Home From SMCEDU: 5 Steps to Make the Social Web Work for Higher Ed

From SMCEDU: 5 Steps to Make the Social Web Work for Higher Ed

A new offshoot of Social Media Club, the Social Media Club Education Connection (SMCEDU) is a Chris Heuer-led organization intended to promote social media in higher education curricula.

At a kickoff event tonight in Richmond, Virginia, I got to participate in a panel discussion and hear questions from an audience of college students and professors. One of the questions posed was how those in academia can best put the social web to work for themselves. Far beyond Facebook and LinkedIn, how can this community harness the Internet to be smarter, more efficient, and more productive? Read on for our top five ideas.

1) Use Twitter to find your network.

In almost any field of study, from sociology to physics to arts to media, educators and students can find a group of experts on Twitter, engaging in debate, posting relevant links, sharing their most recent work, and answering questions. With its asymmetrical follower model, this network allows you to keep up with leaders and organizations in your industry of choice without their having to follow you in return. There are lots of tools for finding topic-specific experts on Twitter. WeFollow and Mr. Tweet are two popular applications, and Twitter app store oneforty can provide even more resources for discovering an existing network and staying up to date.

2) Use feeds to stay informed about news, events, and conversations.

Once you’ve found your network, you may notice that a lot of these individuals and groups maintain blogs. Do a Google search, and focus on finding blogs that speak specifically to your field of interest. For every niche, no matter how obscure, someone out there is curating content. There are wind turbine blogs, turtle breeding blogs, biomedical engineering blogs, economics blogs – you get the gist. Staying updated in your field is as simple as spending 20 minutes a day online once you know how to use feeds.

For those users with a good grasp of RSS, feed readers such as Google Reader can bring clarity, organization, and efficiency to the formerly painful process of staying informed. But even if you don’t know RSS from a hole in the ground, there are sites that will allow you to simply put together lists of websites to track, or even bring you news feeds just based on a particular topic. We recommend checking out Lazyfeed and Guzzle.it for getting news by keyword or topic, and for the visually oriented, we also suggest these two dead-simple visual feed readers.

3) Build your website.

If there’s one thing students in particular need to worry about, it’s Google. Social accounts are fine and dandy to have, but prospective employers are searching for candidates by name when making interviewing and hiring decisions, as was made abundantly clear by a professional recruiter on tonight’s panel. Right now, Facebook might have a search engine monopoly on your name; unless that account is the best representation of you, a FirstNameLastName.com website might be a good idea. Here’s our list of four what-you-see-is-what-you-get website builders that don’t require much or any coding knowledge. You can also use some of the blogging resources mentioned in the next section. Once your site is up, link back to it from all your social profiles to help boost your site’s place in search results.

4) Create content.

Now that you know your network and its key players, you’re staying informed in your field, and you’ve got a decent start in representing yourself online, it’s time to start giving back. Whether you’ve got expertise to share or simply more questions to ask, you should be creating content. Tweeting is a great and engaging place to start; many professional and mentoring relationships have begun with a simple @reply. But you also need to blog, create videos, and/or post images or audio to your website.

Not only is this good for SEO, which will help when the aforementioned recruiters start Googling you; it’s also essential for deeper participation in the conversation happening all around you online. If visual arts are your thing, for example, a Flickr account is a must, and it’s probably a good idea to post any images you create on a separate blog, as well. Ideally, your content should tie in with your FirstNameLastName.com website. Depending on the type of content you choose to create, you might want to look at WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, or Posterous. Post content regularly, and check out this Slate post with tips from some of the most famous bloggers online.

5) Be an early adopter and refine your digital toolkit.

Finally, once you’re comfortably participating in the conversation and you’re part of a very real community of experts, educators, and students in your field of interest, realize that your journey toward technological proficiency has just begun. The Internet is in a constant state of flux, and learning how to leverage the social web for academic benefit is an ongoing exercise. There are many resources for finding new weapons to add to your digital arsenal; we’re sure lots of helpful pointers will come from others in your community. But also, keep an eye on the techies, who are always testing and recommending new products and apps.

Check sites such as ReadWriteStart, AppUseful, and oneforty every now and then to see if there’s a better mousetrap than the ones you might currently be using. Stay open-minded and flexible; be willing to try anything three times.

The social web means so much more to academia than finding out which students were really sick on exam day and which just went to a kegger the night before. It also means a lot more than a static resume and a stagnant list of useless “connections.” Social web apps, when used intelligently, can make us all as brilliant and resourceful as the brightest stars in our networks, fostering real-world value and reinforcing learning.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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