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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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Make Sure Your Social Media Evangelists Feel the Love

While writing my last post, I got to thinking about all of the conversations I’ve had with the talented, ambitious, entrepreneurial colleagues I’ve gotten to know over the last few years. Most of these individuals serve, in some fashion, as social media evangelists – they’re the ones leading the charge to get their organizations on Twitter, to start blogging, to start using new technology to really change how their organizations operate.

Image Courtesy of Flickr User AndYaDontStop

I quickly realized how valuable these people are to me, not to mention how valuable they are to their own organizations. They’re always willing to share best practices, war stories, and valuable content that I can use every day.  They inspire me as I see what they’ve been able to accomplish in similar bureaucratic environments.  They seem to make everyone around them happier through their enthusiasm for using social media to connect with people.  Their ambition and passion drives others to want to do more, to try new things, and to work together to solve problems.

When I talk with these people’s peers, I hear similar stories – about the innovation they’ve enabled, the initiatives they’ve championed, and the value they’ve provided others. These social media evangelists are clearly recognized by their peers (and often, by their competitors) for making a difference and being an invaluable part of their organizations.

However, when I speak with these social media evangelists themselves, I often hear a very different story. It’s not that they aren’t appreciated – they are. It’s more that their managers haven’t figured out how to appreciate them. Rather than hearing all about the promotions, raises, or awards that I would expect to hear about from employees as valued as they are, I hear things like:

  • “Sure, I may be the “Director of Social Media,” but I don’t have any authority to make decisions and wasn’t given a budget or a team to actually scale this effectively.”
  • “My bosses say they love the work that I’m doing, but I haven’t been promoted yet, because they don’t have a progression model for someone who does social media.”
  • “I’m constantly getting recruiting calls from other organizations and headhunters because they recognize the value that I bring, but I don’t think my boss even understands what I do.”
  • “Why am I putting my butt on my line to bring about some real change in policies and culture, when I get the same raise as the guy who keeps his head down, does his job, and goes home at 5:00?”
  • I love working in social media – I feel like I’m getting an opportunity to make some real changes here, but damn, it’s exhausting constantly trying to get buy-in for my initiatives and justify my existence.”
  • “I’ve met and worked with people from across other teams throughout the organization, but because those teams fall outside of my boss’s area of responsibility, I don’t receive any credit for that work.”

If, by most accounts, these social media evangelists are highly valued for their contributions by their peers, colleagues, and competitors, why then, do they not feel like they’re valued members of their own organization?  Why aren’t they moving quickly up the corporate ladder?  Why do they feel exhausted and frustrated (but simultaneously excited and motivated)?  Why are these social media evangelists highly sought after by recruiters and competitors, yet often ignored or misunderstood by their own management chain?

If you’re the manager for one of these social media evangelists, here are five ways to ensure that they do indeed feel the love:

  • Do some research about social media and your organization. Go beyond just what you see on the status reports and performance reviews and find out exactly what impacts this person has had.  Reading “starting the organization’s Yammer network” doesn’t sound all that impressive until you actually join the network and see thousands of people from across the organization collaborating with each other in ways that were impossible using existing technology.
  • Talk to other people. What’s been the real impact of this person’s work? This impact doesn’t have to be measured in dollars and cents. Have they empowered others to become more innovative? Has their work resulted in changed policies and practices that have opened doors for other initiatives? Find out exactly how their peers look at this individual and why.
  • Realize that your traditional business models and performance reviews may need to be adjusted. You can’t tell someone they’re a high performer and you value what they bring to the organization, but fail to promote them or give them a raise because they may not fit nicely into your existing models. Work with them to identify ways to keep them moving up the corporate ladder without destroying their creativity and ambition.
  • Consider using non-traditional rewards. The social media evangelist loves getting promotions and raises (who doesn’t?), but they also highly value rewards that make their work easier and allows them to be more effective. Instead of the traditional “Great job!” certificate or Starbucks gift card, consider giving them an intern that can help them with their day-to-day work or a small yearly budget that they can use to purchase specialized software (Photoshop, etc.) or hardware (Flip cameras, additional RAM, etc.).
  • Support their initiatives. Check in regularly and ask if there’s anything you can help with – that may be something simple like sending an email to the team to show that you support what they’re proposing or setting up a meeting for them with a member of the organization’s leadership to discuss his/her plans and dreams.

