Where and how do Extension professionals start using social networking? The simplest advice is to "pick a spot" and jump in. Most of these tools are very easy and there are few barriers to entry and few barriers to exit. Kevin Gamble says "be the ball" because it is in the process of learning that you begin to understand the benefits of social networking for YOU.
While Amy Gahran's advice is to do some homework before you start blogging, her advice is also very relevant to any Extension professional who is new to social networking.
1. Seek. Find pertinent blogs in your area expertise and interest. Beth Kanter showed us how to do this in an eXtension web training conference, titled “Ten Steps to Web 2.0″. Watch the archive from May 24 or the archive from April 24.
2. Lurk. Read the blogs and create news feeds in Google Reader or some other news reader. While aggregating feeds into one place will make your reading experience more efficient, it also "exponentially increases the amount of new information" you process. Learn "How to Use Google Reader" (also see the archived web conferences on using feeds) to efficiently keep up with the constant flow of web content.
3. Converse. Although you are not blogging, learn to comment on other people's blogs. I often think about what impact Extension would have if our nutrition specialists and agents contributed research-based information on a regular basis on some already-very-established nutrition blogs. Certainly, there are lots of opportunities to contribute without blogging.
4. Share. When you find useful blogs and pages, share the information with others. Of course, you can share them locally, but why not share them globally in a bookmarking site, such as del.icio.us (there are others--see Wikipedia's list)? See eXtension's archived web conferences on social bookmarking.
Even if you never author a blog, by following and contributing to existing conversations, you will a) learn new knowledge and ideas, b) advance the knowledge of others, and c) share what you learned with others. Isn't that what Extension professionals do?