Browse Tag by collaboration
Technologies

What is Social Networking and can it really be used in business?

To put it simply, social networking is all about having conversations. We love having conversations – after all we are social animals. On the whole, we like to share, feel part of a community and be connected to others. We have opinions and expertise. There are some of us who like a gossip. There are some who like to tell stories. There are some who just like to listen and absorb.

Once upon a time (now that sounds like a good line to start a story), we would gather round a fire and learn from our elders. Children copied others and learned by making their own mistakes. They constantly asked questions (we still do).

There were town criers and professional storytellers who travelled the land spreading news by word of mouth. Then came the penny post; the telegraph; the telephone. For a long time, that was it….. then came ….. the internet and with it e-mail. Conversations were now quicker than ever and spread wider than before.

In 1985, the first online community was born. The WELL ‘Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link’ http://www.well.com/ emerged as a place for conversations and discussions. It was here that Howard Rheingold first coined the phrase “virtual community” . The following year, The Grateful Dead’s lyricist, John Perry Barlow joined this online community, which already had a large ‘Deadhead’ following. He served on the board of directors for many years and once described The WELL as a ‘parkplace for e-mail addresses’.

Early online communities were discussion boards or, now more commonly known as forums which are still popular.

Social networking has evolved at breakneck speed with the likes of:

Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, DiggSlideshare, YouTubeWordPressLast.FM and LinkedIn (in true BBC fashion: other networks are available – far too many to mention).

Did you know: there are currently 23,449,100 UK users on Facebook. As of 1st January 2010, our entire population was a mere 62,041,708 – that’s more than a third of the UK. In the USA, with a population of 309,352,000 in May of this year, Facebook boasts 111,212,840 users. Over a third of the population again.

And that’s only Facebook. There are many who are members of other social networking sites, either for pleasure, learning or business and who are not on Facebook. Imagine that.

Making connections is nothing new but we can no longer ignore social media – before long, people will expect to make connections through social media tools in all walks of life.

Here are some ways you can benefit from becoming members of a social network:

  • From an individual point of view, you can build connections with experts and hold conversations with people you would never normally dare hope to meet
  • Share best practice, ask questions and get solutions and opinions from a wider perspective
  • Keep up to date as news happens both in general and in your own business area
  • From a business point of view, you can keep abreast of what your customers are saying, and even what their customers are saying
  • Follow insights from prominent business leaders
  • Engage with your audience on a more open and transparent level and be a real person in a virtual environment
  • Watch video nuggets of seminars you were unable to attend
  • Listen to audio interviews with industry experts
  • View presentations and share your own message in the same way

How do you currently benefit from social media?

Technologies

Collaboration tools – can we include virtual worlds and social networks?

Today I came across a question in one of the LinkedIn groups about whether we could classify virtual worlds and social networks as collaborative communication tools referring specifically to Second Life, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It was an interesting discussion topic and one which I felt the need to respond. I would like to share my response with you here.

I would say the answer is – yes. Any place where individuals can join and network can be used for collaboration. It is WHAT we use these for and learning HOW they work that will determine their success in what we want to do.
Indeed, at the moment, we see the usual suspects being used by organisations for collaboration as Valerie mentions above; and they are brilliant tools for bringing colleagues together to discuss ideas, situations and projects. However, with the emerging social learning environments such as Elgg that can be hosted within an organisations firewall or others such as Ning where organisations can create their own social platform, these are excellent tools to encourage cross-organisation collaboration to share ideas and working practices.

Areas can be set up to discuss ‘hot’ topics and they can also be restricted to particular members. Facebook, on the other hand, initially seems like a fun place just to hang out, play silly games and ‘throw cows’ at each other. On first glance, it may seem there is little it can be used for seriously. However, if you look a little closer, there are many worthwhile groups already using Facebook to collaborate.

Take a look at Centre for Learning and Performance Technology and, just one more for now – Virtual Learning Community of Practice.

So, for instance, an account could be created whereby different conversations can be started up, ideas collated, awareness heightened and changes happening. Remember that security settings on these tools are there to help and members (or friends) may only join if the account holder approves.

Twitter is another underestimated social media tool that is increasingly being used for learning collaboration. If not in the formal sense, certainly for informal learning and there are plenty of experts out there with whom collaboration proves invaluable in pursuing a goal or interest.

As for LinkedIn – well, are they doing there, if not collaborating. A topic is posted and ideas, opinions and expertise shared.

If this was a collaborative exercise with a specific outcome, then I would expect to see an objective set for the exercise, a time limit, some ground rules / guidelines and a summary giving the findings of the exercise at the end. All of that should be set for any collaborative exercise for any collaborative tool chosen, whether it is in a more controlled situation like WebEx, within an organisations intranet form or a more open platform such as Twitter or Facebook. Therefore, it is the ground rules and activities set that dictate these tools’ use.

Of course, you will have to decide which would be most appropriate for your situation but beware of dismissing them out of hand. Research them, and think creatively. After all, I’m sure there were plenty of skeptics who couldn’t see how this new-fangled gadget could at all be useful in sharing ideas without having to meet in little groups. Now we can’t live without them and even take to carrying them around in our pockets so we’re always connected. What’s that you say ….. the telephone!

Well that was my response to the post in LinkedIn but I would also be interested in what creative ideas others may have in how these social tools have been used by you for learning and collaboration and how you might have overcome the ‘security’ barriers that are often associated with them.