Saturday 30 June 2012

LIKE Ideas Conference - The Business of Social Media part 1

Yesterday I went to what was apparently the first conference organised by LIKE. I would never have known that  since everything went so smoothly! It was a really enjoyable afternoon and I came away really enthusiastic to get started on some social media projects of my own. As some of you may know, I'm currently writing my dissertation on the impact of social media marketing and so the conference was a great place to pick up a few extra points for the literature review. There's too much to fit into one post so I'm going to spilt my thoughts in two. This first post will cover the first three conference sessions.

The conference opened with Bertie Bosredon talking about his experiences of managing the social media efforts of Breast Cancer Care. When the organisation came to review its web presence it noticed that people were talking to each other to get information as much as they were talking to the charity. Users stayed active on the site forums for a few months and then moved on, often taking their new online friends with them to their next discussion space. The organisation saw this as an opportunity and offered training to its staff in how to use social media tools. The audience were already familiar with these tools so the organisation went to the places that they frequent in order to maintain a presence. I think this is a very important point. All organisations, including libraries, need to go where their users are going to maintain a dialogue with them rather than relying on users to come to the organisation. This is an advantage of social media that I'm not sure all people pick up on (especially those who see it as a waste of time).

Breast Cancer Care actively tries to maintain a conversation with users on its social media sites which I think is so important. The whole point of social media is that it enables contact and if it's just used to push messages out there then it's no better than a traditional webpage. I think that too few organisations miss this about social media so it was nice to see it being brought up here. Bernie highlighted how all social media developments were made organically rather than being forced. Whilst having a social media guidance policy in place is definitely a good idea (as was shown later in the conference) it's important not to be too rigid with it. This can put people off contributing as much as anything else which defeats the whole point of social media. One of the main things that I took away from Bernie's presentation is how important it is to empower the people within your organisation to use social media. Give them training if they need it, let them experiment. Have some guidance in place but don't be too strict since this can damage the flow of the conversation you have with your users.

The next session was by Noleen Schenk on how to use social media to support research. Working in an academic library this was a very interesting topic for me. She outlined how collaboration and social interaction run through all aspects of the research process - making social media an ideal medium to use. Noleen talked a lot about how important social networking can be to the research process - it can strengthen existing networks and lead to the discovery of new information. One of the most important things that social media can be used for is giving researchers access to their networks network. I know from personal experience that asking a question on Twitter leads to no shortage of answers. Different social media tools can be used for different parts of the research process, such as those for which enable collaboration and tools which can be used to store citations (something which I personally couldn't do without!). The key point that Noleen stressed was social media is not the only tool that you can use in the research process, but it's something to have in your toolbox. You don't need to use all of the tools all of the time but find the one(s) that work for you in your research.

In the final session before the break James Mullan talked about how social media tools can be used internally to enable communication throughout the workforce. He talked about enterprise social networks which will enable employees to engage both with each other and with the company's networks. When 'selling' social media tools to other employees and especially supervisors who may be sceptical, James highlighted the importance of explaining how the tool can help them. By explaining how something can make someones life easier you are much more likely to get them on board.  This is especially helpful if you can find a tool which fulfils a specific need within your organisation. Another interesting point that James made about encouraging use of social media was to make the entry point low. People just don't have the time to learn lot's of new things, especially when they are already sceptical about them in the first place. Choosing a complicated bit of software which takes hours to master will only put people off, so it's important to experiment and find something fit for purpose which is simple to use. It's also important to remember that what works for one group or set of circumstances may not work for another. There are plenty of tools out there - experiment and find the right one for you!

That's the end of part one! Hopefully I will have the write up of part two up in a couple of days.

photo credit: nan palmero via photopin cc

Monday 11 June 2012

Can You Ever Be TOO Professionally Developed?

Last week I was asked by a colleague to make a list of any professional development activities that I had taken part in over the last few months so she could report them back at a divisional meeting. I got out the diary and made her a list, but even I was a little shocked at the length of it. I have something on most weeks but I didn't really add it all up until I saw the list in black and white and found that there were about twelve events/courses on there. This got me thinking (hence this blog post!)

I know that there has been discussion recently over why some librarians feel the need to get involved with so many things outside work - and become the so-called "uber librarian". I've seen arguments both for and against and I think a lot of it depends on your personality or work situation. Personally, I have had to really fight to get the job I'm in now and I think this has influenced the amount of 'extra-curricular' activities that I take part in. When I was working part-time I needed something to fill those spare hours which made me feel like I was still connected to the profession, and I was also preparing for job interviews. I've lost count of the number of times I was told I was unsuccessful because the other candidates were doing library courses or taking part in conferences, rather than that they had specific job related skills that I didn't. There has been a lot of speculation recently over whether extra activities have any bearing on whether you get the job or not. I think it depends a lot on the organisation you are applying to, the role you are applying for and the mindset of the people conducting the interview. If there are two candidates with a similar skill set then I would like to think that being professionally involved gives you a little bit of an edge but I could be wrong. My main question is this - how much involvement is too much?

What worries me about taking part in any or all of these activities is whether a future employer will see my participation as a good thing or as something which takes me away from the job that they are actually paying me to do. Personally I think that a professional interest is very important. Why spend most of your waking time doing a job if you are not going to be 100% committed to it? I am well aware of the fact that sometimes I need to learn to say no, but there just happen to be many things that interest me just now. I'm lucky enough to be able to attend many of the events that I would like to, so I feel that I would be missing out on an opportunity if I didn't. I also think that both my professional involvement and my library course have given me more confidence - both inside and outside my job. Surely this can only be a good thing?

Another issue that has arisen recently is whether I should be using my annual leave to take part in some of these activities. I have been told more than once recently by various people that I shouldn't be taking leave to attend events etc. since professional development is part of my career. I can understand where they're coming from but when you're doing something every week, and sometimes more than once a week, when does it become unprofessional to keep asking for time off? My personal philosophy is that if it's directly related to my job, organised by the university that I work for or I've been asked to go then I should ask for time off. If it is something that I've found out about and want to attend, then why should my employers have to give me time off when I could take it from my leave?

I really just wanted to canvass some opinion on the topic of professional development. What do other people do? Does anyone feel the same as me or am I just being over cautious? I think what it will come down to is a balancing act, but I just need a little help on where to hold the pole (or in the case of the picture, the fan)! All opinions gratefully received...

Photo credits:
Google calendar: Spinstah
Tightrope walker: