Monday, 20 February 2012

The right tools for the job....what to say where and why.

I've been meaning to write a post about how I see different kinds of social networks fitting together and was thinking about how to structure it when lo and behold Harold Jarche linked to this post on his own blog this morning. I've posted his model above.

When I started blogging and tweeting in 2008 my aim was to find other people interested in medical education to connect with. I found some but from the start my external networks have been much more diverse and therefore fruitful that if they were just made up of people interested in people interested in medical education. These are the yellow networks in the diagram above.

Since I was appointed academic lead for eLearning in the medical school in Cardiff University, I have felt the need to try and develop a community of practice with those in similar positions in medical schools acoss the UK. So I started a LinkedIn group called eLearning in Medical Education- not very original! I knew that many of the people who I wanted to join this group were not yet on Twitter or blogging. And I thought that we needed a space that would allow threaded conversation. A few years ago I might have set up a Ning - but this would now cost me £36/year and I don't think it is a format that people are very familiar with in any case. On the other hand, LinkedIn is a social network which those who are aware of it know is work related. So far there are more than 50 members of the group with a reasonable representation of medical schools across the UK. A few medical students have also joined and made some great contributions. I set up a few polls eg Which VLE are you using in your medical school so that newcomers had very non-threatening ways of joining in. And so far the group has been very useful to me at least! It is too early to say that it is a community of practice but it is developing.

And then there are the tools that I use the project teams I am part of within the university. In Cardiff University we have access to IBM connections, a social business solution. The latest version is about to be rolled out. I am going to attempt to use this to share task, project management, information, ideas and developments with all those throughout the university, and in the medical school in particular, who are interested in how we are using technology in the existing course and as we approach a new curriculum.

There has been a lot written recently about the failure of internal networking platforms. A post in the Harvard Business Review last week suggested there is no simple explanation for the poor uptake of internal social networking platforms compared to informal social networking like Twitter and Facebook. A multitude of factors might be responsible including "investing in technology with no clear intent or use in mind" (but who knew why they were signing up to Facebook or Twitter when they fist did? and do all of those corporate accounts know why they are there?). The comments are also well worth reading. One of my favourite comments is the first one "Information flow among desk-sized fiefdoms is usually not free. Attempts to lower the price are almost always met with resistance." The reason that people don't attempt new ways of working is because the cultures of the organisations that they are working within do not give them messages that this is supported and valued. But this intransigence is being challenged by an increasing emphasis on social approaches external to the organisation, and the realisation that to be, as Lee Bryant says, 'social on the outside' also needs good connections and the free flow of information on the inside.

What does 'social on the outside' mean for a university? Who should we be relating to externally as an organisation and as individuals, and as a medical school specifically? Most of the posts on this blog,and the links here, are about me relating externally to other researchers, educators, medical students and patients and a public across the UK and the world. If as educators we are to help students develop digital literacies then we need to consider how these literacies fit with our own identities as researcher and academics and health professionals. And internal social networking platforms may be a safe place to explore identity and utility.

If health organisations also actively engage with 'social on the inside' solutions then perhaps this may impact on how the NHS engages with the use of social media externally. Perhaps.

Do the organisations that you work within provide you with the spaces you need to work with others effectively? Do you think that internal social networking platforms are a waste of time? And is social over-hyped?

EDIT: 24/2/3012 It is really work checking out this post by lecturer in digital media Dr Kelly Page, a colleague in Cardiff  University, on "Social Ways of Working in Higher Education".


  1. Interesting post AnneMarie. As someone who benefitted a lot from the online networking before the Facebook/twitter days where the digital identity was mainly text based, I always advocated the benefits of having online communities in big organisations like Universities. We will be searching for information, skills and services when we might already have it within our own institution. An internal social networking platform could provide that friendly (?) spaces for staff to work effectively with others.

