Tag Archives: twitter

The Selfishness of Kindness

I have written a lot about it this year, but losing my dad has forever changed me.  It has been nine months since I lost him and going home over Christmas and him not being there was weird.  I miss his stories that he used to tell, that seemed to make no sense, and were so bad that they were good.  He is an awesome man.

Struggling to deal with this and feeling in a very dark place, I tried a little experiment, and it all started on October 7th with a tweet.

 

Since that day, I have woke up almost every morning (with a couple of exceptions), and tweeted about someone who has made an impact on me in some way, big or small.  It started with one of my best friends in the world, Michelle Baldwin:

What I had hoped is that by starting every day with saying something positive about someone else, and sharing it with the world, I would feel better myself.  To be honest…it has helped more than I have ever thought it would.

I think that “Follow Friday” is a nice idea and it has been a mainstay on Twitter for a long time, but I guess I decided that I need to try to do that every day in a little way and in a meaningful way.  To me, it goes beyond, “this person is great to follow on Twitter”, to “this person is great and I was blessed enough to meet them.”

Would I love for this idea to spread?  Of course.  Not because it would ever bring me attention, but because doing something good, even as small as tweeting once a day about someone who has made an impact on me, can make someone else and myself feel good, even it is for a moment.

I plan to continue this project until I run out of people that have made an impact on me.  Consider it to be indefinite.

Take some time to check out the #365greattweeps hashtag and follow some of these awesome people.  I am lucky to have met all of them in person.

“Connected Educator” or “Educator that Connects”? #CE13

I had a great experience at #Edscape in New Jersey (thank you Eric Sheninger and school for being such great hosts!) and as a speaker and participant, it was great to learn from so many people that I knew already, and met for the first time.  Honestly, what has really changed about conferences for me is that I never feel that I am alone because I already know people when I walk into a building because of my use of social media. That being said, I really love connecting with people for the first time and hearing what they are trying and where they are at in their teaching careers.  I love meeting new people and I really believe in the Bill Nye idea:

nye

 

One of the discussions that really resonated was the idea of having more “connected educators.”  I found it to be really interesting as, obviously, there is real power in connecting as an educator through the use of social media. But, to be honest, educators connected way before that in other ways.

Social media obviously provides something pretty powerful though.  I have a tremendous belief in technology, and have stated clearly that I believe that isolation is a choice that educators now make. This being said, there is something about the term “connected educator” that just irks me.

Here is my rationale…

You hear often that we shouldn’t really use “digital citizenship,” but use “citizenship,” and that “digital literacy” is just “literacy.” So, when we say “connected educator,” I wonder why we don’t just say “educator?”  Now, people still use “digital” when describing those other aspects because they feel (as I do) that those things need to be explicit for people to embrace them.  But one difference is that those are “things” that we are describing–educators are people.  That changes my mindset immediately.

As I sat and listened to one educator defend that it should be extremely explicit that we need to push people to become “connected educators,” I sat in the audience with a young teacher that felt so embarrassed that she was not where others were at.  Immediately, you could see that she felt a huge divide and almost felt that there was an “elitist” attitude in being “connected.”  In no way was the speaker doing that, but language matters and when I say I am “this” and you are “that,” a divide is created.

My belief?  Educators should connect.  It should be a part of what we all do.  That being said, I have also learned that there are many ways that people connect (I have no idea how to use Google+ the way that I know how to use Twitter), and that people are on different timelines in their learning.  That has to be respected.  As everything, this journey to get people “connected” should be differentiated, but it can be dangerous when we use it as an adjective as opposed to a verb.

Here is a question…do you think that if you are a “connected educator” that you are better off than someone else who isn’t?  If the answer is “yes,” then when you describe yourself as that very thing, it is creating a notion of elitism.  Instead of trying to describe an educator by what they do or don’t do, maybe we should look at each other’s strengths and build on that.

When we use the term “connected educator” are we sometimes alienating the people that we want so badly to connect in the first place?

Thoughts?

