It was something of a fairytale cluster-f***, the first time I spoke on leveraging social networks. The original speaker had an emergency and I was asked to jump in with about two day’s notice. That timing does not sound like much of an issue for an academicky person. However, this was one of my first guest speaking gigs, and while I had lived leveraging the social network, I’d never spoken on it and I wasn’t sure what to say to a room full of undergraduates – especially ones who were looking to leverage social networks for public relations purposes.
So, I did what I always do in those situations – I leverage my social network. It was a Sunday morning in my time zone, but I immediately sent out the SOS over Twitter. Bonnie Stewart answered within minutes with a proposed framework for the talk (Rheingold, bless her and him). Tressie McMillan Cottom wielded her enormous influence by retweeting my request. From her retweet, PR and social media reps for nonprofits emerged from the wordwork. Using DMs, they and I went through all the things that I knew to be true in personal learning networks and they confirmed that my message was on point and relevant for their audiences/students too. Between these interactions I was able to cobble something together and get over my enormous stage fright (I’m no natural public speaker) to do something right enough that the marvelous Judi Crenshaw invited me back for a second round. I’m speaking to the next iteration of her social media class (#vcusmclass) tomorrow morning.
So…four months. How things have changed. In some ways, that talk was a personal watershed event – the first time I wasn’t scared out of my mind the entire time, the first time I was forced to be concrete on how my personal learning network works and to realize what’s important about it, the first time I really felt like I had something to say that was worth hearing. Here’s what I felt was important in my message:
- Seek out people different from yourself and each other. This is betweenness centrality. This is what Rheingold calls benefiting from collective IQ, seeing outside of your perspective, finding new ways to help.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. The whole point of a personal learning network is to learn something, so shut up and listen. Try to understand where people are coming from and respect that they may not want to answer your direct (and directly ignorant) questions. Be patient. Read. Listen first.
- Be helpful. As you listen, needs will emerge. A reference, a framework, an opinion, an introduction. You may be able to find these things out for other people and you should. Ultimately, others will help you too, but that’s not why you do it. You do it to be a positive contributor to the community. That feels good.
- There are multiple ways to be helpful. They all start with listening of course, but they can include finding answers, curating content, producing new content, providing feedback, summarizing what’s already out there. Students can do all of these things.
None of these ideas have changed – they are still the centerpiece of my presentation. Other things have changed, though
- I’m trying to start a trend (that is arguably trending in some contexts). My new presentation has my Twitter handle and the course hashtag (could be replaced by any contextualizing hashtag) on each slide. That’s to help session participants engage in best practices for live tweeting or slide sharing (see my open letter to presenters)
- I de-emphasized the social network analysis since students last semester did not seem interested in trying it for themselves. The sociograms are still there and I spend time discussing the importance of different locations within the network, but I don’t go into how they could do the analysis themselves. In retrospect, that might be a bit to advanced and research-y for an introductory talk.
- I emphasized the importance of their profile as a balanced picture of who THEY are – not their organization, not their drinking parties… I used Bonnie Stewart’s dissertation work on what counts as influence in Academic Twitter as a reference and inspiration.
- I also plan to remind students that their digital identities are as dynamic as their physical identities. We rebrand ourselves in real life all the time. We change our style. Our hair. Our pronouns. Our jobs. Resumes are not static – Social media profiles shouldn’t be either. I feel like sometimes we are so scared about what young people put on social media (in terms of permanent pictures of beer pong) that we scare them out of allowing it to be an authentic representation of themselves over time. I’m all for working with students to develop their sense of self awareness and understanding of how beer pong is not always awesome. However, my twitter profile changes every 4 months or so. I update my CV every 4 months or so. I reflect on who I’m becoming…probably more often than that, but at least it serves as a reminder to do so. Identity, digital or otherwise, is not a finished product – it’s a work in progress up until the day we die.
Here’s the new presentation. I like it. It’s grown some, in the sense that I feel like it and I are more comfortable with what we are and what we know.