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Solving the social media puzzle for students

2013 October 27

solvingA simple yet not so simple topic: I was asked to discuss the ‘useful use’ of social media by students during a Geoplaza event, in other words: how can students benefit from what social media has to offer? My talk was divided into three steps: first understand (digital) social systems, then understand how to position yourself in such a system and (third) how to actively participate.


Understand social systems

One does not need to study social sciences to understand what social systems are about: a group of people who are somehow connected and behave according to written and unwritten rules. Social media can be part of such a system. Understanding how communication works in such a group (e.g what is 1:M vs M:M communication; how does written and verbal communication compare) and what unwritten rules are  (e.g. don’t get coffee just for yourself ) are a good first step towards active participation.

Social skills help us to behave in social systems. Although in our core we are the same person in various social systems, hopping from one social system to another requires us to behave different. In case you doubt this, just compare your behavior in class to your behavior at home: you talk about different topics, even use different words. And no job appraisal system has worked in a family social system (although is a great fun to give it a try).

It is important to understand how to shift gear from one communication method to another. Although the medium may be the message, some messages are not best replied to by using that same medium. In other words: some tweets deserve an email reply. And some emails do not deserve an email reply, but rather a phone call.


Technisch weer!

It’s all about positioning…


Without even any effort, even when we are completely inactive, when we enter a social system, we take position. A simple model of such a system is the communication ladder (e.g. as used by Lee/Bernoff), which classifies our position based on our contribution to the system.

Comparing that to the occasion of the day: when I give a presentation, I am the creator in such a system. The active listeners can been seen as spectators. Those who ask critical questions are very important to the system. It takes a lot more energy to create compared to the inactive and spectator roles (there tend to be many more of those as well). Although all roles are necessary to create a well-balanced social system, the pieces of the social media puzzle are not of the same size.

A way to position yourself: describe a few characteristics of YOU (e.g like Ukrainian folk dancing, admires great architecture, is into marketing). Plot these characteristics on to the social media matrix, with a privat vs public and an online vs offline axis. Then position the various social media platforms in the graph. And stick to chosen positions. One example: describes my upper right quadrant (notice: no Facebook !).



In order for social media to be useful for you (student), it is key that you actively participate in them. There is no need to be a creator in all the social systems you participate in, but you should not be a spectator in all of them either. So for example: contribute ‘a thought per day’ on twitter, comment on the presentations you like on Slideshare or a discussion on LinkedIn, or write a blogpost that takes more effort than your daily tweet  (or combine all the above).

On request I ended the short presentation with an explanation of how I participate in LinkedIn and how that compares to the model. My ground rule is that I connect with people I have met or will meet shortly, exceptions accepted (e.g. faraway students). I start a discussion (create), comment on discussions, like updates (almost like a spectator). My updates are related to work and professional interest only. Hardly ever will I: write about my favorite cats on LinkedIn, publish about maps on Facebook, send tweets about Ukrainian folk dancing. I do not mix these channels of communication, since they are different social systems.

Good question from the audience: should I put the name of my favorite soccer team on my LinkedIn profile? My first reply was that this very much depends on the name and reputation of the team. My second reply: this depends on how you have structured your social media matrix and the private/public and on/off line balance. To me this makes only sense when you work at that soccer club.


Half a globe

Connect the world with social media

Final thoughts

The gold in social media can be found in sharing knowledge, connecting to the world, supporting a community, be seen as a -soon to be- professional, for a small effort only (do not factor out fun). And participating in a professional network does not need to be a real puzzle: understand social systems, position yourself in those systems and actively participate by contributing.

I encourage student to give that a conscious try and learn the (digital) social skills. Anonymity may be great to comment on YouTube videos, but it will not get you anywhere when you want to professionally network in a digital world. At the same time, I urge students not to surrender their lives to a ‘siren server’: those that claim that all must be open and openly served (on their platform). Be in charge of your own odyssey in life and be mute to the siren server companies.

Do solve your own social media puzzle. I hope the presentation (and this a-bit-too-long-blogpost) may give you some direction towards a solving that puzzle.


Solving the social media puzzle from Jan Willem van Eck
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