Leading Innovative Change Series: Embrace an Open Culture

I wanted to try my hand at writing a series of blog posts on “Leading Innovative Change.” As I am looking at writing a book on the same topic, I thought I would put some ideas out there and hopefully learn from others on these topics. I also want to give these ideas away for free. These posts are for anyone in education, but are mostly focused on school administrators. In all of these, the idea that administrators openly model their learning will only accelerate a culture of innovation and risk-taking.  This is the final post in this series, but you can read the first four posts in the series:

1. Learning First, Technology Second
2. A New Staff Experience
3. Excellence Lies Within
4. Narrow Your Focus


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Alec Couros

Within the previous posts in this series, Embracing an open culture is vital to the success of them all.  Think of this process–one we often do in different areas of school: we have a coordinator or leader in some specific area that works one-on-one with individual teachers and they see things that others don’t.  

If your job is to create a culture that embraces any type of learning, how much impact does it have when we only see one person at a time and share it with no one?  Sitting down and taking the time to write a blog, tweet some ideas, or use any other online community is not only beneficial in the reflection process, but also brings ideas to a larger community.

Sharing is also vital in creating connections.  If you see something amazing with one teacher, and see potential for growth in another teacher, instead of being the sole bearer of knowledge and skill, why not look at ways of connecting the two?

Creating a “Spike”

If you wanted to work in the film industry, where would you most likely go?  If you wanted to be a country singer, what places are the most likely to give you opportunity?  If your answers were “Hollywood” and “Nashville,” respectively, you just identified what Richard Florida calls “spikes.”

A “spike” is a place where there is a large amount of people with one main area of interest that come together to create some of the best work in their field.  It is not the only place, but these specific areas are usually known for excellence.  So if I asked you where the “spike” is for educators, where would that be?  Well, because most places on Earth have a school, if we think of a “spike” being in a physical place, it would be hard to identify where that one place would be.  This is where social media comes in.  Passionate educators are using things like Twitter and hashtags, such as #edchat to come together, ask questions, share ideas and create innovative ideas.

“It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know. It isn’t just how intelligent your team members are; it is how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use.” Wiseman, McKeown from Multipliers

Many schools are creating “mini-spikes” of innovation where geography is not a factor, and sharing and learning can happen 24/7.  Parkland School Division, a school district that is spread over a large geographic area spanning over 100 miles, uses the hashtag #psd70 to connect educators, students, parents, community, as well as to invite in educators from around the world to share their learning.  This is a huge opportunity for a school district that has a school with less than 50 students, as well as places that are far from a major city.

Surrey School District in British Columbia has also done something similar by using the hashtag #sd36learn.  As one of the largest districts in the province, it is dispelling the myth that large usually equals a lack of innovation.  By creating a place, as Stephen Johnson says, where “hunches” can come together, they are more likely to bring new and better ideas to the forefront.

“When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate.” Thomas Friedman

A Flat Organization

When these spikes are created, leaders have to be comfortable that great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere and at any time.  The focus for leadership should not be on their ideas, but the best ideas.  This process also often creates strong influencers, that may not have any formal leadership position, yet have tremendous pull with others through their sharing of ideas.  Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant identify these people and their impact in the business world:

“Social media has created influencers among people traditionally outside an organization’s database of members or donors or customers. These are people whose activities and opinions can have tangible, measurable financial effects (good or bad); people on the periphery but who have social capital (i.e., trust) among their own networks.” Notter and Grant

In education, the focus has to move from distinct roles, to the idea that everyone can be both a teacher and a learner.  Organizations, as a whole, should model what they expect from students on a micro level; that they are willing to learn and grow.  With a focus on sharing on a mass scale, ideas often come to the forefront, and not necessarily people (although people that either have or share the best ideas will stick out).  As we tell our students the day they walk into kindergarten, “You need to share,”  this should also be the focus for organizations that are looking to move forward and create innovation.

Sharing should then not be the exception, but the default.

The Outsider View

Many large organizations have the belief that leadership should always be developed within–which it should be to an extent–but there has to be a balance of bringing in an outside view.  When you have people that have been trained within a system, by the system, you are more likely to repeat the same patterns that have always existed.  As Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant share, “Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.”  

