Tag: social networking

Social media extremism

Since I wrote my article last week about critical theory, I have been more attuned to the messages being propagated by my peers.

For example, some of them have been blogging and tweeting about the role of social media in driving the pro-democracy protests in Egypt.

I see I’m not alone (here and here) in being a little less inclined.

The truth, I suspect, is that the protests in Egypt have been catalysed by the amassing of the population for prayer.

Good centuries-old social networking.

Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers in Egypt during the 2001 protests

Bloggers and the Twitterati are self-evident social media fans, so it’s to be expected that some of them will adopt an evangelical view of the role of Web 2.0 in world affairs.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to underplay the role of social media in connecting people with each other and with the outside world. It certainly played its part in Tunisia and Iran, for example. Besides, if it wasn’t useful, oppressive governments wouldn’t try to shut it down.

No, my point is that while social media is a significant component of the Egyptian pro-democracy movement, it is one among equally or even more significant components.

Put it this way: the protests would still have happened if the Internet did not exist.

The fact that it does exist means the people have a universal communications tool at their disposal.

Closer to home

Drawing all this down to the less heady world of e-learning, I can certainly see a parallel.

It’s important to recognise the role of social media in facilitating social learning in the workplace. However it’s not a panacea.

Relying on truisms such as “all learning is social” and on altruistic notions such as “collaborative learning” is a cop out.

Your learning architecture needs to include much more, such as on-demand self-paced learning resources (eg wikis, simulations, e-books) and – dare I say it – formal training (eg virtual classes, online courses, assessments).

My point here is that while social media is a significant component of the corporate learning model, it is one among equally or even more significant components.

Put it this way: learning would still happen in the workplace if social media did not exist.

The fact that it does exist means we have an effective learning environment we can leverage.

The 4 lessons Kid Fury teaches us

Today I read about the Twitter misadventure at H&R Block whereby a call centre employee assuming the name “Kid Fury” urged all his followers to phone in and ask for him.

It was his final day of work with that employer, so he thought it a harmless last hurrah. That was until it went viral and H&R Block call centres across the country were jammed with fools asking for Kid Fury.

The incident is kinda funny, kinda shocking, kinda scary.

So what can it teach us?

1. Treat your employees well.

Yes, the kid’s stunt was probably an innocent bit of fun, but I wonder if he would have done it had he loved the company? Why was he leaving anyway?

2. Document your policies.

I’m not 100% convinced that a formal Social Media Policy is necessary – especially if your Employee Code of Conduct is up to scratch – but in any case, you need to document what your employees can and can’t do on social media. And you need to ensure they know it.

3. Scan the web for mentions of your brand.

In this age of Web 2.0, if you don’t scan Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare and other forums for mentions of your brand, you don’t know what your customers (and prospective customers, and employees, and ex-employees) are saying about you. That means you can’t respond.

4. Be careful how you respond.

Most cases of negative social media that I am aware of were (or would have been) best dealt with through participating in the conversation. In the case of Kid Fury where the antagonist was an employee, the employer still had to be very careful. I don’t suggest letting anyone off scot free, but how would it look if a multi-national corporation sued a likable young fellow?

Businessman with thumb up.

So thank you Kid Fury for teaching us those lessons – whether you meant to or not!

Business applications of Twitter

Blue birds

Earlier this week, I attended a Twitter Camp billed Twitter is not for dummies. I had the privilege of facilitating one of the breakout sessions, which focused on the business applications of Twitter.

We discussed a range of issues around this topic, and we generated some really bright ideas that I feel are worth pursuing in the corporate sector. Some of the ideas specifically relate to e-learning, while others may fall more comfortably into other portfolios.

BuildingsIn a nutshell, I see the business applications of Twitter falling into three main categories:

1. External
2. Internal
3. Personal

Allow me to elaborate…

External applications

By “external”, I mean your company playing in the real world, beyond its office walls.


With upwards of 20 million Twitter users around the world, companies should at the very least be scanning this massive public forum to keep tabs on what people are saying about them.

I see this kind of activity falling into the Public Affairs portfolio, as it concerns brand management. They need to know if someone is bad mouthing the brand across the Twittersphere, and respond accordingly.

Frustrated customer

But of course, tweet scanning also falls into the Customer Service portfolio. Twitter is used by many as a loudspeaker to vent their displeasure at bad service. Organisations shouldn’t be scared by this; in fact, it presents you with an opportunity: Why not respond to the customer, remedy their issue and turn their loyalty back around? I can tell you that CommSec actually did this for me recently, so it sure does work.

