Using social media means we are part of the conversation. We listen, lurk, converse, share, collaborate, and learn. This post has a few ideas for listening and keeping up with the constant flow of information in the blogosphere.
Kathy Flanders asked me to blog about fire ants--not really. She wanted me to describe how lurking and being "part of the conversation" can help us spread educational knowledge and help others with their problems. Some would describe this experience as a "going to them" experience.
I read lots of blogs and feeds from lots of topics. One particular blog I follow wrote an article that suggested that grits kill fire ants and it linked to an article on natural remedies on web site called Associated Content. Though the article describes several natural remedies to kill fire ants that are probably urban legends, I commented on the one remedy on that suggested grits kill fire ants.
I commented "Grits do not kill fire ants. Research from land grant universities have tested many of these home remedies and they simply do not work. Please see the one of the many questions asked of those who research fire ants and educate the public on controls for fire ants http://www.extension.org/faq/1094".
I am not an entomologist, but I can link to research-based information.
Randomly and haphazardly, I came across the grits and fire ants article. Reading many topics outside of my expertise area is one way of listening to the noise. It's in the noise that we learn about things that we don't know we need to learn. Though the blog does not usually describe remedies, the false information is what caught my attention.
Using social media (blogging, social networking, Twitter) means we are in the midst of many conversations. We cannot rely on people finding information through our web sites. And, how do we know what people are looking for unless we listen? Also, the noise helps us learn.
Kathy and her colleagues may ask "How can we keep up and learn when fire ants are being mentioned on the web?
Use a multi-pronged approach.
1. Perform a general search on the term you are interested in. For example, "fire ants".
2. Use Google Alerts on the term "fire ants".
3. Create a feed into your feed reader to let you know when someone has mentioned this term in a blog. Create this feed from the Google blog search. I did this on the term "fire ants" and found this real estate blog that also describes home remedies that do not work....at least she discourages the use of gasoline.
4. Consider using these 2 techniques for other key terms, such as your name, researchers' names, and your organization's name.
5. Follow blogs within your areas of expertise and interests.
6. Follow your colleagues' and peer departments' blogs.
7. Search for these terms in Twitter using Tweetscan.
8. Read what is Wikipedia has said about the topic. (And you, too, can contribute to Wikipedia articles).