By opening what you do to outsiders, what people within an organization know as “best practic,” often can show opportunities for growth in the way we do our work. This is often why so many leaders are afraid of this very thing.  In that case, the ego of leadership seems to be more important than doing what is best for kids.  If your practices are amazing, sharing them with other educators gives them the opportunity to help more kids. If practices are weak, it often brings in new ideas to help your kids.  There is no loss in this situation for students, yet ego sometimes (often) gets in the way.

Opportunities like the “School Admin Virtual Mentor Program” which brings mentorship to current and future administrators, gives the much needed outsider view to what we do in our organization (for free).  If we want thinking outside of the box, we have to look outside of it by tapping into what social media can deliver.  We often bring out the innovators within our organization, while also bringing innovators into our work.  To create innovative practice within schools, we must go past an inward-only focus.

Many great ideas are out there.  We just need to find them, and more importantly, get  people connected to them.

“We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.” Stephen Johnson

Forward

These solutions may be fairly new to education, but other organizations have tapped into this opportunity.  The entertainment industry, for example, which was staunchly against the notion of open and free sharing, sees the opportunity of tapping into passionate people to create something better.  

Instead of paying a ton of money to one person to create a new theme for Hockey Night in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corportation (CBC) decided they would “crowdsource” the opportunity, and give people that are passionate about music the ability to participate in creating something powerful.  The focus is on creating the “best,” and with the myriad of options that this process (crowdsourcing) would create, you are more likely to find that.

Social media, and the open culture it has created, has made our culture and mindset “participatory.”

“One of the reasons social media has grown so fast is that it taps into what we, as human beings, naturally love and need and want to do—create, share, connect, relate.” Notter and Grant

If our culture is shifting to this, wouldn’t this become the expected norm that many new educators (and current students) would expect to live within our schools?  While we live in a world where people are used to creating, sharing and connecting, schools can no longer ignore this cultural shift. They must embrace the idea that we are lucky to live in a time of such technological advance and openness that will make the opportunity to be innovative that much easier.

The Twitter Story

In less than 140 characters, there is a funny little story that is topical and pointing out some of the funny characteristics of Canadians (very polite and that we are big fans of rapper Jay-Zed).

So why are we so hard on kids that they “overshare” on social networks?  Much of what they do would be considered a short “story” that they are often telling in 140 characters or less to an audience.  Stories have been, and always will be, an important part of our world.

There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. —Ursula K. LeGuin

The mediums to tell these stories have not changed; they have expanded.

In the recent article, “Twitter is the New Haiku”, the author shares Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s belief in the artistry that can come from a simple tweet:

“Sometimes I get asked, ‘Don’t you feel that the 140 characters has meant that people don’t think about things deeply anymore?’ The reality is that you don’t look at haiku and say, ‘You know, aren’t you worried that this format is going to prevent people from thinking deeply when you can only use this many words and it has to be set this way?’ I think that people develop language for creatively communicating within whichever constraints you set for people.” Dick Costolo

The author then continues to discuss that with this type of communication, less can often mean more:

“The power of communicating in fewer words is that those words mean more, and in their best forms, those words can inspire thousands more in discussion and speculation.” Emma Green

So are all tweets powerful stories?  Absolutely not.  A lot of what is shared is absolutely terrible, and many would say that Twitter is really harming our use of language.  Yet more people are moving to Twitter to share short stories that often turn into something more:

More recently, Twitter, too, has been coopted as a tool for fiction. Last year, Jennifer Egan wrote a short story in 140-character nuggets, which were posted on Twitter before they were published in The New Yorker as “Black Box.” A few months later, novelist Elliott Holt wrote her own Slate opined. “With its simultaneous narrators and fractured storyline, this is not the kind of tale that could march steadily across a continuous expanse of white space. It’s actually made for the medium.”

The major difference with something like Twitter is that it immediately can give our students an audience.  Looking at the traditional time it takes to publish a book, it can almost take a year from the moment it is finished until it is ready for an audience.  I am not saying that it is not a worthy endeavour to try writing a book, but we live in a world with multiple opportunities to try different mediums.  We do not have to focus on one.

Almost 700 posts into this blog, I first found my voice through Twitter, which expanded into a blog, and may now expand into a book next year.  By learning to use the first medium. it helped build my confidence in expanding to the next.  The ability to share short little messages and stories, has helped me to move to actually expanding my thoughts.  Wouldn’t starting with the 140 character story be a good start for our students?