According to Susan Hall, Dell takes tweet scanning one step further: They don’t just look for mentions of Dell, they also look for mentions of their competitors. What an opportunity to win new customers!

Active tweeting

Tweet scanning is one thing, but active tweeting is something else again.

Perhaps your company should be sharing news and conveying other key messages to the Twittersphere. NEC is very active in this space, as is Southwest Airlines in the US: Imagine a raging storm shuts down Dallas airport and all flights are diverted to New Orleans; the Southwest call centre is jammed with thousands of panicked callers. Suddenly Twitter comes into its own as an alternative communications medium.

Businessman typing on keyboardWhat could your company tweet about?


• Its latest financial results.
• The release of a new product.
• The latest warm & fuzzy activity undertaken by its staff for the community.

But you have to be very careful to provide value. If you keep your tweets company-centric, then you won’t be very interesting and no one will want to follow you.

The trick is to keep your tweets customer-centric instead. In fact, according to Spike Jones, you probably shouldn’t even mention the company name at all.

Imagine these tweets from a boring old insurance company:

• Are you paying too much tax? Make sure you submit your Tax File Number to your financial institution.
• Did you know that the average Australian is woefully under insured? Ask your financial planner if you are adequately covered.

Saving money? Suddenly I’m interested.

It’s all about WIIFM.

Happy customer

A two-way street

OK, so you could send messages out to the Twittersphere, so why wouldn’t you also invite them in? Well guess what, ANZ and Telstra are doing just that.

These companies invite their customers (or prospective customers) to ask questions, submit complaints, provide compliments (Heaven forbid!), and most importantly, they have staff at the ready to respond quickly.

So maybe Twitter provides your business with an opportunity to engage with a different demographic of customer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like robots answering my calls and putting me on hold forever, only to be transferred upteen times. But send a tweet? Yep, I can do that.  

Internal applications

The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, actively encourages his staff to follow him on Twitter. He tweets jokes, inspirational quotes, humorous anecdotes, that kind of thing.

But what if your organisation wanted to tweet behind closed doors, out of sight of the prying public? Well, you can do that with Yammer – a Twitter-like platform that allows you to set up a “group” comprising your employees only.

Imagine interacting with your colleagues across the enterprise, asking questions, collaborating, sharing knowledge. Why spend half an hour running around trying to find someone who can help you, when you can just post it to Yammer and let the crowd post a reply.

This is a classic example of informal learning, and it’s central to the evolution and modernisation of workplace training.

Personal applications

By “personal”, I mean you using Twitter for your own professional purposes.

For example, I use Twitter as an international community of practice. I’m connected to a circle of e‑learning professionals from all over the world; I’ve chosen to follow their tweets, and some of them have chosen to follow mine. I share my knowledge, and I learn a lot more in return.

Digital world

So as a technology, Twitter is really simple. It’s what you do with it that makes it powerful.

Social networking is king

In my previous article, I explored one of the principles to emerge from the recent AMPLIFY09 festival, namely “Everything big started small”.

AMPLIFY09: Convergence and Emergence

Crown toy, courtesy of brokenarts, stock.xchng.Another principle that resonated with me was, in my own words:

Social networking is king.

This principle featured in many of the sessions I attended, but it was showcased in no uncertain terms by two speakers in particular:

1. Spike Jones, the “Firestarter” at Brains on Fire; and

2. Kate Albright-Hanna, the Director of Video for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.

The goal posts have moved

Social networking has been around since the dawn of time. However, the exponential growth of online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has taken it to a whole new stratosphere.


Everyone knows the stats

Facebook has more than 200 million active users, equivalent to being the 5th largest country in the world.

More than 100 million users log on to Facebook at least daily.

The average Facebook user has 120 friends on the site.

But what do these numbers mean? They mean millions of people are connected to millions of other people via Web 2.0 technology.

It’s up to the corporate sector to either ignore this phenomenon, or harness it.

ScissorsJuicing the orange

A wonderful example of the latter was provided by Spike in his session Look who’s talking! What if your customers advertised for you?

Only a few years ago, Fiskars, the manufacturer of those orange-handled scissors, was experiencing low brand loyalty. Online mentions of the brand by name was almost zero.

After all, they make scissors.

Fast forward to today, and Fisk-A-Teers has taken the US scrapbooking community by storm. Over 5000 enthusiastic members chat online, comment on the blog, post messages, upload photos, and keep track of their calendar of events.


Why is Fisk-A-Teers so successful? Simple: it’s a social network for people who are interested in scrapbooking and crafts.

