Teaching the Social Web

Yesterday my wife got a message on Facebook from a friend asking for advice on how to handle a young teenage girl’s use of MySpace. I instantly went into parent mode and told her how we deal with our teenager. The overall theme of my response was trust and communication. If you build trust and communicate openly, you can avoid a lot of problems and pitfalls.

Then I got to work and started thinking about social learning, the workplace, and generation gaps. Today we think and talk about how to implement and manage social learning in the workplace. I’ve seen discussions and blog posts about appropriate use of social tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and FriendFeed in the workplace. People talk about the same themes I did in my response: Trust and Communication.

  • Do we trust people to be responsible in the workplace?
  • What types of communication are appropriate?
  • Are usage guidelines effectively defined?

The talk is often reactive, e.g.  people have the tools and are using them, so we need to put some guidelines and policies in place. It’s shifting to be more proactive, e.g. how do we build social learning tools our employees can use effectively?

We need to be proactive and think about our future workforce. My 4th grader just finished a research report. From my perspective the goal of the report was to prepare kids for more in-depth research and reporting as they get older – valuable skills in the professional workplace. There was a direct correlation between the 4th grade report and the work I do daily. Schools have built-in programs that prepare kids not only for the next level of education, but also for life as a working adult. But does that preparation adequately address the rapid shift of social interactions to the online world? Are kids being prepared to use social tools as resources?

At a certain level and in some cases, yes. But are the foundations for responsible and effective use being laid at the right age? I’m not sure. If kids, and I mean pre-teen kids, can learn to research online using government web sites and Wikipedia, then shouldn’t they also learn about how to use social sites for learning? At what age should they start learning how to be an online citizen?

Parents need to be responsible and discuss appropriate social use of the web with their kids, but do schools bear some responsibility for preparing kids for appropriate social learning? What does that preparation look like? Most professional jobs expect entry level workers to know certian tools like Office. When do we start demanding that workers also demonstrate effective use of Twitter or LinkedIn or Ning or blogging? It’s a question worth asking of your local school board.

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Will Social Marketing Kill Social Learning?

Twitter may be the hottest thing online right now, and is probably the fastest growing social networking tool around. Twitter is all over the news, both online and traditional. Everyone from Barack Obama to the Chihuahua next door has a Twitter account. It’s becoming as commonplace as email.

A couple of days ago ZDNet posted an article about a commercial Twitter spamming tool. Not surprisingly, I heard about the article on Twitter. Twitter spam is nothing new. If you’ve had an account for more than a couple of days, you’ve probably gotten followers who are spammers trying to get you to follow them. The article got me thinking about the negative impact social marketing  has on social learning.

Twitter seems to be changing from a fun way to connect and share into a promotional tool. I got hooked on twitter because I enjoyed reading little snippets about what people were up to. I’ve found a lot of great resources through Twitter. From that perspective, Twitter is a great social learning tool. You can find resources and even get help from your Tweeps (people you follow or who follow you).

I think social marketing could negatively impact social learning. With so many companies getting accounts and pushing their products and services, it’s becoming harder and harder to find value in individual tweets. Companies don’t seem to really understand Social Marketing. Social marketing works when Person A tweets about a product and gets Person B interested. Person B then passes it on to others, and so on.

Just because a company has a Twitter account does not mean it uses social marketing. Using a social networking tool to spam us with ads is not social marketing. At that point it is just advertising, and I get plenty of that already. Social marketing is also not viral marketing. They are very different and companies need to learn the difference.

For me the value of the resource or tweet comes from the source. If B.J. Schone or Tony Karrer posts a link about training, I’ll check it out. They are real people who contribute to the online community. Company X posting links to their own white papers do not have the same value for me and I probably won’t follow the link. More precisely, I won’t follow them to begin with.

I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the number of followers I’ve gotten over the past month or so. I usually wait a few days before checking out their profile, and about half the time the account has been suspended by the time I check it out. I don’t typically follow people unless their profile indicates we have something in common, either professionally or personally.

At least with Twitter we have control. I don’t have to follow every entity that follows me and I can block ones that really offend me. I can unfollow people who do nothing but promote themselves or the companies they work for. I can follow cool services like @php that will help me, or people like @DarthVader that make me laugh, or people like JC Hutchins that I’m a fan of. I can still take advantage of social learning, but I first have to separate the signal from the noise.

Twitter is still awesome even though corporations, spammers, and “social marketers” have jumped on the band wagon. We just have to not follow them. You should measure the value of Twitter by the quality of the people, real people, that you connect with, not by the number of followers you have.  Twitter and other social tools have the power to be great learning resources, just don’t let the spam get in the way. Now I have to go reduce my Twitter noise.