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Wesley Nitsckie

Learning From the #Twitter Archives


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by petesimon

It started with this tweet:

That was my first tweet ever, using a medium that I had heard about but never really understood.  No Twitter handle, no hashtag, and actually thinking that my brother Alec would be the only “Alec” that I would possibly get an answer from.

Now that many (if not all) people are able to download and learn from their Twitter archive, I took the opportunity to look at some of my progression through Twitter, and to actually go back and revisit some of the things that I shared, and how I shared.

The first month that I looked at, was September 2010, the month that I lost my best friend Kobe.  I saw people rallying around me, caring for me, and checking in.  What was hardest to look back on was how I had the false hope that it might be just a routine visit to the vet that day:

 

With family so far away, I reached out to strangers a lot that month. 1,612 times to be exact. At a time when I wanted both to be close and far from people, Twitter and all of the people that I had connected to were seemingly comfort.

I also look at what I have learned, what never panned out (I got that invite to Google Wave, but I never understood how to use it), and some people I got to help (I actually made sure Jesse McLean changed his handle to something more user friendly).

A few things…

First of all, it is pretty amazing to have these little snapshots of my life saved in this archive.  To be able to go through my tweets and look at how I was when I struggled, excelled, or was somewhere in the middle, is pretty remarkable.  I actually found myself laughing and crying going through my own tweets, just in aww of how I have grown in the last few years.

Secondly, I am quickly reminded of how we all start somewhere.  Over 52,000 tweets later, I am pretty comfortable with the medium and treat tweeting almost like I would texting.  I don’t sit and contemplate what I am going to put out there anymore; tweeting has become second nature to me.  But it isn’t for everyone and we have to recognize that if we really want people to see value in this medium, you have to get them to care about it in the first place, and then work with them to help them to understand how they can use this it.

Finally, I learned that I not only have a voice, but that I have a voice that can matter.  I often talk about how we all live in a world where we all have a voice, but I do believe that we also live in a world where everyone’s voice can make a difference and Twitter is one of those places where our voice can be heard.  Maybe by 10 people, and maybe by a 1000, but it can be heard.  Through my tweets, I saw my confidence and learning grow, while also learning to connect with some amazing minds.  That experience made my voice grow stronger, when I once believed that nothing I said in that space would ever really matter.

As educators, we have to learn and understand that our voice does matter, not only for ourselves, but so that we can properly relay that notion to our students.  If we can teach them how their voice matters from our experiences, can you imagine how powerful their voices might be?

Does Twitter Improve Education?


cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by Ed Yourdon

There has been post after post acknowledging how educators love Twitter while also encouraging others to use it themselves.  With that though comes skeptics (as there should be), questioning whether the use of Twitter is beneficial to educators.  I have thought about that question  a lot and I can give a definitive answer: yes and no ( I am 100% certain of this).

So to prove this, we have to look at a few things.  First off, we have to look at how educators are using Twitter.  Simply signing up for Twitter doesn’t improve anything in your classroom (similar to the notion that having a Twitter account will make people do inappropriate things and cyberbully).  It all comes down to the use of it.  I offer two scenarios in my own use of Twitter below.

Scenario ABeing on Twitter for the sake of being on Twitter

When I first started Twitter, my first follows were my brother, Shaquille O’Neal and every other Laker related Twitter account I could find.  Although I liked talking to my brother, I was more worried about seeing what was happening with my favourite basketball team.  Then about two weeks I quit using twitter and then thought to myself, “How does this improve teaching and learning? Whoever thought that is seriously crazy.”

Scenario B -Using Twitter to follow and learn from other educators

A year later, I went back to using Twitter in a totally different fashion and followed educators, found some great information on things that were happening in classrooms and schools, and it took my learning to a different level.  I started trying different things and engaging in conversations that sometimes took place on Twitter or went to another space because of Twitter (blog, website, webinar, etc.).  I started learning about things in an abundance, but also started to question educational trends (flipped classroom, BYOD, interactive whiteboards) because I felt that I had built enough knowledge to feel comfortable wondering aloud about these trends.

