Archive | August, 2012

Sharing, Sharing, Sharing

16 Aug

I was a Scout leader many years ago when my kids were young. They are all grown up now but I still remember the Beaver motto – Sharing, Sharing, Sharing.

OK, you need a simple motto for 5-7 year old kids . . . but it is a powerful concept; especially if what you are talking about is sharing knowledge or expertise.

The rapid increase in the popularity of social networking and social media channels could have a huge effect on people, especially professionals and associations if people were generally willing to share their ideas and insights. I opened many a classroom training session with the statement “We all know more than any one of us” to encourage sharing and participation. Mentoring and apprenticeship have been fundamental and very effective forms of training and education since forever. Associations have a very powerful but often untapped asset in their members capabilities and expertise. Many associations have tried mentoring and even eMentoring with some success, but are people willing to share their knowledge online?

A recent study of 300 highly educated professionals who actively participate in social media networks called “The Social Mind” indicates that some are:

  • 80% participated in groups online to help others by sharing information ideas and experiences
  • they spent 40% of their time online interacting in peer-based communities

This is crucially important to associations. Senior staff of any professional association should take notice that motivated people are learning that they can have influence and can build a reputation beyond their workplaces in online communities of peers. In fact, all association staff need to realize the huge impact of social networking and how it may affect their jobs.

Forget the social in social networking; for associations it is mostly about networking. On a very simple level, people facing a problem, challenge or situation they are not familiar with have always looked for good information and someone they can go to that should know the answer. They could turn to a co-worker, colleague, boss, coach, supplier or anyone that is willing to help out or point them in the right direction. The first reaction is usually to ask someone close by but the advent of social networking on the internet means people are learning that experts and expert opinion can be accessed online.

Once your association or group starts to build an online body of knowledge that is seen by all, that has comments and questions associated with it, that every member can see who posted and what their reputation is, you have a constantly growing asset that is invaluable, especially to new members. And perhaps the best part, is that once started, this asset will grow without much staff time commitment provided you have systems that allow comments on posts and perhaps a flagging system that allows members to flag inaccurate or inappropriate items. AssociCom software even has an adjudication system that allows the membership to suggest actions and vote on flagged items. The administrators have the final say but the process is very democratic.

Despite Google’s best efforts pertinent information is often difficult to find. People need help to identify what is valuable. Being able to see what the high reputation experts are collecting and their comments on what others have collected is a form of social curation that is also very powerful and the subject of another blog here.

Social Networking is More Than Having a Good Time

13 Aug

Social networking is more than being social or having a good time. Social networks and online communities can be and to this point, are often about having a good time or staying in touch with friends and family. After all, Facebook, because it is so huge and so recognizable, has come in many people’s minds to define social networking. Another factor in the misperception of the meaning of social networking is that the word social often is used in a “having a good time” way; as in a social occasion. Actually though, the definition of social is “Of or relating to society or its organization”. Organizing society is a little more serious than having a good time.

Online communities have a serious purpose in communicating and educating. A recent study called “The Social Mind Research Project” shows that highly educated professionals who actively participate in social media networks, spend approximately 40% of their time online interacting in peer-peer communities. That is more than friends (31%) and family (13%). These professionals are leading the way. They are getting the information they need online in peer to peer communities.

Traditional media is giving way to socially curated online content from online experts. One of the reasons I joined AssociCom was that during my eLearning studies, it was becoming clear that professionals, in fact anyone with access to a computer, could engage in the tried and true, old fashioned strategy, when facing a new situation, challenge or problem, of simply asking someone that they know and trust. By going to the right community, anyone can ask or read the latest expert opinion online 24/7/365. The most largest online communities may now be social, but professional online communities specifically designed for support, discussions, reference and communication about specialized topics and interests are developing fast.

A further finding from the same study that may surprise you, is that nearly 80% of the online community participants, participate in online groups to help others by sharing information and experiences. This is a huge finding and I hope will reassure those that are having problems with getting engagement on their Facebook sites, that lack of participation does not necessarily mean lack of interest. It may be a lack of design features that allow people to share with colleagues such as persistent searchable information, privacy or focus.

Many large associations that can afford it have seen the writing on the wall and have started their own online communities. They vary in private/public openness and some are perhaps more portals to sell or renew association memberships, sell eLearning courses or order association materials than allow members to communicate and share information.

We will see more member oriented online communities that allow and encourage membership participation in their design as design is informed by experience and research. MIT published an excellent book “Building Successful Online Communities – Evidence-Based Social Design” that relates directly from sociology studies to design claims. My favorite approach is the study of Social Capital and online communities . . . but I have blogged about that before.