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12 Step Plan to getting started with Social Media
elearning age magazine, September 2008

New web tools, known as Web 2.0 or social media tools are creating a new phase of Learning known as (E-)Learning 2.0 or Social Learning. Jane Hart, a Social Media & Learning Consultant, provides a quick guide to getting started with social media for your own learning and productivity.

What is social media? Wikipedia defines social media as “an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio”.

Social media includes sites and tools like blogs, wikis, social networks, social bookmarking and micro-blogging services as well as photo, video and other sharing sites.

How does social media differ from traditional media? The first phase of the Web (Web 1.0) was all about content publishing by “experts”, social media is part of the second phase of the Web (Web 2.0) which supports social interactions and connections with people, as well as collaboration and sharing, and the creation of user-generated content (UGC).

In the workplace this enables new approaches to working and learning including informal learning, performance support, personal, self-managed learning and group learning, aka social learning or E-Learning 2.0

More and more L&D professionals are beginning to make use of social media to create social and collaborative learning experiences for their people. To understand the value of social media you really need to experience it yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to dive into the deep end and start writing a blog – unless you want to - you can ease yourself in gently as there are a number of levels of engagement with social media, from being a (passive) consumer, to being an (active) contributor as well as a (proactive) creator.

Here’s a 12 step plan for getting engaged with social media for your own learning and productivity.

  1. Become an effective consumer: Most people will come across social media sites when browsing the Web, but don’t disregard sites that support UGC like YouTube (for videos) and Slideshare (for presentations) because you think they will be frivolous. Many are now becoming mainstream resources as they are being used by traditional organisations as new channels of communication. You just need to be able to evaluate content and identify trusted sources relevant to your interests.
  2. Rate and comment on content. Part of the process of identifying useful and valuable content is through the rating of content. If people like a YouTube video they give it a high rating, so all the good content rises to the top. Become part of that process and help to identify good content; sign up for accounts at sites like YouTube and Slideshare, and then rate and/or comment on content created by others.
  3. Store your bookmarks online. Once you have located useful and valuable sources of interest, bookmark them, but instead of just storing them on your computer use an online bookmarking service like Delicious or diigo, which lets you “tag” the links with keywords and then share your bookmarks with colleagues. You can also use a common tag to build a library of links for a team or project or even course.
  4. Comment on blogs. Rather than just read the postings of your favourite bloggers, start to interact with them and contribute to their blogs by commenting on postings. Most bloggers encourage discussion and feedback on their posts, so if you find something you like, tell the blogger; and if you don’t agree with something they say; then let them know that too.
  5. Subscribe to blog feeds and share items of interest with others. When you find a blog you like, subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed using an online feed reader like Google Reader or Bloglines. This means you won’t have to keep going to the blog to find out if there’s a new posting, your reader will display the latest postings automatically, and you can aggregate and manage all your blog and website feeds in one place too. You can also share any postings of interest with other colleagues as well.
  6. Contribute to content. Wikis are editable websites that allow for collaborative editing and publishing. The best known is of course Wikipedia, which is an encyclopaedia that has been created by thousands of individuals. Become one of the contributors on this, or any other public or private wiki of interest, e.g. Wikiversity, and help to keep it up to date as well as contribute to its evolution.
  7. Get connected: Join a social network and start connecting with like-minded people. Public social networks like Facebook have got a bad name in the business world because of some of the trivial aspects to them, but don’t write all social networks off in the same way. There are many private networks for interest groups that allow like-minded people to come together and discuss issues and learn from one another. For instance, Workplace Learning 2.0 is a private community that discusses the use of social media tools in a workplace setting. Sign up to a microbloging service and keep  in touch with all your colleagues and friends.  Twitter is the most well known service and you can send out messages in under 140 characters, as well as received them from others.
  8. Share your diary online with others. One of the easiest ways to start sharing with others is to set up your calendar online, (e.g. using Google Calendar) and then make it available to others – colleagues, family or friends – in order to schedule events.
  9. Share your own content online. The next step might be to start making use of a file sharing service to store your content online and share it with others. If you take photos, you could use a service like Flickr or Photobucket; if you create presentations then you could use Slideshare or Sliderocket and if you make videos with your webcam or mobile phone then you could use a service like YouTube or blip.tv. And remember you don’t have to share them with the whole world if you don’t want to, you can identify the group of people who can view them.
  10. Collaborate with others on a common document. This is very useful if you want to create a collaborative manual, strategy, meeting agenda or anything else that requires a number of contributions to it. Services like Google Docs or Zoho make it easy to create documents from scratch or upload existing MS Office documents and then share them with a closed group of invited collaborators.
  11. Write a blog or set up a wiki. If you’ve done all the above, you are ready to start thinking about setting up your own blog or wiki site to provide a space for collaboration. Your blog could be your personal reflections on a topic of interest or a place where you foster discussion around a subject or even training event. Free blogging tools like Blogger and Wordpress mean it is a painless and cost-free experience to get started. A wiki could also be used a place to set up a personal or group website, and one that provides opportunities for collaboration around a particular project. Online services like Google Sites or Wetpaint are free to use and easy to set up.
  12. Create your own private social network  Finally you might want to consider setting up your own private social network to build a community of practice or a community of learners. An online service called Ning makes the process of setting up a network a no-brainer.
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