conversations that can introduce new people and new thinking…this applies to ALL fields. I think because at its core, social media is about communication, PR/marketing/communications pros have seized it as their own. But in reality, everyone communicates, and it’s about time we devoted academic study to this particular form of communication.

 

Yong is the current Director of the SMCEDU Project

One of the reasons that I like entry level candidates with social media skills and experience is not because I’m necessarily looking for “social media experts,” but because they generally also show the most initiative and ambition than other students. Do you agree, and if so, who are some of the students you’ve met who are demonstrating these traits?

I agree. Some reasons why:

  1. Social media is still seen as a new technology. I have reservations about calling it a technology or even “new” anymore, but the people that have social media savvy tend to be of the early adopter mindset which requires taking the initiative to try new things.
  2. “Social media experts” are social people. If you’re someone who enjoys talking to others, is outgoing, and asks questions, you’re going to learn something (assuming you listen as well as talk). I’m not saying quieter people are any less ambitious, but it seems that the people that are working hard to develop social media presence are the same ones that don’t mind having a conversation with strangers, which requires an openness and willingness to risk.
  3. The secret ingredient to success with social media is passion.

Two students that come to mind are Alex Priest, an undergrad at American University, and Andi Narvaez, a grad student at UMD. You know them both, they’re go-getters.

The majority of the readers of this blog are involved with the government, either as civil servants or contractors – why should they care about SMCEDU now?
Because social media has greater implications than we currently understand. Nobody was paying attention to Facebook five years ago, now it’s everywhere. The social aspect is mandatory in nearly every tech startup, which shows me that people are becoming used to and expectant of it. This means everyone has to have some baseline understanding of how to interact online.  All those stories you hear about how someone posted something on Facebook that got them fired or in trouble? It’s becoming unacceptable to not know the ramifications of your online behavior.

As I said earlier, social media impacts personal, professional, and civic engagement. You have to know what’s going on: the tools being used, the conventions/purposes for each, how to learn newer tools, how to separate BS from useful information. Social media, in my mind, encompasses all of that and will be a necessary bullet point in most any resume in the near-future. SMCEDU is trying to help form that education, that understanding, in lieu of academic study. Hopefully soon, schools will get on board.

Look ahead five years from now – what’s SMCEDU look like?
Great question. I work in higher education, so I see how long it could take for schools to adapt to newer things. I think social media — both its study and integration — will inevitably become an academic convention. For now, it’s not, and who knows how long it will take.

I’d like to see SMCEDU continue to be both an entry point for those interested in learning more about social media, and a thriving community that both accepts and provides contributions of knowledge. I’d love to see SMCEDU acquire some level of accreditation, some trust and authority beyond “social media gurus.” I’ve heard a few ideas of how we can accomplish this, but for now, we’ll keep trying to fill the role as both indicators for need, providers of information, and pathways to professionalism.

For more information about SMCEDU, make sure you check out:

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Recovering from a Social Media Mistake

Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. Don't worry so much about the past and get back up on the horse. That's what will define you, not one post.

On Friday, the NextGen Journal published an article titled "Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25" by Cathryn Sloane. This article predictably generated a TON of traffic (More than 6K Facebook likes, 1K Tweets, and about a billion times more traffic than any other article on the site) not to mention a ton of online vitriol from the social media community. Let's put aside the content of the actual article – there have been plenty of posts made already by really smart people that do good job of offering alternative viewpoints. Let's put aside the discussion around what Cathryn did (she wrote a blog post that pissed off a bunch of a people – join the club) or didn't do (she hasn't responded to the people carrying pitchforks outside her window – I don't know that I would have done any differently at that age either). Instead of discussing what Cathryn said or should have done, let's discuss how we can help her and others like her and move forward from here.

Cathryn could have easily been one of my team members or mentees. Lord knows I've pushed and prodded the junior members of my teams often enough over the years to do more writing, sharing, and commenting online. If you were going to be advising a client or colleague how to use social media, you damn well better be using it yourself too, right? That's why I've spent an inordinate amount of my time on internal mentoring, giving presentations at colleges, sitting on the SMCEDU Board of Advisers, and holding social media training for internal teams. To say that I've been passionate about helping this next generation use social media more effectively, both personally and professionally, would be an understatement.

That's why I want to use this opportunity to do what my friend Mark Story recommended in his rebuttal post and offer Cathryn some career counsel.

