After reading one of my recent posts, LinkedIn for the Adjunct Professor, a colleague of mine pointed out that as helpful as social networking systems can be, they can also be a source of misinformation. Social media can be leveraged for many purposes and unfortunately you may encounter the negative as well as the positive as you get more involved. The challenge is to develop a balanced and informed approach, just as you would with any other source of information.
How do you know what information is reliable? This is especially important when many individual entities contribute to a crowdsourced page or topic. What happens when you meet controversy along the way or encounter information you know to be incorrect? Developing realistic expectations and skills for evaluation and interaction will improve your overall experience as a social network participant.
Consider the Source(s)
Evaluating content is critical in social networks. You'll find that some sources are of higher quality, are more relevant, and more up-to-date than others. It will be up to you, as the consumer of this information, to conduct some kind of assessment before choosing to use it as a resource and/or joining the community.
- Ask questions. Who are the authors? Take a look at their profiles in these systems. Do they appear to have expertise in the area they are contributing to? Can you verify their authority in the field? The SUNY-Albany Libraries put together a helpful list of clues to look for when evaluating web content on social networking sites. These clues include finding reviews for the networking sites you are interested in, asking your friends for recommendations, and reading through comments as well as initial posts.
- Go to the origin. Primary sources are still key, even online. So follow the trail back to original documents, guidelines, and correspondence when they are referenced or interpreted by another party. Carefully review the original source to make your own interpretation and then you will be able to better evaluate the surrounding discussion.
- Proceed with caution, particularly in communities associated with your school or employer. Rumors and gossip have a way of spreading quickly, both in a physical location and within an online forum. Remember that your supervisor, instructor, or manager is the best source of information about your school or organization, official policies, and decisions being made.
Not everything you read, or hear, or see in a social network will be accurate, but making corrections can also be tricky. You've probably seen posts online where arguments begin to brew in the comments area over who is right and who is wrong. What can you do to assist with the dissemination of helpful information?
- Acclimate to the group. You may have the knowledge and expertise to address a post or issue that seems questionable, but if you are new to the group your efforts to make corrections may be received as overly critical or judgmental. What is your experience so far in the network? If you've already built positive relationships and a reputation for expertise, your perspective may be better received.
- Provide alternatives. You can choose from a number of approaches to posting additional information in a social networking site. It may be sufficient to add a comment or additional thread that provides alternative sources of information with your take on how they can be used. By providing alternatives, other members of the group can weigh all of the information, consider the sources (see above), and move forward.
Don't Feed the Trolls
This is a common expression among bloggers and a helpful one for anyone who is sharing and communicating online. Hopefully you'll never encounter this situation, but some communities (online and off-line) include individuals that stand ready to criticize every mistake, and often seem to spend time looking for these opportunities. Engaging with these group members and commenters rarely adds value to the discussion.
We all know that there is a lot to disagree with out there. We all read published opinions, research, and perspectives that we could argue against. And others will disagree with your opinions, research, and perspectives. Debating the sides of an issue is one thing, and getting into an argument is another. Stay positive and remember that your posts online will become part of your online presence and reputation, which could surface if a potential employer or one of your students searches for information about you online. Focus on setting a good example and moving the conversation forward.
Build Your Skills
Social media competencies are a relatively new area of research, but library professionals from Yale and Rutgers developed a list based on the information literacy standards of the American Library Association. These are the skills they identified as important for engaging in social media activities:
- Understanding and articulating sites and roles
- Creating content
- Evaluating information
- Applying information ethically and legally
- Searching and navigating
- Providing services, and
What is your approach to social networking? You may find that you are already skilled in many of these activities. Spend some time assessing the areas in which you need additional information, resources, and practice.
Explore and Experiment
Finding the social networking sites that work best for you can take some time as well as trial and error. And effective participation in these communities involves skills that take practice. Stay focused on your goals with social media, whether they include locating resources, staying current, finding employment or all of the above.
Once you get started in any social media effort, you'll find that user participation varies greatly. The opportunities are wide open, really, to get involved, meet like-minded people, share your insights, offer your opinions, and more. Understand that not everyone's motives will be the same as yours and proceed with some idea of what you can expect, both positive and negative. Becoming an effective member of an online community means learning how to communicate with people whose views and experiences are different from your own, and from whom you can learn.
Consider sharing your tips for "social networking savvy" with us here!