The key to gaining the maximum benefit from social tools is to focus of what we are trying to deliver and achieve rather than on the 'form' of the tools themselves. This will help us identify the best tool - or very often tools - for our purposes.
This was Hazel Hall's message to delegates at the January NetIKX meeting held in London. Nicky Whitsted, of the Open University, agreed. She urged delegates to experiment as much as possible.
Risk and experiment
The challenge for many people trying to use social media in the workplace is that they can have an 'image problem'. Indeed, when the audience was asked about workplace barriers, a significant minority reported their organisations actually blocked access to social media. If a key message of the meeting was that organisations have to become less risk averse, this is true of professionals too. We are now in a 'perpetual beta' world where we have to be comfortable with 'good enough' rather than 'perfect and fixed'. This means being more open to failure and willing to carry out realtime changes and improvements. One delegate referred to this need to plunge in and early adopt as 'skinny dipping'!
The Open University (OU) has a great deal of experience with developing and experimenting with new tools and learning models. E-learning is of course key to the OU business model but it is not just students that are offered support. A new initiative aimed at the academics, Digilab, aims to help familiarise them with the teaching and research potential of new technologies. The University offers free access to learning objects via Open Learn and has a significant presence on iTunesU.
From informing to collaborating
Hazel cautioned against the tendency to 'broadcast' only - although sometimes broadcasting is appropriate. For example, on LISRC the Twitter feed is used for 'twinforming' - it's a current awareness broadcast in a new format.
However, the true value of these tools lies in their ability to help us collaborate and converse with others. For example, the creation of wikis that provide collaborative learning spaces. When LISRC held its conference in 2010, a liveblogger extended participation to a significant number of 'followers' who were not in the actual room.
Social media is an aggregator of data and information, but also of people - both stakeholders and employees. One of the interesting things about social media is 'bricolage' - the new and unexpected uses of tools once users get hold of them. We must turn our end users into collaborators and help guide them through social media. Two delegates reported success with Yammer, particularly in the take-up rate of senior management who in their turn encouraged others to participate and collaborate.
Profile raising and professional development
Social media has another great function for the information/knowledge profession - it can help us in our professional development. Hazel said that new media has helped bring to the fore a group of 'youngster elders' - young professionals who have got great things to say and whose profiles have been elevated through their social networking. Hazel always shares her presentations with colleagues before speaking events. Her colleagues act as peer reviewers and often enhance her content. Annie Mauger, Cilip's Chief Executive, crowdsourced her blog name.
At the OU an initiative called Social Learn is a collaborative learning space that enables participants to rate and recommend learning pathways and learn from and share with colleagues. Participants can create personalised dashboards to assist their personal development.
A meeting about the use of social media was hosted by NetIKX a year ago. Delegates who attended that meeting reported just how much had changed over 12 months. We decided it was best not to predict what we might be discussing in this time next year!
Photo courtesy of: Asthma Helper via Flickr