There are many blog posts and newspaper and magazine articles in relation to common debates surrounding social media use in business and education. Some say it is a waste of time while others herald it as the most important revolution in communication since email. I have asked friends and colleagues in medical education to blog this week about their time management strategy regarding social media use. See the original call for action on the Social Media in Education blog.
Is social media a distraction?
When social media grabs my attention and pulls me away from my daily work, it’s because something interesting is happening. I’m not distracted by kitty videos and Wal-Mart shopper photos. But I am distracted when Google Calendar goes down. I see tweets and status updates about it in my network, triggering me to check my websites which display Google Calendar. I’m distracted when a hashtag I follow trends unexpectedly, such as during the Great Keynote Meltdown at #heweb09. During that ‘distraction’ I learned a great deal about the importance of audience engagement and real-time response (or lack thereof) by a presenter. If I had not been monitoring Twitter at the time, I would have missed the real time development but would have later caught the subsequent blog posts and online discussion, which included valuable assessment, professional insight and best practices.
Efficiency or overwork?
On weekend mornings I check my work email (not unusual) but I also tap into the Google Alerts I have set up to capture web mentions of the university and our medical center. If there is something interesting and timely, I’ll post it and monitor the conversation if one emerges. This type of marketing strategy is valuable – finding and reporting information that highlights your organization is a good thing. However it doesn’t need to be done a weekend and I could certainly use that time for other things, like to feed the cat, mow the lawn or do laundry. But for me, the real time web is much more fun.
Twitter: waste of time?
Friday is the worst day to visit Twitter for the first time. It is confusing enough for new users as it is, let alone on a Friday when many tweets are labeled with the popular #FF or #FollowFriday hashtags as well as oddball end-of-the-work-week commentary and discussion. On Fridays it does seem like a waste of time. Or does it? Once a user learns to navigate the Twitter waters, it is easy to find value in the seemingly nonsensical jibber jabber.
#FollowFriday is a simple way people tell other people about good Twitter users. It’s just Twitter-speak for “Hey, this guy/girl posts a lot of great information and I think you should start following them so you can learn from them like I do.” It is no different than when at a conference a respected colleague introduces you to someone s/he admires. I have been mentioned in #FF lists many times and it is a huge honor, so there is value as well as professional validation. No one is going #FF someone who tweets boring or idiotic posts, but they are likely to #FF experts in your field or area of interest. Introductions to experts; no conference registration, travel or lodging required.
General productivity and tools of the trade
It has been easy for me to start using social media tools and applications because web stuff is what I do; it’s an area I am comfortable with. That is not the case for medical professionals and educators, generally speaking. For many it may be like learning a second language and trying to use it as they learn it. It may be uncomfortable; some may make embarrassing mistakes; some may never master it. These are valid concerns that could become barriers for adoption and implementation.
I think I have a pretty fair grasp on things but there are days, or weeks, where it seems the amount of new and interesting content is completely out of control. But I don’t have to be engaged 24/7. I rely on Google Reader to keep my blog subscriptions and search alerts in check. Reader’s folder tool keeps my subscriptions organized in categories: Higher Ed, Medical Education, Technology, UMass, and Web Design. I open the UMass and Medical Education folders to find the most recent news and information when I’m working on web updates and marketing initiatives. Likewise, I hit the other folders when I need to know what’s happening in those areas. I have other folders, too, for personal interest blogs and feeds, such as local music, art and culture.
I have three Twitter accounts and I use HootSuite to manage them. I can access all three accounts, monitor the online discussions for each, add or drop followers/followees, check stats and trends, as well as participate in the conversation. HootSuite also allows me to pre-schedule tweets, which is super handy for the department Twitter account. There are similar tools (a popular competitor is TweetDeck) which allow users to do the same thing. A tool like this is helpful for advanced Twitter users, but anyone can use them to manage their account.
I keep HootSuite open during the work day. There is no one else in my department who does what I do so I use my networks to find professional advice and support. Through social media, I have hundreds of experts in my field available to answer questions or critique a project or review a new webpage. Likewise, if someone in my network needs help and I know the answer, I lend my support thus demonstrating my expertise and perhaps gaining some respect in the greater community of medical educators and higher education web professionals.
My social media time management strategy
On Monday mornings I review Google Reader for news and information about UMass. I use this information to generate tweets about our school, our programs, our medical center, etc. I also use these sources as web content for our department website. For example I might find a reference to an obscure small town newspaper that mentioned one of our community hospitals.
On Wednesdays I scan online publications I subscribe to find hot topics in medical education and biomedical science that may be of interest to our community. I tweet links to these articles, or email them to faculty, or post a link on our university’s Linkedin group. It only takes an hour or two, but often generates discussion that may lead to a new innovation or an evaluation of current practices. On Fridays I receive an automated message from Linkedin which informs me if anyone commented on the articles I have shared in our university group; I then follow up on comments and questions.
Once per month I analyze my social media strategy by checking statistics gathered in HootSuite and other tracking tools. I compare activity with our web analytics reports to see how many web visitors were referred by my tweets or other people’s tweets or blog posts. What I am looking for is a return on investment (ROI) so I can report out to my boss and others and prove that social media is not a waste of time.
To make a long story short (too late)
Social media is valuable once it is understood, used with some discretion and time is managed appropriately. My advice is to find tools to help manage the information overload before it becomes daunting. Suggest that you use the applications to learn about the applications. And keep practicing; you’ll get it.