Most importantly (and this is the easiest and most effective tactic), make sure that you actually care about the work that they’re doing. This may sound like common sense, but every time you giggle when this highly valued employee says the word “tweet,” know that a small part of him/her is dying. They take their jobs very seriously and have spent many many hours trying to help others understand the work that they do – the last thing they need is to have to explain what a wiki is to the person who’s supposed to be their biggest champion. Remember that while these people may present additional managerial challenges, they’re also some of your most entrepreneurial, ambitious, innovative, and passionate employees. Make sure that they’re feeling the love from you, because if they’re not, there are many other organizations searching high and low for people just this who are more than ready to show them the love.

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Entrepreneurs: Celebrated in the Private Sector, Hidden in Government

Webster’s Dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. It’s the “American dream” – owning your business, being your own boss, creating and growing something new and doing it better than anyone else. Kids are encouraged to dream big, to innovate, to invent, and to be ambitious. Silicon Valley has been built on the backs of these risk-taking entrepreneurs.

  • Facebook, the behemoth of a social network with 500 million worldwide users, was founded by a college student and his buddies.
  • Google, the search engine that processes  more than a billion searches a day, was founded by two graduate students.
  • Apple, the ubiquitous electronics company behind the iPhones and iPods we all carry around with us, was started by three guys building computers in their basement.
  • eBay, the most successful online auction site in the world, was started when someone bought computer programmer Pierre Omidyar‘s broken laser pointer on his personal auction site.

Read Fast Company. Read Wired. Read Inc. It’s not hard to find hundreds more stories just like these  – entrepreneurial people who have an idea, take a risk and build a business to scale that idea to the public.  Most of these ideas flame out, some become massive successes, but almost all will, at some point, go back to the drawing board and try to do it all again. There’s no shortage of opportunities to fix something or improve on something else, and the beautiful thing about America is that there will always be someone, somewhere, thinking of a way to fix it.

As this year’s Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo have shown, this spirit of entrepreneurship has spread to the DC area as well, prompting some to ask if DC can become the next Silicon Valley and Mark Drapeau to wonder about the long-term vision for for open government entrepreneurship. However, what struck me as I read through Mark’s article and GovFresh’s “10 Entrepreneurs Changing the Way Government Works” was they they focused entirely on people working in the private sector. Can civil servants not be entrepreneurs as well?

“One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

Does this not apply to those working IN government too? While they may not be entrepreneurs in the traditional sense, the spirit of entrepreneurship is certainly alive and well among those in the federal, state, and local government.  Unfortunately, while entrepreneurs who identify problems, take risks, and build businesses are celebrated and featured in glowing articles in magazines, those in the government who identify problems, take risks, and drive innovative changes usually toil in virtual obscurity at best, or are reprimanded at worst.

Dilbert.com

True open government entrepreneurship isn’t just about open data or mashups or social networking platforms or DC start-ups. It’s about those civil servants who organize, manage, and assume the risks of changing the way our government works. It’s about those analysts who create a platform that changes the way intelligence analysis is done. It’s about two State Department staffers fundamentally changing how diplomacy works.  Just because they’re not starting a business doesn’t make them any less of an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, most civil servant entrepreneurs are hidden away from public view and recognition. For every Alec Ross and Sean Dennehy, there are ten other entrepreneurs who instead of being celebrated for their ambition, are penalized for their ambitions. Rather than New York Times articles or speaking slots at O’Reilly conferences, civil servant entrepreneurs instead hear:

  • “You can’t talk directly to the Director – you’re not high enough on the totem pole”
  • “That’s something that will have to be decided above your pay grade”
  • “Make sure you get approval from public affairs before you talk about that. And oh by the way, that process could take 1-2 weeks.”
  • “That’s not your job – let so-and-so deal with that”
  • “Sure, we might become more efficient, but that means we may also lose 2-3 billets and/or funding”
  • “According to policy X, that’s not allowed”

The long-term success of open government entrepreneurship lies not with more open government business models from the private sector, but within the government itself. We must do a better job of creating an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship is encouraged and rewarded. Government isn’t lacking for entrepreneurship opportunities, ideas, or ambitious people – it’s lacking the processes to do something with those ideas and people. Instead of relying on open government entrepreneurs in the public sector, let’s do a better job of encouraging and empowering the entrepreneurs within.