So here is the thing when people that actually use  Twitter challenge with the question, “does Twitter improve education?” The first thing that I do when I see this question, is look at their Twitter stream, who they follow, and how they participate.  I have seen an educator who follows no one other than 3-10 people openly pose this question, while another educator who asked this spends the majority of his time discussing travel and talking about things that really have little to do with what is happening in schools (on Twitter).  I am not criticizing their use of Twitter or their knowledge of teaching and learning (I actually learn a lot from both of them while they may not learn much from me), but I am guessing that they probably don’t see the difference Twitter can make on the profession based on their own use of the service.  When we actually experience Scenario B, it seems we are more likely to be an advocate for others to jump on the “Twitter Train”.

Yesterday, in my own school division, teachers in numbers not seen before, were sharing what they were learning and connecting with others on our  professional development day.  It was fantastic to watch and I was glad to see what was happening around the school division, while watching this group of educators engage in further conversations regarding their learning.

So to me, ultimately here is how you can find out if Twitter “works” for improving education. Ask someone who uses it about their engagement in their own learning and if that has changed because of Twitter.  If you were to ask me, I would tell you that jumping on Twitter and using it how I do now, it has engaged me in my learning more than I have ever been in not only my career, but truly my life.  I explore things that I am interested in, and I am exposed to ideas that I would not have heard of otherwise.  If you ask someone else the same question and they say their use of Twitter has not engaged their learning, well then you have a different answer. Both yes and no, which honestly is fine to me.

If you are looking for a “number” as evidence, I don’t have one.  All I have right now is stories and experience  and to be honest, I am not sure that I need much more.  Engaging in Twitter will work for one person, and will not work for another depending upon their use of it. But if I am engaged more in my learning than I ever have been, while also sharing what I am learning with others, doesn’t that say that “Twitter” works? It does to (and for) me. Do we really need more data?  If more teachers focused on being true lifelong learners while sharing that learning openly, don’t you think education would improve?  I know what I would put my money on.

UPDATE: As I don’t want to give the wrong impression, and based on the comments on the blog and Twitter, the title should have been adjusted to “Does the USE of Twitter Improve Education?”, as that is what I am really discussing in this post.  As many have already shared this, I have chosen not to change the title so that people don’t feel what they have shared is being misrepresented. Thanks for the comments so that I could add this note and clarification.

Why I try to follow every teacher I can on Twitter


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by stevegarfield

Tony Baldasaro wrote a blog post yesterday that is getting a lot of attention regarding why he “unfollowed 5000 people on Twitter” and how he is going back to starting over.  There is a lot of powerful thoughts in his post on how we actually connect with each other in this space:

As I pressed unfollow 5,000 times, I realized that I didn’t know most of the folks that I was unfollowing.  Actually, it was more than that, I had no clue who these folks were.  They were complete strangers.  I literally had no connection to them, which, in hindsight, should not have been a surprise.  As I said earlier, I didn’t “pay any attention to them” how the hell would I actually know them.  It did hurt to unfollow folks who brought great value to my life, but I knew if I was going to do it, I had to fully commit.

Now I don’t want to say Tony is wrong, and from my several meetings with him I can tell you he is an awesome guy,  but I do want to offer a different perspective.

Several years ago when I first started Twitter, I thought, like many do, that it was probably the dumbest thing ever.  I used it randomly, followed some educators, but mostly celebrities, because I didn’t understand how it could improve me as an educator.  My brother and others asked people to blindly follow me to help me build a network even though I had nothing to contribute in that space.  It was not that I had nothing to contribute, but that I just didn’t really understand how I could do it on a social network.  So people followed me and I offered nothing other than a wise-crack here and there.  Then after a couple of weeks I decided to take a year sabbatical from the space :)

A year later, I was coaxed into trying it again and people blindly followed me knowing how I easily gave up on it in the first place.  I actually decided to give it a legitimate try and quickly I was hooked.  I was amazed at how much I learned from others and how open people were to connecting.  I remember sending out a google form and having people share and reshare a tweet that showed my staff the power of Twitter for professional learning.  I look back at that post and some people that helped have become good friends and some people I still don’t even know.  Yet they were all willing to help some guy from Canada who was trying to help his staff.