Dear Cathryn,

First of all, I want to tell you congratulations. You took a step many aren't willing to take and you played the game. It's a hell of a lot easier to sit back and say that you don't have the time to start a blog or that you're just a kid so who cares what you think and never actually use social media in a professional manner. You got up on that stage and took a chance, which is more than most will ever do.  You've written posts for NextGen Journal and USA Today. You've already taken the most difficult step – going from doing nothing to doing something. You've already done more in this space than most people you've graduated with and for that, you should be congratulated. It shows me that you have initiative and that you can take risks and that's something to be proud of.

Right now, you're getting a first-hand education about social media that you wouldn't learn in any class or from any book. Last Friday, you published a very controversial post that angered a lot of people (and understandably so). I'm sure you've already read through all of the rebuttal posts and comments people have posted and have been completely overwhelmed by it all. I've read through many of these as well and was a little taken aback myself. As you read through them, remind yourself that most of these comments were written by people over the age of 30 who feel as though you were attacking them and their livelihood. Please put yourself in their shoes and empathize with them before dismissing them as trolls. You have to understand that there's a history of ageism within this community – for the longest time, employers automatically assumed social media could only be understood by the young kids and so they were the ones given these new positions instead of more experienced individuals. Only recently have employers and the C-suite begun to realize how important social media is and how important it's become to identify the right people for these positions. So when they read your post, I think many people saw it as an opportunity to again demonstrate their value, to show potential clients why they should hire them instead of someone under 25.

That said, a lot of those comments were made by people who should know better. People who should realize the difference between disagreeing with someone's opinion and vengefully attacking the person behind the post. People who should realize that their comments, whether they're made online or off – "good luck getting a job in this industry, you idiot!" – reflect on them too. I hope they know that just as they bully you and try to destroy your reputation, they're doing the same to themselves from a managerial perspective – I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to work with someone with a history of treating people like that, be it online or off.

Once you've gone through the thousands of comments, posts, and Tweets and weeded out the hateful ones, spend some time absorbing the feedback. Do you have a better understanding of why people were so upset? Do you feel any empathy toward their position? Do you still agree with the basic premise of your article or have you changed your mind (there's no right answer to that one, but either way, make sure you have some thoughts/facts to back up your assertion)? What were some of the most beneficial pieces of feedback you heard? Once you've collected this feedback and filtered out the garbage, start drafting a follow-up post. One of the reasons this situation spiraled out of control so quickly was because your voice was MIA the entire weekend. As Tony Heyward or any of the dozens of CEOs who have paid the price of silence can tell you, it's important that you communicate early and often.  Now, I'm making the assumption that you haven't spoken up because you were utterly overwhelmed by what was happening and had no idea what to do. That's totally understandable, especially given the tone and amount of the feedback as well as your experience level in handling stuff like this.

Boil the feedback you received down to 3-5 key points and then address each one. Admit where you were wrong, but also don't be afraid to disagree with them.  Don't give in to the mob collective just to get them off your back if it's not something you believe in. Did people misinterpret what you were trying to say? If so, tell us why. Were you just not aware of some of the points made in the comments/posts/Tweets? If so, tell us which ones and why they've changed your mind. Tell us what you would have done differently. By the same token, tell us what you would have done the same. Explain what you've learned and how you'll apply that in the future.

In your follow-up post, I would inject a healthy dose of humility but I would also tell you to balance that by telling you to stick with what you believe in too. No one wants to see a "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" post where you essentially back off everything you wrote. Turn the whole thing around on everyone and tell us what people of any age can do to show employers that they know what they're doing when it comes to social media. No one, at any age, likes to hear that they're disqualified from doing something simply because of their age. Talk to Dara Torres or Missy Franklin about being told they can't do something because of their age. Give some advice to your generation about the things they can do to bridge the gap in years of experience. The opportunity is there for all of you – YOU are already taking advantage of it. You can write blog posts, engage with professionals on LinkedIn, participate in industry Twitter chats. You can bypass recruiters and job postings entirely and talk directly with VPs and other hiring managers. If they're impressed with your writing and approach they're not going to care that you only have four years of experience instead o five.

Once you write the article, send it to a mentor to review before hitting publish, someone who is knowledgeable and whom you can trust. Whenever I write a post, at a minimum, I always have my wife review it first to tell me if I'm coming off too arrogant, if it flows nicely, if she can understand it, if she's having the reaction I aimed for, etc. Hell, send it to me and I'll take a look at it for you. I'd recommend having at least two people familiar with the whole situation read through it before publishing and then publish it – the sooner the better.

