Using Social Media for Engagement
A session of EdMedia 2016 chaired by George Veletsianos of Royal Roads University, Canada called “The role of openness and social media in emerging scholars' lives”, covered the uses of social media by academics and professionals a like. Here I cover some of the discussion viewpoints on the usage of social media and the motivations behind them.
Why do we use social media?
The engagement with students, colleagues and other professionals through social media is one of the best ways to keep in touch, trade material and resources and improve discussion. Social media allows the sharing of information by broadcasting to all within the social sphere you create. This sphere is something you are allowed to create and manage, allowing you to set the terms of who sees the material and the context in which they receive your information.
Social media allows you to see the people you engage with in a social context without meeting them. As a social media participant you also allow them to see your past interactions within the network. When deciding to use a particular network you should be considering this, your previous actions may influence how others perceive you online. This is something you may not want when using social media for a specific reason.
You should consider if you are using social media for your own gains or the needs of your colleagues and students. Having students request that you communicate with them through a specific medium, on your terms may not be the best solution to their needs. Deciding on the platform as a group, the controlled nature of a specific created Facebook page or mediated forums on internal LMSs may serve a better purpose than open communication or maintaining individual communication lines through email. This type of interaction may be expected by students, we interact regularly with each other on these networks so why not for professional work. This all comes down to how you want to use the various networks, and whether you decide to have multiple accounts.
What is the difference between using standard social media or one provided by the institution?
Social media only works when a critical amount of people make use of it, dependant on the group size. It’s why people will insist on using the larger networks for the largest tasks, the chance an audience using the social network is higher the bigger the network as a whole. There are specific networks for specific tasks, although you shouldn't be afraid of using them for things outside their purpose. Reattribution of a social networks services is one of the main ways Facebook stays popular. This can only be a problem if you are forcing people into social networks they don't wish to be a part of, which can become detrimental to personal relationships as you may be excluding individuals from the group. All LMSs have discussion sections or forums, you could also provide simple comment threads via tools like https://disqus.com/ on any HTML page, these are easy to manage and setup.
Individual communication may not be necessary if the purpose is to broadcast, email and phone calls still have a place in one to one relationships. This with an institutionally provided platform also provides a level of authority to the conversation. The student understands that material on an LMS, whether serious or not is to do with work, is authoritative. Moving this to a non-provided network may compromise this. You also lose the possibility of control. The external social network may decide to remove the service you are using, block or ban the users for reasons beyond your control. Imagine a student who decides to use the same social network you use for something that breaks the network terms of service, you now can no longer communicate with them if that is the only means for doing so. You may be forcing a student or colleague to accept a terms of service outside of the institutional remit, the confusion over which takes precedent is something to consider.
How do we manage the personal and professional online?
There is no correct way to use social media. What you use each of the various social media networks for is a personal decision usually formed by the medium. The discussion showed that everyone used them for different reasons, separating our online lives by the tool. There was significant usage of multiple accounts to manage how things are used, usually along personal and professional lines. Twitter is used more for reactionary and information providing a stream of information to people or engaging in conversations. Facebook used mainly for organisation of events and group discussion but also the personal narrative, interacting with the personal whilst organising the professional. Their tools allowing for easy sharing of images and files. Most wouldn’t use LinkedIn for anything outside of career based goals.
Aberystwyth University, where this project is based has specific guidelines for using social media officially and strong advice for personal usage when referring to the University. These do not tell you in any way how to use the networks, just how to conduct yourselves on them. They also give advice and recommendations on having personal awareness of your actions and that referring to the University in your actions must be done in context. If you say that you speak for the University when you don't or use internal University information, this becomes a serious problem leading to disciplinary action. I imagine that every institution and company has a similar policies, which all probably say the similar things.
Do we consider the corporation behind the platform?
The considerations of the larger corporation behind the social network must be considered. Any long term investment in social media must also come with the knowledge that the company behind it has no obligation to continue the service, whether free or not. There is an adage that “if the service being provided is free, then the user is the product”. The company is certainly using user activity to sell that information to advertisers and analytics companies. Should it be the obligation of the institution to protect its users extend to their social media activity or is this solely their responsibility?