I even watch today as my brother asks people from his network to help him get others connected:

Him asking for this help while only following a select few would be hypocritical in my opinion. (He follows over 13,000 people.)

The network that I have connected with on Twitter have helped me through some tough times.  When my first dog Kobe passed away people supported me from wherever they were in the world to make it through a difficult time.  When I was dealing with some personal issues, again people rallied around me and either tweeted, commented on my post, or emailed me directly to offer stories and support.  Some I knew and some were total strangers, but all were willing to help.

Currently, I follow over 8500 people on Twitter and that count will continue to grow.  I rarely look at my “home” column because, as Tony mentioned, it moves way to fast.  I use hashtags and lists to find information I am interested in.  Every once in awhile though, I take a peek at that home column (interestingly enough, that is how I found Tony’s blog post) and find something amazing, or see someone I follow asking for help.  Either I try to help them myself, or “Retweet” them to help them find a connection.  If I didn’t follow them, I wouldn’t be able to do that.  I do this because so many people have done this for me.  Although it is my “Personal Learning Network” it is not just about what I take from it, but also what I can give, not only in information, but in facilitating connections and offering some help.  I am, as all educators are, extremely busy, but when I can help, I try to do my best.  We are all teachers and we all should focus on what is best for kids.

I look back at when I started and if people look at what I had actually contributed, no one would have followed me.  I think they looked at what I could contribute in the future.  I remember this summer when someone with 15 followers and 26 tweets, helped me out a great deal.  If I used Tony’s way, this would have not happened.

Now some of you may be reading this that I am not following on Twitter and if that is true, I apologize.  I don’t use a “follow back” function because I do limit my network to mostly teachers (yes, I do follow Justin Bieber), and do not really care to connect with companies.  I also don’t check who unfollows me because I don’t really know how that would be helpful to me in any way. I do follow people that don’t follow me because I can still learn from them. The only reason I wouldn’t follow someone is because I find them offensive.  I try to look at who follows me when I have an opportunity, and follow them back if they are an educator because I know that I can probably learn something from them.  But unfortunately, sometimes I miss people and when it is brought to my attention I am often quite embarrassed.  Allie Holland, Jimmy Casas, and Diana Williams are all people that I didn’t realize that I wasn’t following, yet I have learned a ton from them in a short time and actually would consider them friends now.

Although there are some tweeters that I look at daily, Tony could have done what he was talking about by simply creating a list of his favourite tweeters and inserting that column into Tweetdeck.  It really is that easy.

I have learned over and over again, that I have no idea who I can help, who can help me, and who I can be the connector for between two separate parties, so I do my best to follow as many teachers as possible.  You do not have to be a prolific “Tweeter” to help me become a better educator although your sharing does help.  A ton of people trusted that they could learn from something from me a long time ago when I had contributed very little, so I am going to continue to do the same.

Typical Friday Night?

While waiting for my flight to Adelaide late on a Friday night, I caught these two tweets:

Two teachers from our school division, that are from two different schools, talking about connecting with classrooms across North America.  The world is shrinking.

#amazing

#humbling

Don’t Use a 2.0 Technology in a 1.0 Way


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by jurvetson

“And that’s the grand dilemma of social networking: it’s intended to allow participation, to let companies and individuals all engage and interact, but all too many are one way channels, broadcast media where responses or engagement is ignored completely.” — Dave Taylor

Many organizations or schools are starting to get on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon and seeing the importance of having a presence on the largest social networks. Yet, there is much more to Twitter than having an account, and unless you are Justin Bieber, you have to change your mindset to make meaningful use of social media.

The old-school philosophy of communication lent itself to making a fancy website so that you had a nice Web presence. Not only could you look flashy on the Internet, but there also was great opportunity to share key messages, events and happenings from your school. This was a step up from what many had done previously, and it was great for a prospective student or parent to look up information on a school before committing to be part of that community.

As we have progressed, not only in our use of technology but also our understanding of effective leadership, we know that communication includes effective talking but, more importantly, listening. Being able to hear what is being said from those we serve is extremely important to how we develop our schools, and the conversation is extremely valuable. Yet, many schools and organizations use social media in the old fashion: sharing information but not having a conversation. In reality, just because you have ears doesn’t mean you are listening.

