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In this post, I am going to look at the ways that I use and have used social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook in a professional capacity and I also want to touch on the wider uses of forums and discussion groups.
Perhaps this would have been the logical place to start the ‘series’ because when you mention ‘social media’ or ‘social networking’ the most commonly held (and used) example is Facebook.
Facebook is the most prolific site with over 500 million active users around the world. That’s a fairly mindblowing figure when you stop and think about it.
So how would I use Facebook in a work environment. The simple answer is that, in general, I don’t. I favour Twitter over Facebook for link sharing and random work-related thoughts. Facebook identifies me by name and location. My family and friends update me on their news. I have some work colleagues or ex-work colleagues as my friends but anyone who has ‘friended’ me on facebook and reads this can testify to the dullness of my updates!
This is intentional. There are ways to close down Facebook regarding information that is accessible and it’s a good idea to do that for reasons of privacy. I might sometimes share an interesting story I find on Facebook but I’m more likely to share pictures of baby animals and other non-controversial irrelevancies. The reason for this is that generally when the people I know ‘go’ to Facebook, it is for updating/chatting to friends – it has a perfect use for students at the same universities to stay in touch throughout placements, for example – but for me, it doesn’t seem to be the best environment for sharing more controversial or immediate items. Partly because half the people from school who have ‘friended’ me on Facebook seem to have grown into Tories…
However I fully accept that I don’t explore the full potential of Facebook. The ability to set up groups both closed and open groups allows for discussions to take place. You can’t ignore the user base of Facebook. I have, for example, set up a ‘fan page’ for this site but I am less good at actually checking and using it! Fan pages though can be used as discussions and to form more integrated communities around certain issues and debates.
You can, of course, create ‘false’ Facebook identities. I know a number of people who use maiden names or slightly different names to use Facebook just to make more of a distinction with work.
As for LinkedIn, which claims to be a more ‘business’ focussed network, I am much more sceptical. There are claimed to be 100 million users (although ‘user’ is more of ‘people who have signed up’ than active users who keep returning). LinkedIn is presented as a more ‘serious’ social network where you connect with contacts on a professional rather than personal level. Like Facebook, your name and place of work is identified and there are ways and means to use both open and closed discussion groups. If you see yourself as a ‘product’ to be marketed and sold, I suspect it has more use. My personal experience is that is that most contacts that have made with me are from predatory recruitment consultants and I’m not sure how comfortable I feel about advertising my place of work so openly. It is open enough to be searchable from Google if you don’t lock down the privacy settings and to identify both name and place of work. I understand that not everyone operates in the same kind of arena that I do and for most people in most spheres of life, that would pose no problem whatsoever but social work is and can be different. Sometimes the actions we take mean that being openly searchable is not necessarily ‘a good thing’. I’m open to persuasion though so if anyone can convince me that would be fine.
I have tended to prefer ‘Communities of Practice’ as a work-related discussion forum which runs on a government site and again, it attaches your name to your work location but the discussions there are much more valuable as they are more specifically related to the workplace in the UK. It is not ‘open’ in the same way and content is not search engine linked which, to be honest, I see as a bonus.
There are ‘communities’ about many of the more specialist subjects that might come up in statutory work in particular. I’ve found it to be a useful source of information for those with much more experience and I’ve also found it to be a ‘safe’ place to ask some of the questions that might come up in practice. Some of the ‘communities’ are only open to invite, some to allcomers with an interest and it is quite easy to set up your own communities. The attachment of name and employer mitigate some of the tendency for ‘trolls‘ to emerge on some of the more open forums.
Then there are other forums of interest – namely those that are hosted and set up on their own websites. An example of this would be the ‘Carespace’ from Community Care which is a discussion forum for those interested in social care in the UK. Like any anonymous community, there is an element of mischief making among some participants who may find that anonymity allows them a freer rein and there are the alarmingly regular requests for help with essays by people who seem baffled by some of the most basic concepts but in general the good outweighs the bad.
BASW have their own ‘forum’ which is only open to members and the GSCC have their own forums for those who are registered with them. The problem with both of these is that there is a ‘higher’ bar to membership. Sometimes making things as simple as possible (create a username – login –) make for the more vibrant and active communities or a login via Facebook and/or LinkedIn which only require a ‘one click’ to join a particular group. I haven’t joined either the BASW nor the GSCC forums partly because I don’t like the idea of my membership number or registration number to be linked to my log in.
Some services such as Free Forums’ allow anyone to set up a free forum for themselves.
Then there are some other mailing lists that I belong to. Yahoo and Google both allow for these groups to be created and ‘posts’ can be emailed round members or visited ‘on the site’. For those ‘old school’ users, Google has archived the old Usenet groups from the early days of ‘internet connectivity’ but they and their successors are far more accessible now! Obviously, the level of information shared can be more closely focused on what you choose to share.
The positives of social networks and forums to discuss are very clear – on one level it is the absolute bedrock of social media – discussions can take place and there is a sense of ‘democracy’ in that anyone can start and contribute to them – depending obviously on the ‘open or closed’ proviso. There are many different platforms for the discussion and debate to take place – in some ways too many choices, real name or pseudonym, real ‘person’ or caricature of an identity.
One of the basic fundamentals in discussions online is the veneer than allows on one level a deeper debate of issues and thoughts and the cloak of anonymity that can allow a more unfettered rein to some issues that could offend or upset. It is far easier to get ‘wound up’ about a forum post than it is to feel angry or frustrated in discussion with someone face to face. Misinterpretation can be an issue to be aware of in all communication media.
However as the ways to share information grow, we have so many more opportunities to learn and gather sources and knowledge and to share.
All that’s up to us to do is to find the appropriate channel and that’s a tough decision in itself.
If you are interested in the use of social media in social work, please look back at the other posts in this series.
Part 1 – Blogs
Part 2 – Social Bookmarking
Part 3 Twitter
Thanks. I’d welcome any input about other communities/forums that have been useful to you and how you use Facebook/LinkedIn