How did social media started? I haven’t really researched this subject, but it appears to me that primarily it was really as a fun way for people (usually young) to connect. And initially that it was it was, however once an idea is launched it can go places which are unforseen. Twitter was seen initially by its creators as ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’. Now it can get people sacked.
The advantages of social media is that they are popular, and with little or no cost, messages and ideas can be spread fa and wide. This of course is a great attraction for organisation like corporations, but any organisation which wants to communicate can’t avoid the allure of the social media.
However (as I have raised before in this blog) this tends to blur the boundaries of what social media is really about. It is a fun place to exchange comments and ideas which are in the realm of the personal? I tend to use Facebook and Twitter primarily for personal reasons (to keep in touch with family and friends in Italy) and to connect and discuss issues that interest me (Association Football and Politics). When it comes to work I limit myself to emails.
However in Facebook I ‘Liked’ the University of Melbourne Library page. This Library is where I work. But as many of my colleagues also followed I thought why not.
However the issue of how Facebook worked in a work setting came to a head when the people running the Facebook Library Page asked for some feedback about the re-vamped Library Home Page. I commented that one link was wrong and in one like the word librarian was misspelt as libarian. I thought that in the spirit of Facebook they would have been happy that someone noticed. But apparently I was wrong.
When I came back to Facebook a few hours later I noticed that my comments had been deleted. Later I got an email from the section of the Library responsible for the Library Home Page (and therefore managing the Facebook page as well) that having a library staff member noticing errors on the page would not be a ‘good look’ and that I should refer my comments internally through email or the phone.
I was somewhat miffed, and also believed that the people managing the Facebook page didn’t really understand the dynamics of social networking. I see Facebook as a bit of a free for all. It is not an ‘official’ tool and I believe it was not designed as one. Once you post something on Facebook it is open for everyone to comment. And the risks are that many may be pretty inane (just look at the comments generated any time Julia Gillard posts something on Facebook). Especially if that post actually invites Facebook members to comment on something. It doesn’t say “everyone can comment, except staff members because it would look bad”.
So I ‘defriended’ the University of Melbourne page.
However this event has made me think about the mix of social media and work. While I see Facebook as a fun thing and free, my colleagues in the web development department didn’t see it the same way. I thought about this issue again when I attended a Provost Seminar this week with the theme of e-learning, The issue of social media came up and one of the most interesting speakers wasn’t a Dean or an Associate Professor, but a second year maths student, who joked at the start of her talk that probably she was the only person in the lecture theatre without a degree.
She reiterated that her peers use social networking fairly extensively. So while doing a subject teaching Complex Analysis, she started to discuss difficulties etc. with classmates. So she decided to set up a facebook page where everyone doing the course could share their experience and exchange ideas and suggestions. All she did was to write about it on the blackboard before a class started to publicise it. As you can see from this page students communicate freely. Because the page was set up by students themselves, and it is not official the communication is not constrained by any ‘official policy’. And that is exactly what the student said. That for her and her classmates, the success of the page was because it was from them, not from an authority from above. I can see that in this context, a suggestion to go to the pub will sit very well with a discussion about variables and functions.
The fact is that Facebook was designed and remains a social vehicle. To have some official authority running it is like when a parent comes to a teenage party and act ‘cool’ because it wants to communicate with the young people, but all it does is to be embarassing and make everyone feel awkward. Better stick to those emails.