This post is in response to Maryam Kaymanesh in the VCU thoughtvectors MOOC who is thinking about why high school students should be taught how to use social media for a future job. I wouldn’t have seen the post but Tom Woodward tagged me in his reply to her and I got a ping to alert me to the reference. Why mention this? Because it gets at the heart of why we need to “teach” social media: it IS the way we communicate these days, and we have always taught students how to use contemporary media.
When I started teaching high school English in the late 1980s, my curriculum included formal letter writing and research skills using paper databases like the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. I think we understand better why we need to teach students the research skills, but it’s 21st century writing that we grapple with as teachers roll their eyes when kids use emoticons or Internet slang in their research papers. Case in point: check out the Wikipedia entry on LOL. The authors spend a lot of time quoting the critics of the use of these abbreviations as inappropriate in formal writing. But they certainly have a place in the fast-paced, shortened world of Twitter and texting. So, lesson one for all 21st century writers is how to distinguish between the wide variety of writing outlets and the kind of writing they demand.
The other challenge for contemporary media users is how to use social media to portray yourself publicly. The Washington Post article When Young Teachers Go Wild on the Web is one I still share with the adults I work with as it asks the hard questions about sharing on social media. In the six years since that article was published, stories continue to come out of grownups, including veteran teachers, doing dumb things in public using Twitter or Facebook. This incredibly kind interview demonstrates clearly that it isn’t just high school students who need a lesson or two:
But, despite the possible pitfalls, social media is also where we go to connect with others. Whatever your passion or area of study, social media can help you connect with others in the field. I require the students in my educational administration course to get involved in social media professionally by discovering the important voices and publications in education. Who are the bloggers and tweeters and googlers that you should be reading regularly? And, how can you become one of those voices? What can you contribute to the conversation?
There are also important questions for businesses to ask as they move into this hyper connected world. As someone who runs an organization that uses social media to both communicate and connect, I think about how to use it all the time. What do we want to do with it beyond just simple marketing? How can we become a portal to help curate the web for our followers? It is very much a similar kind of question to that for individuals: just how do we portray our company in social media? I can pretty much guarantee that unless your future job is hermit, you will, either as an employee or employer, ask these kinds of questions.
And, while I can craft a persona for myself and my business, I can’t control the message completely since everyone has a voice. Reactions to a story are part of the story. The Today Show had a clip about getting good customer service and spent a good bit of time offering consumers tips for how to get noticed by a company by using Twitter or Facebook. Companies must be monitoring these outlets to be able to respond and react quickly before something goes viral.
I’ll end with a recent example from my field of the complexities of being part of this new world. A brutally honest blog post about terrible experiences at a conference in 2013 appeared just as folks were gearing up for the 2014 version. The post, which has been removed by the author but is easy enough to find in an archive, was prompted by the #YesAllWomen campaign. It garnered a strong response from some in the field but others pushed back suggesting that this is a complex issue that requires more than a visceral, black and white response. Some spent time just trying to figure out who she was talking about. A second bog post tried to sort out the writer’s reactions to these different responses while the organization in question crafted its own response.
There are lots of lessons in this one event, not the least of which is that deleting stuff on the web doesn’t always mean it goes away. I’m not sure we can “teach” our students or ourselves exactly how to live in this social mediated world, but these kinds of case studies can help us grapple with the issues in powerful ways. If schools choose instead to ban and ignore, they miss the opportunity to truly prepare their students to live empowered lives in this world.