Monday, 28 May 2012

Presentation: Going Social

A week or so ago I gave a presentation to my team on our approach to using social media to support learning technologies at the university and I thought it might be handy to share it here too.

The Tools

Our main tools are this Google Blog, a Google+ page, the use of a unique hashtag (#cicsltt) and a NetVibes site for aggregation of content across a range of sources.  It seems to be pretty limited, right?

It's the Iceberg approach (in a non-Titatanic disaster sense!)

If I were to describe the approach I've taken with using social media it would be to describe it as being 'the Iceberg' approach.  What on earth does that mean?  Well, by that I mean that although it looks fairly straightforward at first glance, it's underpinned by far more things than you can see.

For example, we use Google blogger for our team blog and it's more than possible to argue that there are better / more flexible / more versatile tools out there.  But, that's not the point of us using it.  At the University of Sheffield we have Google Apps available for staff and students and as one of our core technologies and I believe that it's not okay for us to say 'yes, we've used x system, but y is good enough for you'.  We have to be practitioners.  We have to use the technologies we support.  And that's why we're using Blogger.  I also use Google Analytics to keep an eye on how the blog is going and to make sure that we're hitting our target audience with what we put out there.

Team blogging

The reason that we've gone for a team approach to management of our blog / Google+ page is to encourage dissemination, increase the likelihood that what we're doing is sustainable (discovering a good blog only to discover that it's petered out within a month or so is disappointing) and ensure that we're representing a community of views.  Our site authors aren't just centrally based learning technologists - they're also practitioners and that means that you'll also find our academic colleagues as well as learning technologists based in departments here too.  We have so many pockets of brilliant and innovative / engaging practice at the university that having a vehicle which helps to share that has been a revelation.  It's vital to give our innovators and early adopters a voice to share with the rest of the academic community.


We don't use the corporate branding.  I know... I know... but... there is a reason for that.  Our pages are deliberately departmentally agnostic (with contributions from people involved in learning technology from across the university) and by not using lots of colour can easily be embedded in 'official' university sites... but equally can be accessed direct.  The same simple style applies to the blog, to Google+ etc and works on multiple devices.  We link from the blog to our Google+ page and back again.  Within the blog we use the link within gadget to point people to related content on the site as well as ensuring that all links open in another window... and as a result our bounce rate is lower than average for a blog.  The gadgets used on the right hand side of the blog are all about discoverability, sharing and participation.  Again, arranged so that the most important (to us!) things are most prominent.


The Google+ page is a way for us to promote content but further deepen that community - both internally and externally.  As a Google Apps institution having the 'You+' link visible to all staff means that it can be readily viewed as a professional tool as well as a tool for our students to communicate.  However, without a purpose for use it's hard to see where it might fit in the already bulging bag of learning technology - so, our Google+ page gives us the opportunity to experiment.  See what we can do with it.  Try out new ideas.  Show how it could be used.  And interestingly, it's been as effective as simply promoting our content on Twitter has been in terms of getting traffic to our blog.  We're also starting to use Google+ as a way of collaborating across the team and supporting others as well (hangouts are fantastic for this)... and without the hook of our initial Google+ page, I think it would have been far more difficult to promote it as a tool which had real value.


Up until a few months ago, we really didn't have any kind of presence.  Well, we did... but it was patchy and internally visible, if that.  What using social media has done for us is to open up our practices.  Using Google Analytics I can see that well over 150 educational institutions worldwide have accessed our blog in the past two months alone.  That's a powerful door to have opened.  One of my favourite new phrases to hear is 'I saw it on the blog' - and that gets said internally and externally too, which is fantastic.

Educational institutions visiting the Learning Technologies blog
March to May 2012
Getting it working

One of the things that also sits underneath our use of social media are guidelines (I blogged about our team blogging guidelines a while ago) - they're pretty lightweight and are along the lines of 'use a conversational tone, don't say anything you might regret, don't infringe copyright etc...' but also asks people to use an image with each posting, give their posts labels and for them to post regularly.  The point is really that it isn't a free for all but neither is it proscriptive to the point where you don't get to 'hear' the individual authors.  It also means that Google+ or the blog are used in a purposeful manner which is helpful in getting an audience to engage with what you're writing but makes it easier for people to write for their audience.

What about Facebook or Twitter?

It's probably at this point that you're wondering why we don't have a Facebook page or a Twitter account.  Well, we have got the latter but it's really only there as a placeholder.  It pushes out content we've saved on Delicious and things from this blog and may / may not be developed further.  Both Facebook and Twitter, however, are personal tools.  We already have Google here so it's a core technology.  Facebook and Twitter aren't and the line between personal and professional is a tricky one to negotiate.  Instead what we're doing is suggeting that if people want to use their own Twitter accounts - where we've most likely already grown our followers to a pretty large extent over several years - then just using a hashtag - #cicsltt - is a way of getting work-related tweets out there to a pre-existing audience... and we can aggregate and share those tagged resources easily (as we do on the blog and the NetVibes page).

And that... is just about it.  The iceberg approach.  Should look nice and simple to your audience but with hidden depth!


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