Many businesses have a 1.0 mindset. They have a Twitter account to share sales, events or whatever with customers, and because of that type of information, they do have many followers. Yet, having followers does not mean that you have people who “buy” what you do or whom you are; they use your service because they have to, not because they are loyal. Schools should think about that as well. Would a parent or child want to stay in your school if there was another choice?

Recently, I wrote about United Airlines and its lack of response when dealing with my concerns about service. Its Twitter account seemingly is only about sharing information, not connecting with customers. The more savvy someone is with social media, the more frustrated the person will become with this approach, and if he or she has another option, the person will take it. Yet, someone such as Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi learned how to not only use Twitter but also to use it effectively to build his brand and win an election.

Ultimately, this is not about having a Twitter or Facebook account but about how we use it and about rethinking the work we do and how we connect to those we serve in our schools. Having a website on which YOU communicate while watching parents use a Twitter account through which THEY communicate doesn’t make sense anymore. We need to not only get into the same room but also talk when we are all there.

This post was originally shared on the SmartBlogs site.

Humanizing Our Organizations Through Social Media


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Alyssa L. Miller

Social Media is becoming dominant in every facet of our society.  I remember years ago, walking into a church for a concert and seeing on their TV screens, links to their Facebook and Twitter pages and them sharing ways that  you could connect to them.  It was interesting to think of an institution that is usually known for being so steeped in tradition, thinking of ways they could use this new technology to connect with people that live in an ever-changing world.  Yet we still see many schools and school districts fearful of what social media can do in a negative manner to possibly the way they do their day-to-day “business” or even the impact it can have (in a negative way) on their reputation.

As more organizations outside of school begin to embrace social media, we have to think about what the purpose of using social media is and how we can learn from others.  This technology has proven to be an effective way to learn openly, but there is also an opportunity to create a deeper connection with those that we serve.

Culture of fear

As society changes, schools need to change with it.  We have to model how we continue to grow and learn.  Yet many schools are extremely fearful of using social media or are pushing the idea aside as if it were a fad.  As I have traveled around to many different schools, I have been frustrated by the blocking of social media sites from not only students, but staff as well.  We cannot simply flick a switch and say “go”, but as Greg Whitby stated, we need to “start moving yesterday” on changes within our schools.  There are many purposeful ways that our schools can be utilizing social media sites, and we need to start figuring this out sooner than later as everyone has the technology to these sites in their pockets any way.

But even in business, companies are extremely fearful of what social media can do.

“In just a few years, social media has come to dominate many of our personal communications. We collaborate daily, sometimes productively, sometimes not. Most organizations, however, still view social media as a threat to productivity, intellectual capital, security, privacy, management authority, or regulatory compliance.” Most Organizations Still Fear Social Media

Recently, social media has impacted a school when a 9 year old student was reporting about the inadequate lunches that were being served in the school cafeteria through her blog.  Ewan McIntosh wrote about this so eloquently in his recent blog post about the subject and how the school tried to actually ban Martha Payne from uploading content to her blog:

Argyll and Bute, the school district rather than the otherwise very supportive school itself, issued a damning edict, preventing Martha from taking any more photos, writing any more blog posts about her lunches. Dinner ladies were, said the illiterate press release (we serve “deserts” to our children, really?), “afraid for their jobs”.

So as a school, the easy thing to do would be simply to ban blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, in fear of people saying negative things about the organization.  The hard work though (and the right thing to do), is to focus on actually getting better.  The voice of those we serve is, and should be, extremely important in the way we do our day-to-day work.  If the meals served there were of an adequate quality, there would have been nothing to block. In fact, I would be surprised if Martha would have even started the blog.  Customers of businesses have learned that they are not happy with something, having a voice on social networks is now an option.  Schools need to realize this as well.  We can be fearful of having these sites that represent our schools, but really, shouldn’t we be more fearful that someone else is going to start our Facebook page for us and misrepresent what our values are?

We should focus on just being better.