The members aren’t obliged to promote the Fiskars brand or its products. Instead, they are encouraged to talk about their hobby, their passion, their work. 

This approach differs from traditional product flog marketing because it focuses on creating “fans”, not customers. As the Brains on Fire website states:

…fans embody loyalty. A fan has a vested interest. They defend passionately. A true fan loves a team, a brand or a band whether they win or lose. Fans don’t just join a movement. They help grow it. Fans have a sense of ownership and shared identity, because your success is their success. And it’s a two-way street. The question isn’t “what can we sell this person?” It’s “what can we do to keep this person and make them even happier?”

So it’s not about “selling”. It’s about building identity, igniting a movement, and generating goodwill.

Technology doesn’t drive this philosophy, but it enables it to flourish.

The priceless brand exposure and word‑of‑mouth marketing follows naturally. 

Yes we can

Kate described a similar approach in her session How was new media a game-changer in the 2008 US elections?

The Obama campaign was unique among its predecessors in its heavy use of online video via YouTube. Like Brains on Fire, Kate and her colleagues focused on igniting a movement.

Most of the video produced by the team depicted everyday Americans rather than Obama himself.

Obama’s message is clear: it’s not about me, it’s about us.

Again, technology doesn’t drive this philosophy, but it enables it to flourish.

The Obama campaigners weren’t merely courting voters, they were empowering communities.

Implications for e-learning

In terms of e-learning, the principle of “Social networking is king” has implications for pedagogy.

Whether a company sanctions it or not, employees are going to use tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter – whether inside or outside of work hours.

Click Me!, courtesy of wagg66, stock.xchng.

Instead of resisting or ignoring it, why not integrate social networking into your blended learning model? I’d suggest it could support informal and JIT learning, not to mention increasing engagement.

Imagine your colleagues sharing ideas, helping each other out, making each other aware of useful resources, asking questions, exploring, contributing, discussing.

Shift learning in the workplace from a chore to a joy.

Ignite your own movement!

Twibal Drums

Do you think Twitter is a self-indulgent waste of time? You’re not alone.

But like most things in life, it all depends on your perspective.

David Hopkins asked his followers recently (via Twitter!)…

hopkinsdavidHow would you describe Twitter to the uninitiated, in 140 characters or less?

My initial reply was…

ryantraceyTwitter is a personal message board…?

And of course it is.

Twitter is traditionally described as a “micro blog” that allows account holders to post short, sharp messages (or “tweets”) of up to 140 characters each.

But then David asked me a probing follow-up question…

hopkinsdavidyes, it can be used as personal message board, but is that good for education when we have a VLE for that kind of activity?

To which I replied…

ryantraceyAh, from an edu perspective: Twitter is a real-time peer-to-peer knowledge sharing forum…?

And there-in lies the point: Twitter can be whatever you want it to be.

Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing

I commented recently on Tony Karrer’s blog

If Twitter users want to be insular, narcissistic and boring, they certainly can be. On the other side of the coin, however, they can also be sharing, fun and interesting.

Personally, I find Twitter indispensable for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. I don’t bother tweeting that I’m having a cup of coffee on Bondi Beach – who cares! Instead, I tweet about the enlightening article I found on the web, or the informative video clip that I watched on YouTube, and I follow others in my industry who do the same.

It’s an international CoP hosted by the Twittersphere.

I even added a link to my favourite Hugh MacLeod cartoon:

Random Thought by Hugh MacLeod

Translation: It’s not what Twitter does, it’s what the tweeter does.


Twibes logoThis is where I think twibes can prove useful.

I define a “twibe” as simply a group of tweeters who share a common interest.

For example, the members of the Gardening Twibe enjoy gardening, the members of the DepecheMode Twibe are fans of Depeche Mode, the members of… well, you get the idea.

Dual role

On the face of it, a twibe seems like just another redundant label. But a twibe can fulfil an important dual role:

1. By joining a twibe, you are promoting yourself to the Twittersphere as a like-minded member of a particular community, and by implication, as a peer worth following;

…and conversely:

2. By browsing the fellow members of your twibe, you can identify peers whom you may consider worth following yourself.

I would argue that both roles further Twitter as a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing forum.


Participate in twibes!So why not join a twibe today?

If e-learning is your thing, why not join:

• EdTech
• Australian_eLearning
• VideoGamesAsLearningTools

And why not found a twibe? Perhaps:

• Canadian_eLearning
• mLearning
• VirtualWorldsInEducation

Keep me in the loop!