Community Makes the Difference at DevLearn09

I’m still decompressing from DevLearn09. As expected, the eLearning Guild put on an outstanding event. I knew it would be too much to take in, and it was. It was hard to decide which sessions to attend, so I missed several I wanted to see because of scheduling conflicts.

The Twitter activity was also overwhelming. In every session I attended there were people tweeting about it. It’s hard to pay attention and tweet at the same time, but we want to share the small nuggets of learning. Even though I missed sessions, I got real-time reports (positive and negative) on the sessions I missed.

This was good and bad. The downside was a couple of sessions I attended didn’t meet my expectations, so seeing tweets about how fabulous others were made me a little jealous.  The good thing was that I benefited from others sharing the highlights of sessions I missed. I wish there was a way to see all the presentations I missed.

Twitter also became the de facto method of networking. Almost everyone I met included their Twitter name as part of the introductions. Mark Chrisman (@badsquare) put his Twitter name on his name badge, great idea. Michelle Lentz (@writetechnology) put it best:

My favorite recurring line this wk: “oh! I follow you on twitter!” Instant friendships. #dl09

And it really was instant friendship. We were all there for a common purpose and had similar interests, so we already had a lot to talk about. Twitter accelerated the conversation because if you just met someone you follow or who follows you, then you already knew a lot about the person.  It felt like a reunion and conversation flowed easily and freely. The networking and relationships made DevLearn even more enriching and rewarding than it already was.

The technology helps us for connections, the events help us grow relationships. This makes the community stronger. It encourages us to share and be involved, even if it’s only 140 characters at a time. The sense of community, and wanting to give back to the community, was palpable. I’ve been to other conferences, but none of them have the sense of community that DevLearn has. Twitter is just one tool that helps us connect, but it really is the people that make all the difference.

Here are some of the people I connected with, they are all great people and worth following. Thanks to B.J. Schone for the idea.

I’ve got a lot more to say about DevLearn09, but the most important part of the conference was the people and community we are a part of, so I wanted to get this out first.

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Missing the Point of Twitter

I recently read an NPR commentary about Twitter in which the author says he won’t use Twitter because he thinks people should keep their lives private and not broadcast every mundane event to world. Unfortunately, the author is missing the point, and missing it badly.

The power of Twitter is not in telling the world that I’m having a turkey sandwich for lunch. The power is in learning from other people. Twitter is an ongoing conversation about what is happening in the world around us. It’s a stream of consciousness medium that you can dip into whenever you want, or ignore for as long as you want. It’s me as an individual learning from the collective tweets of those I follow, and being able to contribute to that collective experience.

Yes, there are a lot of people tweeting away about every nuisance of their life, and that does get old, fast. But the cool thing about this stream is that you don’t have to follow everyone. You get to choose who you want to listen to – you can filter out the noise. It’s not a broadcast to the world, it’s a selective tuning in to the people and organizations you want to hear from.

With the increase of marketing, spammers, and blatant self-promotion on Twitter you have to choose carefully who you follow, and potentially who you block. I do not automatically follow everyone who follows me. I’m not trying to collect followers, I’m trying to make meaningful connections. There has to be a connection, or I won’t follow.  I also don’t feel bad about un-following people that add too much noise to the Twitterstream. Author Matthew Wayne Selznick (@mwsmedia) summed it up pretty nicely with this tweet:

“Sigh. Even the tweetstream of one of my favorite blogs, @WritetoDone, is mostly linkballast. Communicate! Be human — at least mostly!” (link)

The key to Twitter success is not having thousands, or millions, of followers. It’s following the right people and building connections. It’s who you follow, not who follows you.

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.