The other thing that I'd recommend to you and I can't say this strongly enough – don't let this incident get you down. When I was building the social media practice at my old firm, one of the first things I told our SVPs was that yes, social media will do a lot of great things for us, but there WILL be mistakes made. We can't stop them but we can mitigate the negative impacts by planning for them. That's what I'd recommend you do as well – don't stop writing. Don't disappear. Continue writing, but develop a plan to back you up in the future. Have someone you trust review every post before publishing. Never post anything before you go offline in case a firestorm erupts. Never publish something without sleeping on it at least once. Develop a mentoring relationship with someone in the industry with a lot of experience and run your ideas by him/her. Before publishing, spend 30 minutes thinking through the potential negative and positive reactions the post may elicit and be prepared with a response.

But most of all, just get back on the horse. This post isn't your legacy. How you react and move on from it will be. Everyone makes mistakes out here. Everyone has posted something they wish they hadn't. It's the cost of playing this game. Write your follow-up post, put in some processes to help guard against similar issues in the future and continue writing. As Mack Collier says in his post, "another thing about social media and such firestorms is that we all tend to move on quickly.  In another day or so most of us will have moved onto something else and your time in the spotlight will be over." I can't imagine not hiring someone over a single silly post, but I can easily see interviewing someone who wrote a post that caused a firestorm and then recovered from it. Because we're all going to make mistakes – that's a given. I'm more interested in how someone recovers from those mistakes. 

After all, you've already taken the first step and done something. You've also already gone through your first challenge. Now, you just have to react and move on. You'll be fine. In fact, if you do get up, dust yourself off, and continue writing, give me a call – I could use people who have this type of real world experience.

To the people who continue to personally attack Cathryn for this post, use this as an opportunity to empower those in Cathryn's generation to use social media more professionally. We need more people like Cathryn out there using social media now so that they're better equipped when we need to hire them. We can't afford to drive this young talent away by publicly crucifying them for not being experts.

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Listening for Change in Public Health and Social Marketing

The ubiquity of social media means that just about every industry, from non-profits to sports to higher education to government – has hundreds of different blogs in each of these industries that are devoted to studying social media’s impact on pretty much everything. Within the organization, we’re seeing this same long tail manifested in the form of hundreds of different corporate social media accounts for individual product lines. To handle this growth, more and more companies are moving toward the Dandelion business model.

Now, as some of you may know, I work at a massive company where we support an enormous range of client needs including Defense, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Commercial, and non-profits. As one of the leads for our Digital Strategy & Social Media capability, I would field calls for social media help from people working on Public Health projects in the morning, followed by Intelligence Analysts in the afternoon, and reviewing a proposal for the Department of Defense that evening. As my team and I were spread thinner and thinner, we decided to instead create smaller teams of individuals who were able to dive deeper into the unique issues of a specific industry and how social media can help address those. One of those teams became our Digital Health team, led by Jacque Myers, Don Jones, and Mike Robert. This team has really dived deeper into how social media and digital technology is impacting public health, military and veteran health,  accessibility, and many other issues unique to the healthcare industry.

"The Health Digital" is a new blog focused on using digital technologies to help health organizations address key issues

I wanted to take this time to introduce their latest initiative, “The Health Digital,” a blog where they will be highlighting current digital health issues and exploring the ways in which technology can help (and sometimes, hinder) social change. If you’re interested in learning more about Jacque, Don, or about digital health issues, Don, as well as several other members from the Booz Allen team, will be participating in CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media next week. If you’ll be in Atlanta next week for #hcmmconf, stop by and say hello and learn a little bit more about the work they’ve done with the Real Warriors campaign, the Military Health System, and the Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade.

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Seven Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College

I talk a lot about the need to do a better job of integrating social media into the world of higher education. That’s why when my my alma mater asked me to speak at their annual Communication Week this year, I jumped at the opportunity (well, that and I was able to take my daughter to see her grandparents for the weekend). Because these students are already learning the basics of social media in their core communication classes, I didn’t want to do yet another Social Media 101 type presentation. Instead, I wanted to help them understand that even though they may learn what Twitter is, how to use it, and some case studies, there’s nothing like doing it in the real world. That’s why I gave a presentation last Friday titled “The 7 Things About Social Media That You’re Not Going to Learn in College.”

