Archive for February 16th, 2011

Teaching social media

Posted by on Wednesday, 16 February, 2011

I’ve been thinking about how to teach people to use social media (and the webs) lately. The topic is huge and hard to narrow down. There are a bunch of things that could be covered. Everything from Facebook & Twitter, analytics, data mining, reputation management, SEO and social media, Mobile application, Video and social media, RSS vs API, programming, social bookmarking, etc.

The average person doesn’t really need to know most of this stuff. You don’t need to know how to install a server to appreciate the fact that if you use social media to generate a lot of traffic to your site, your site may go down. All you need to do is appreciate what your server is capable of and have good communication with your server people.

My biggest hurdle in teaching people about social media is they don’t see the relevance of social media to their lives and their goals. My biggest problem with social media experts is they are obsessed with tools, while forgetting underlying marketing principles. It means that many of these social media experts suck at actually selling the value of social media.

One of my big problem with teaching people about social media using existing materials is that many of the educational type materials that teach social media online tend to be behaviorist (Let me show you how to make a screencast using this type of software. Let me show you how to use this feature on YouTube) or cater to one particular learning style (Watch this YouTube video. Read this paragraph.). I’ll give an example of things that I’ve been talking about recently with others: Some one taught me how to make playlists on YouTube. I figured it out. I’ll never use this skill again. What’s the value for me? Why would I do this again? Some one else linked me to a video on YouTube to learn about some social media thing or another. I don’t learn from watching videos. (First, my computer is slow and has problems with YouTube.) I can’t sit still to watch them. If I’m not interested in the topic, there is no social pressure to bring my attention back. There is no way for me to get feedback. This goes against the learning style that works best for me. I don’t understand the relevance to my own work as the person linking me to it didn’t provide it and it didn’t come across in the video.

Those issues aside for the moment, there is the question of what to teach in a general introduction to social media type class. A couple of things come to mind immediately:

  • Why should people use social media?  What are people’s objectives in using social media?  This includes: Who are people’s audience for social media related activities?  Where is that audience located online?
  • What are the different social networks out there?  (How do they help people accomplish their goals, reach their audience where that audience is located?)
  • What the privacy implications of using social media?  Is your information actually private?
  • What are the copyright implications of using social media?  Who actually owns what you post to a site?
  • What are social media related jobs?  How do these various jobs connect?  What do people in those jobs do?
  • What are social media related analytics? How do you gather these numbers?  What do they matter?
  • What is reputation management?  How do you do monitor social media?  Why would you do that?  How does it in to the questions above?

None of these are things that I think are very industry specific.  Many of these could apply to both institutions and to individuals.  It is just an issue of remembering that keeping my friends and family updated while I study abroad is just as valid of an objective as trying to increase sport participation rates in rural areas.

The social network issue is a big one.  Teach some one to use Facebook and they can use Facebook.  (And then not, as they fail to the see the relevance to their personal objectives.)  Teach some one to use Twitter and they can use Twitter.  (They may not be able to use, plurk or Yammer.)  How do you teach that?

If you’re me, I’d first have a person list some objective they have that they may want to use social media for.  I’d then ask them who would an audience be to help them accomplish that objective.  I’d then ask them where they think those people may hang out on the Internet.  These aren’t easy questions to answer and you have to get in the mindset to do this but you need it anyway.  It provides context and relevance for the learner in everything else as they go forward.

The next thing I’d do is I’d give each person a list of five to ten sites.  The list would not include: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger, Digg, Flickr, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Foursquare.  These sites are popular and most people have probably have heard of them.  They’ve probably used them.  Instead, the list might include: Bebo, orkut, Quizilla, Gowalla, Yahoo!Answers, Plurk,, LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, BlackPlanet, 43 Things, Quora, Care2, Ecademy, Yahoo!Groups, Vimeo, Friendster, Gaia Online, hi5,, WordPress, CafeMom, DeviantART,, Library Thing.  I’d ask students to read about the sites.  (Wikipedia is a great place to start.)  I’d ask them to poke around the site, try to find out who uses them (Alexa, Compete, Quantcast can begin to give an idea), how active are site users (updating daily? updating yearly?  register and then forget the site exists?),  what sort of features the sites have (video? blogging? microblogging? photo uploading?  groups?  mailing list? rss?  checkins?), what sort of privacy users have, what sort of ways can you measure things on the site (total followers? total viewers?  total answers to questions?) and then I’d ask them how these sites can or cannot help them accomplish their goals.  I’d also have them present that information to the group: I looked at to see if it could help me keep up with industry people in sport. is dedicated to music, not sport and it is hard to see if those people are using the site and most people don’t update frequently their blogs often so it doesn’t work for me.

This is important because you’re forced to look at sites that you may not be familiar with, you’re being asked to examine the site critically, and you’re being asked to relate it back to your own life.  Different learning styles can be incorporated in for those who aren’t as keen to learn by exploring.  An instructor can provide links to relevant videos on YouTube (How to use Plurk), to texts (Plurk @ Wikipedia, Plurk @ Alexa, Plurk @ Google Scholar) to cater to users who learn by watching and to users who learn by reading in addition to learners who learn by doing and talking.

The group can prepare for the above by walking through this with one or two of the sites mentioned: What sort of privacy do you have on Twitter and Facebook?  Who uses Twitter and Facebook?  What sort of copyright is there on Facebook and Twitter?  How does that apply to your goals?

The important take away should not be: I know how to use Facebook! The important take away should be: These social networks are tools to help me accomplish my goals.  Some might not be useful to me.  Others may be more useful to me.  The important take away should be that users begin to think about who uses these sites, how private those sites really are, what tools these sites have that people can use.  When they see some social media guru talking up Quora and the student doesn’t get why Quora is the greatest social media network ever, they will now be able to explain as it relates to them.  (I can’t tell how popular I am on Quora.  I don’t get a nifty e-mail saying that I have the best answer ever.  I don’t like the copyright policies.  Search leaves something to be desires.)

If you teach about social media and your focus is on the tool, rather than on the conceptual ideas behind them, your knowledge becomes very dated very fast.  It is the the underlying reasons behind using these tools that matters more than the tools themselves.

The other parts of what I discussed teaching I will probably do in another post as this has gone on a bit longer than I intended.  (And if you learn by doing and talking, comment as I interact.  If you learn by watching, um.  Ouch.  Can’t help you with this post.)

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