The role that social media played in influencing the outcome of the Brexit referendum and US election has shaped the society that we live in. I came in to this course wanting to understand how and why social media has such a large influence on society. By understanding the theory behind how this influence has occurred, I hoped that I would be able to use social media theory and practical examples to be better placed to think critically about how the social media I am involved in is shaping the way I think and act. Also, as a teacher, I was hoping to learn social media skills that would result in new and exciting ways to engage with my students. In this post I will discuss how my views on social networking have changed during INF506, the tools I used during the course and how the assessment project helped build my understanding of social networking.
A beautiful visulisation of the hashtag based social media discussion around Brexit.
How have my views on social networking changed?
During this course I have developed an understanding of the risks that social media can pose for organisations and individuals. Everyone needs to manage their social media presence to ensure they are conveying the picture they want employers, family and friends to see; however, people with a high-profile have an added burden and scrutiny on their social media presence and require past and future posts to stand the test of scrutiny over time (Lam, 2016). In our current society, it is impossible to know who will be thrust in to spotlight and therefore have their social media profile scrutinised. There is no shortage of politicians who have been forced to resign because their social media posts have proved to be an embarrassment and liability to their political party (Cho & Jimerson, 2017). Through learning about the risk of social media I was able to reflect on what my social media footprint said about me and this prompted me to review my previous social media posts and remove posts that may not have reflected the image I wanted to portray.
Through writing my learning journal, I have gained a greater understanding of how social media can help to spread inaccurate or false information. During my working life, the people who generate fake news will create ever more sophisticated products like the ‘deep fake’ videos, challenging us to not only critically evaluate what we read but what we see and hear. By thinking critically we may be able to ensure we can discount unauthentic information; however, for many people, this fake information will be consumed as if it is fact and permanently shape their view of the world, even when people find out that information they used to make a decision is not true, it is likely that they still will not review their decision. This understanding of how incorrect information, spread via social media, can impact the public discourse has lead me to contemplate whether future generations will have the same reactions to fake news or whether people will adapt and be able to deal with the cognitive dissonance created by multiple sources of conflicting ‘facts’.
This course has not just been about the downsides of social media and it has exposed me to several positive social media initiatives. The collaboration within the course Facebook group has demonstrated the opportunities social media provides in building a cooperative and supportive community. These positive communities are not limited to ‘invite only’ groups as is evidenced by the social online communities that provide crowd sourced mapping of disasters, helping to improve recovery efforts. The prospect of greater equality of access that Library 2.0 provides, demonstrated to me that social technologies can have a positive impact in my own surroundings not just a positive impact on areas of the world dealing with disaster.
Which tools and platforms have I engaged with during INF506 and what was their relevance to me as an information professional?
During INF506 I have engaged with several tools and platforms. The course Facebook group has been a valuable source of information and interaction with fellow students. The functionality of the Facebook group allowed me to quickly view upcoming events, announcements as well as group discussions. This was the first time I had used Facebook groups and its utility as well as the number of people who have a Facebook accounts means that it will be one of my top choices for future groups I create.
Screenshot of the options within the INF506 Facebook group
During the course I have used Twitter; however, the amount of participation from fellow students and myself has been low. I have followed the course hashtag #INF506 and this has been helpful in receiving article recommendations from the course convenor. Twitter would have been a much more useful resource if I had actively participated in it. The benefit of Twitter over Facebook is its open nature. As anybody could potentially respond to your questions and posts, this makes the platform feel less personal and more suited to the education/work context; whereas, because Facebook is linked to my personal life, I felt less confident in asking questions of strangers. As an information professional this was an interesting lesson as it helped me to reflect on how the choice of platform is important for the type of community, content or answers you are looking to generate (Gow, 2017).
This subject has prompted me to investigate a range of social platforms that I had not previously engaged with. I found that Reddit was a good source of discussion and news about education and Australian teacher experiences. After a bit of acclimatisation, I believe the way content and conversations were displayed easier to follow than Twitter hashtags. It seemed to be a more informal level of discussion than Twitter and more group focused, producing an interesting array of content and conversation, whilst Twitter can be more about individuals broadcasting their own content. My discovery of the value of Reddit has taught me that it is well worth trying a variety of social media platforms to understand if they can add to my personal learning network by providing a different perspective and variety of information.
Experimenting with a variety of social media platforms did take time and therefore the number of platforms I could engage with was limited. I trialled a number of social media aggregators including Hootsuite, Buffer and Sendible. The aggregators enabled me to track social accounts, hashtags and streams in one place. The downside was that to get full functionality, I needed a paid account. As these aggregators provide time savings, investing in a subscription is something that I am considering.
How did the social media project contribute to my understanding of working in a social environment?
As part of a project for INF506, I attempted to create a work-based social group that could discuss tips and tricks for improving training outcomes. The project was valuable in helping me to understand the practicalities of creating a social group. The main lesson I learned from the project was that I need to create a strategy for content and a plan for how that content will engage users. Prior to the project, I imagined that you would post whatever content you thought was appropriate and whatever came to mind on a certain day. I now understand that the successful social media accounts are planning their content, tone and target audience in advance. Another important lesson from the project was the time it takes to create a social community and start to build an identity for the group. Just because you have an idea for a network that does not mean that people will participate in that network, particularly if the topic you choose for a social community was not being discussed elsewhere – either in person or on another online platform (Hearn & Mendizabal, 2011). My choice of topic for the project probably tested the limits of what was of interest to a group of people. I found that people were more interested in consuming content about creating better training resource than they were in discussing ways to improve content. The community I created found a sense of purpose when the topic of conversation evolved in to discussions around personal experiences in conducting training. People contributed by providing sympathy and advice, helping group members to understand that they were not alone in their experiences. I was able to provide content that helped to contribute and foster this new-found community purpose and occasionally bring the topic of conversation back to the original project goal.
Social media has a growing impact on our lives, both for the better and the worse. As an information professional, to ensure the impact is as positive as possible, I need to be aware of my footprint and think critically about the information I see on social media. To keep improving my skills and knowledge, I need to engage with a variety of social media platforms to expose myself to different types of conversations and social structures. My social media project taught me that creating and maintaining user-engagement in social media is hard. You need to plan for how you are going to engage people and the content you are going to use to achieve that. Even with this plan in place it is likely that the fluid nature of social media means you will have to adapt your plan to meet the needs of your audience. Reflecting on my journey through INF506, I have been able to achieve an understanding of how social media shapes our society and ways to use it to engage learners. The rapidly evolving nature of social media means that I will need to continue my engagement with it to ensure that my understanding keeps pace with the changing environment.
Cho, V., & Jimerson, J. B. (2017). Managing digital identity on Twitter: The case of school administrators. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 45(5), 884–900. https://doi.org/10.1177/1741143216659295
Gow, E. (2017, November). Reaching Out Without a Budget: Expanding Your Library’s Online Presence Using Online Tools. Computers in Libraries, 37(9), 18-. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A513010381/EAIM?u=csu_au&sid=EAIM&xid=c7c84568
Hearn, S., & Mendizabal, E. (2011). Not everything that connects is a network. ODI Background Note.
Lam, H. (2016). Social media dilemmas in the employment context. Employee Relations; Bradford, 38(3), 420–437. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/10.1108/ER-04-2015-0072