Here’s the presentation I gave, with the key takeaways below:

1. I am not an audience, a public, a viewer, a demographic or a user – I am an actual PERSON with a VOICE
Throw out what you learned in Mass Communications 101 and instead focus on what you learned in Human Communications or Interpersonal Communications. You’re better off knowing and understanding the fundamental principles behind communicating with someone face-to-face than trying to replicate the influence that the War of the Worlds broadcast had on the American public. The megaphone approach doesn’t work when everyone has a megaphone. Learn to interact with actual human beings instead of nameless audiences and users.

2. I don’t care how many friends, followers, likes, or blog comments you have
I really don’t, not when anyone can go and game the system by buying thousands of Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Whether you have 100 or 10,000 followers is irrelevant to me. I want to know that you’ve at least tried to use Twitter/Facebook/blogs/Foursquare for a purpose other than getting more people at your Edward Forty-hands parties. Having demonstrated social media experience on your resume is great, but not because I care about the numbers, but because it shows me that you’re willing and able to try something new. It shows me you’re willing to take a risk and follow through. So don’t tell me that you have 10,000 Facebook likes, tell me how you used Facebook to increase the donations to a local animal shelter. Using social media in a professional context is hard, especially if you’re not learning it in class. I understand that – that’s why I care more about the effort than the numbers.

3. “Social Media” is not a career option
The New Media Director is just a means to an end.  Sure, there’s lots of demand now, but what happens when social media is no longer the new hot thing? You can’t JUST be a social media specialist. That’s a short-term role, much like the “email consultants” that sprouted up 15 years ago. I always tell people that I’m not a social media consultant – I’m a communications consultant who knows how to use social media.

4. Some people just aren’t cut out for the job
Not everyone has the personality or interpersonal communications skills to take full advantage of the full potential of social media. Are you comfortable introducing yourself to new people? Telling someone you really liked their work? Building a relationship with someone without having an ulterior motive? Disagreeing with someone in a very public way without offending them? Knowing how to apologize? Comfortable with having every aspect of your professional life available for public criticism?  It takes a special kind of self-confidence and self-awareness to be really good at using social media to effect some sort of impact. I can teach someone how to tweet, but it’s much more difficult to teach someone how to really enjoy getting to know other people.

5. Your innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge ideas aren’t as innovative, awesome, ground-breaking, and cutting edge  as you think
Most of corporate America has VERY little knowledge of social media for business purposes, so by simply proposing that you use Twitter as part of your marketing plan during your internship, you may end up becoming THE social media subject matter expert. Here’s a news flash – you’re not.  Senior leadership, your boss, your peers – they may very well start referring to you as a guru, ninja, SME, etc. but just because you know the basics doesn’t mean you’re an expert. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell defines an “Expert” as someone with ten years or 10,000 hours of experience. Twitter just turned five years old. You do the math. You MUST continue to learn, to network, to read, to listen because that’s the only way you’re going to keep up.

6. You’re always on and everything is public
Your day will not end just because it’s 5:00 PM. That picture of you doing bodyshots off that waitress? Your boss, your clients, your peers – assume they’ll all see it. It doesn’t matter that it’s up there on your “personal” account or because it happened while you were on vacation. Your online life is your online life, both professional and personal. Your name and face will be freely available to everyone online – are you comfortable with a client recognizing you at the bar on Saturday night?

7. You’re going to come across a lot of jerks – don’t be one of them
Ever meet someone and the first thing they do is tell you all about how they graduated magna cum laude from Harvard or Yale? Or, they throw around their job title? Or, how much money they have? Or how they’ve got this great idea you have to invest in? Maybe you have a friend who never has money and needs you to spot him when you guys go out?  How about that guy who always seems to have an ulterior motive – he always needs a favor, some money, a ride, a recommendation? Do you LIKE being around them? Do you WANT to do them any favors? You can’t hide anymore – you can’t lie, you can’t be a jerk. People talk….about you, about your work, about how you talk about them.  Everyone is connected – that guy whose blog post you stole last week?  He’s probably in a Facebook group with your client, and guess who’s going to see him complaining about you?

Ultimately though, none of this matters because you’re not going to have a choice. While the tools that we talk about will change over time, the kinds of communication that social media enables isn’t going away. As communications students, you can either start learning about social media now and be a forward-thinker or be forced to learn it later on the job where you’re expected to know it already.

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