Apr 13, 2012 - Social Media    2 Comments

So many sites, so little time!

I was recently asked to recommend four social networks for educators. There are so many different sites out there, with new ones popping up all over the place. How do you decide where to invest your already limited amount of time? Here’s how I responded:

What networks to check out depends a lot on what you want to do with them. If you are wanting to develop a presence somewhere that K12 students can interact in, there are a bunch of Facebook-ish and YouTube-like clones popping up. There are also several closed communities developing for educators, like profology.com. Steve Hargadon hosts a very popular Classroom 2.0 forum at http://www.classroom20.com/. Google+ is getting a lot of buzz, as long as you remember to interact there.

The challenge to the “start-ups” is that they don’t always connect into current networks. For example, one reason FB and Twitter are so popular is that you can access it from a variety of formats (web, phone, txt). They connect in easily to lots of other networks (auto-post your blogs, update status in one place – post to others, critical mass of users to make engagement more likely to succeed, etc). For me, use is determined a lot by how flexible it is in terms of being able to hook in what I already have going with a minimum of effort.

I like tools like paper.li that lets you select a content stream and then auto-posts it out to Twitter (which in turn can post it to LI and FB). Here’s the latest Educational Experimentalist Daily: http://paper.li/ChangeEd/1321217467. The main focus is, you guessed it, education! The Debby Kurti Daily has a broader focus because of the larger network I follow on that username: http://paper.li/DebbyK. Both of these pull from what is being posted through my Twitter network and it automatically formats it into a nice “newspaper”, making it easier to parse the tweets.

If you are wanting to connect with other educators in terms of professional development, idea sharing, and general networking, I would seriously engage in the following:

1) LinkedIn - good “professional” networking site. Let’s up put up an expanded resume, get recommendations, etc. There are lots of groups on LI that have varying degrees of activity. You can link your twitter updates into LI where they will display as status updates, effectively keeping your name current on the news feed. Not very exciting, but probably useful.

2) Twitter - excellent resource for connecting with other innovative educators, locally, nationally, internationally. I have a couple of lists set up for “teacher types”, “ed techies”, “education & politics” etc. That’s a good place to start if you are looking for people to add to your own network. Once you are connected in, you can participate in twitter chats.

Both are good and will give you other people to follow. Twitter is good for sharing ideas, resources, blog posts, conference sessions. It’s the “brainstorming” tool and works best when you engage with others in a give and take of resources. Most people way overthink Twitter. It’s super easy to use, especially since most stuff you read online has a “tweet this” link somewhere on the page. I use it from my phone to manage several different accounts. Here’s something I wrote recently about how I use Twitter:

3) Facebook - Tie in your Twitter feed here also. While Twitter is good for “water cooler” discussions, Facebook is a place to extend the conversation. Lots of educators are using this in a variety of ways. You’ve seen how my page is a melting pot of personal and professional, a convergences of multiple social circles that all interact in the space I have developed to create very rich discussions at times (at other times, the debate is over which way to hang a roll of toilet paper!). There are some good groups that utilize Facebook, including one called The Innovative Educator.

4) Pinterest - newcomer on the scene with an interesting visual paradigm for networking. I haven’t fully engaged here but I see lots of potential. It’s shot up to the #3 social networking site in terms of traffic. It ties in with Facebook and Twitter and is getting a lot of buzz as a way to visually curate the massive amounts of information we are exposed to every day. I suppose the key to success here is to develop a decent organizational scheme so that you remember where you actually put stuff!

There are lots of other networks out there, and I probably have accounts on almost all of them (early adopter syndrome), but for all practical purposes, I invest most of my energy into Twitter and FB. The only thing that keeps me off Google+ more is that they don’t have a way to import twitter and blog feeds automatically. They’ll let you export THEIR content to other sources but not the other way around. I do have it set up so that when I post to G+ it does an automatic post to my blog, which in turn goes to Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn, and it always surprises me when it does that because I seldom do post to G+ and forget about the domino effect it has.

There is a fine art to cultivating a community of practice via the interwebs (as opposed to amassing a bunch of groupies). It involves an investment of time to build up a network, to participate in some manner, and to understand the different dynamics of each site. They aren’t all the same, but they overlap in some ways. The communication styles are different, but complimentary. If you use them as a way to blow your own horn all the time, people will tire of that and not pay attention much. If you use it to engage in a larger discussion about issues that matter and build up your credibility and someone who is a “member” of the community, then the possibilities are endless. I literally learn something new every day via the networks. It’s been a good experience :)

What networks would you recommend? Where do you find the most value? If you only had to pick a couple, which would they be?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Clark-Barnett/1353793864 Clark Barnett

    Do you ever come across a social network that you really want to be more socially involved in, but just don’t? YouTube and Skype are like that for me. I use them all the time, but not like other social networks where I am interacting with lots of different people. I haven’t gotten into pintrest yet. It seems too much of a time killer. I have seen what it’s done to my wife, and her scarves.

  • Debby K

    All the time. I’ve probably got an account on just about every network out there. I use the ones the most that I get the most benefit from (FB/Twitter). I’d really like G+ to be more useful to me, but I haven’t invested the time there to make it that way. There’s not a critical mass of people I follow and interact there yet and it doesn’t pull in the other stuff I like to use. Most of my FB and Twitter use has very specific purposes and they work well for the types of communication I like to, and need to, engage in.

    I think one of the things to consider is that not every site that lets you communicate with other people is necessarily a social network, just like not every discussion group is necessarily a community of practice. I guess YouTube *could* be if you used it that way. Skype is just a chat program, so I see it as more of a 1-to-1 tool. Again, that’s just how I perceive and use them. At some point, there is a trade-off between value received and time invested. They can all be productivity killing black holes if you let them!