    However, as in the Harvard Business Review post referred, I think lack of control over who sees our postings could be a deterring factor. Implementing an attractive and customised networking platform/tool that complements the community requirements might encourage some to begin to engage. At the end it will be the relevant discussions/resources and a supportive atmosphere which will decide the flourishing of a strong internal social network. Such a network will not be a waste of time. Based on Harold Jarche model I would place it within the ‘Project Teams’ circle.

    From your external network :)

  2. Hi Anne Marie
    A thought-provoking post, which asks a number of difficult questions!
    To start to understand what social on the outside means for a university, it may be helpful to think in terms of an overall social strategy, which at its simplest may involve identifying:

    Objectives: What two or three key goals do we want to accomplish?
    Audience(s): who do we want to reach, why and how?
    Engagement: what steps do we need to take to prepare, listen and evaluate, before participating and engaging authentically with our audience(s)?
    Effort: what resources do we need to engage, for the long-term commitment social requires?
    Metrics: how will we measure success?

    Rishi Dave, executive director, online marketing at Dell - the company I also work for - amplifies this in a paper on steps organisations can take to execute social media effectively, available via:!/ajax_63/status/66611172417355776

    Mashable has this - high level but still interesting - infographic on US universities' use of social, which may stimulate some further ideas:

    The approach to a social strategy can be applied at multiple levels, from an individual, through a faculty, to a university. Where it becomes most interesting, perhaps, is in assessing the degree of overlap (or alignment) and difference (or dissonance) between the different levels: how well do the individual's social goals align with the organisation's, and vice versa; and what issues does it raise around professional and personal social identities, a topic you have posted on previously.

    The approach can also be used for internal social initiatives, for - as your Lee Bryant quote beautifully puts it - external social efforts risk being simply window dressing unless the university is organised - has people, processes, structures and social technologies in place - to respond in meaningful ways to the interactions external social engagement brings.

    This is hard, and it is fair to assume few organisations are fully there yet, for reasons this recent Altimeter Group study highlights:!/dhinchcliffe/status/172811948235296768.

    In a nutshell: technology last, change management first.

    A University's social strategy could legitimately include the use of its own existing web presence and the potential communities bring to augment that presence; as well as the learning opportunities communities may bring, which Harold Jarche describes in his model.

    Yesterday UM launched the latest issue of a long-term study on social media:!/ajax_63/status/172709216446988290

    which highlighted particularly for the young social media is becoming the primary source of news and information, whilst their use of organisations' websites is in decline.

    In response to this trend a number of organisations are augmenting their websites with community forums, blogs, and wikis, to increase the level of social engagement, at the same time they have also established presences on external social platforms like Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare and G+ to build communities around topics of interest.

    At the risk of exaggerating to make the point, the potential power of integrating these communities with the organisation is highlighted in this article on President Obama's re-election campaign:!/ajax_63/status/171719094800875521

    To bring this back to the post, a University may decide, for example, to create a Linked In group for Alumni. Before doing so it could use the approach above to determine how would it best integrate that external presence with its internal Alumni organisation's people, data and processes, as part of its overall social strategy.

    Best Regards
    Another from your external network :)
    Twitter: @ajax_63

  3. Hello Shai and Andrew,

    Many thanks for your posts. I've edited to include a link to Dr Kelly Pages's post on 'social ways of working in Higher education'. Kelly is sitting on the university's task and finish group which is developing the university's social and digital media strategy. So this work is being done. This is just my little musings on what this might mean in practice. A university is very much a collection of individuals as much as organisation it feels often!

    Since writing this in the last week I have had a few interesting experiences. I found out from a colleague on Twitter about some work that I expected to learn about through Connections, the internal platform... but I did manage to get it disseminated over there as well!

    Other ideas emerge as questions internally and then I am shifting them outwards to wider audiences. I believe that as medical education still receives so much state funding that there is an ethical obligation to share learning and problem solving.

    Thanks for your thoughts:)


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