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Dear IT Guy, Can You Actually Use the Tool You’re Creating?

Do the top developers for Google’s Android operating system use Blackberries?  Do the IT guys developing Windows 7 use Macs?  Do the folks at WordPress use Blogger to host their personal blogs?

These are purposely ridiculous questions – wouldn’t the best developers use the actual tools they’re responsible for building?  Wouldn’t they do their job more effectively if they were actually a user of the product they’re developing? Doesn’t the product have more credibility if the people behind it are believers in the product’s features?  Out of everyone, shouldn’t the development team, at least, be the biggest advocates of the very software they’re implementing?  Shouldn’t they be the ones drinking the Kool-Aid?

Unfortunately, IT departments at large companies and government agencies are too often doing the equivalent of developing Android apps at work and using the iPhone at home. Sharepoint developers implement Sharepoint, yet they don’t use it to manage the implementation. The guys installing your organization’s blogging software don’t realize that the “Add a Picture” button doesn’t work because they don’t have blogs.  The team responsible for increasing awareness of your Enterprise 2.0 platform haven’t even created profiles of themselves.

Now, take a look at the official support areas for WordPress, Telligent, MindTouch, Jive or any of the dozens of social software vendor sites.  Notice anything? The developers are often the most active members of their respective communities and they’re using their own software day after day in the course of doing their jobs. If there’s a glitch involved with posting a new comment to a forum, they’re going to be the first ones to see it, diagnose the problem and fix it.

Sadly, I’ve been seeing these situations increase with the emergence of the Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 initiatives. IT departments are increasingly being asked to implement wikis, blogs, social bookmarking, video-sharing, and dozens of other varieties of collaboration software – software they may know how to code, but often have no idea how to actually use.  They’re just told to “give us a wiki” or “develop a blog for me.”  Actually using the blog or wiki isn’t a requirement.  As as I was told by one programmer a year or so ago when I recommended he start a blog to inform the rest of the community about the latest enhancements and maintenance activities,

“Every hour I spend playing around on a blog post is an hour I spend away from coding!”

Well, that was helpful – thanks! Instead of getting frustrated and ending the conversation, I should have instead elaborated on the benefits that a developer enjoys when he becomes a user instead of just a developer.

  • Higher quality product – you can identify bugs and feature improvements before they become problems for other users.
  • Increased credibility – If, as a user,  I ask how to upload my photo, guess whose response I’m going to be believe – the guy with an empty profile or the guy who’s been active on the community for the last year?
  • Increased “forgive-ability” – Look, we know that these sites will go down occasionally, especially when they’re first being developed.  We can deal with that…if we’ve been reading your blog and know that it’s down this Saturday night because you’re installing the new widget we’ve been asking for. If the site goes down and all we get is a 404 error page stating that the site is down for maintenance…again, we’re going to be less than pleased.
  • Content Seeding – Clients are always asking,  “how are we going to get people to actually work on this site and add content?”  Well, before you even launch, if your project team (including developers, community managers, comms people, etc.) actually use the site you’re building, you’ll create a solid base of content before you even start to open it up to more people.  Adding to existing content (even if it’s not related) is always easier than creating something new.
  • Common Ground – you become a member of the community instead of the guy behind the curtain making changes willy-nilly. You gain trust and respect because they know that you’re dealing with the same issues they are.  You’re struggling to access the site on your phone too.  You’re not getting the alerts you signed up for either.  You’re not able to embed videos correctly.  You go through what they go through.
  • Greater ownership in the final product – The community becomes YOUR community, not something you’re just developing for a bunch of “users.”  You become invested in it and want to make it faster, add new features, win awards, etc. because you’re a part of it.

For all you non-developers out there, would you like your IT staff to be more visible?  Would you be interested in learning more about what’s happening under the hood of your Intranet/Enterprise 2.0 platform?  What other benefits do you see to getting them more involved?

For you developers, what’s preventing you from getting this involved in the communities/platforms that you’re responsible for creating?

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