Changing world

More leaders from around the world know that connecting with people is imperative.  From the recent article “Twiplomacy“, some interesting statistics were shared regarding the use of social media by many political leaders:

“Some 264 world leaders now have a Twitter account, and the researchers believe that 30 of them do their own tweeting. Altogether they have sent more than 350,000 tweets to almost 52 million followers, the study shows…

World leaders tweet in 43 languages, with English favored by 90 of the accounts. Spanish is the next most-used, with 41 accounts, French is third with 25 accounts and Arabic fourth with 17 accounts.”

Although many nations and their leaders are using Twitter and other social media sites to connect with constituents, the same article goes on to discuss some of the countries that are not as open to the use of this type of communication:

“Sixteen of the G-20 leaders are actively using Twitter for public diplomacy, but it is sad to see that the heads of state and government in China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Italy still have not joined the Twitterverse,” said Matthias Luefkens of Burson-Marteller in Geneva.”

On that list are obviously some countries that would not be considered the most democratic so is it a surprise that they have no interest in extending conversations through social media?  Seeing political leaders like Mayor Nenshi from Calgary not only share his political beliefs, but actually reach out and have conversations with people is something that many are learning will create very strong connections with constituents.

The world is taking notice of the power of social media and are continuously developing ways that they can reach out.

The need for human connection

Recently I read this great article from Simply Zesty regarding the use of social media use within corporations and how they really stress how “customers” want to connect with organizations and how they are connecting back:

“People want to interact and connect with these major companies, and these platforms are the bridge directly to the heart of these organizations,” according to Burson-Marsteller Chief Global Digital Strategist Dallas Lawrence. “What’s even more impressive is how much companies are engaging back with followers. Seventy-nine percent of corporate accounts attempt to engage on Twitter with retweets and ‘@mentions’, and 70% of corporate Facebook pages are responding to comments on their walls and timelines.”

Artists like Lady Gaga, whether you like her or not, understand the importance of connecting with fans (customers) and how they actually make them feel like they are part of something bigger.  Entertainers and athletes can connect with fans in a way that was not possible when I was growing up, and you are seeing people have a different connection with them because of this human connection.

Although the “social” part of social media is extremely important, some businesses are looking to automate responses and prioritizing who they connect with and also what is being said.  This is something that organizations, especially schools, need to really think about as it may cause more harm than good:

“But social media’s real value — what distinguished it from the start from traditional media —  lies in creating deeper, personal connections with followers.  And here automation of content risks backfiring.  When consumers used to turning to social media for real, human intervention and connection end up running up against yet another automated message, the results may not be pretty.” From “Here come the tweeting robots

What many organizations are learning is that actually humanizing their business through social media is something that is helping to build a deeper loyalty to not only the company, but to the vision of the organization.  This recent Adidas campaign that is currently at over two million views on YouTube, has shown how doing something so little can make such a huge impact.  It doesn’t just create excitement, but it brings out a powerful human connection to the business, not only through a famous celebrity connecting with fans, but by showing the emotion of the fan themselves.  What starts off simply as a sweet gesture, turns into an extremely powerful story:

Would you consider buying an Adidas product after seeing this? I know that they have now entered my own consciousness through this campaign.

Great companies and organizations will learn how to evoke this emotion.

Concluding Thoughts

It is easy to say that technology has dehumanized our society, but I would argue that it can actually have the opposite effect.  We can now connect to people in a way that is much easier than in previous generations, and help to build relationships that probably couldn’t exist before.  There is also the ability to further the existing relationships through the use of social media.  Face-to-face is always better, but the opportunity doesn’t always exist.

I love this Marc Prensky quote that really states to me the importance of moving forward in the work that we do, yet still valuing what great schools have always been built upon; relationships.

“We need to teach kids to respect the past but to live in the future.”

As we do move forward during this “printing press time in history”, using social media is something that is inevitable.  It will be present in every facet of our society, as humans innately have a need and desire to connect.  The sooner we as schools learn how to make use of this technology in an effective manner, the more positives that can come out of it.  We will continue to see good organizations make effective use out of using Web 2.0 technologies, but I believe that the great organizations will use social media to connect, learn, and humanize their organization in a way that we never could have before.  If used properly, the future can be more human than ever.