Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cooperative Extension and Social Media

Chris Raines, a meat scientist who uses @ITweetMeat as his Twitter handle, explained the importance of social media use in Extension.

He makes several points about Extension and our online work. Below, I am continuing the conversation.

  • Cooperative Extension’s 100 year history and purpose is to help improve lives through education.
  • Cooperative Extension is about changing for benefitting individuals and communities.
  • Cooperative Extension bases its education on research. Research, sometimes, can appear to conflict with other research. An example where research can lead to confusing recommendations is with sun exposure. Low Vitamin D can lead to fatigue, increase cancer and cardiovascular disease risks. Researchers recommend 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen. However, other researchers suggest that sun exposure increases skin cancer risks. We see similar conflicting research around topics like environment, food production, and health. Cooperative Extension’s strength is to make sense of research, particularly research that conflicts, and understand and communicate research in context. “Content without context is just noise.” (from @rands).
  • Cooperative Extension will continue to keep its local community ties, but has and will continue to grow an online presence. Cooperative Extension’s online presence is not a  replacement for our local, face-to-face contacts, but rather a way to build, maintain, and strengthen these relationships. Early in my use of social media, the best—and first recognized—benefit was the ability to maintain and build understanding with people I already knew.This understanding, credibility, and trust gained were and are immeasurable. Many people who don’t interact online don’t realize that relationships can be built successfully online and they often discount the value of these relationships. Those who fail to see the benefit of building relationships online are failing their organizations.
  • Just as in our personal lives, online we have different levels of relationships. Building and developing relationships online occur when we take the time to listen and interact with others—just like we expect Cooperative Extension professionals to develop local relationships—they should do this online.
  • Cooperative Extension is no longer bound by county, state, and national boundaries.
  • The game changer (Chris Raines uses the term) for Cooperative Extension is that we can now research, build content, and build knowledge with anyone in physical, online, and “expert” communities. Building knowledge activities are not constrained to land-grant faculty, but can and should be encouraged with others who share the passion and knowledge. We are no longer limited to those who are close geographically, those who we have personally met, or those communities we already familiar with.
  • Online environments give Cooperative Extension new ways to do basic Cooperative Extension work. Seaman Knapp and George Washington Carver embedded themselves in communities, by working with individuals to develop experiments and create on-site and personally learning environments.
  • Cooperative Extension’s online presence is imperative, not only to disseminate information (if we think this is all there is in social media we are doomed), but to also embed ourselves in communities, working with individuals to help with research and develop educational content.

Some Cooperative Extension educators are interacting online. The challenge is we need more Extension professionals, like Chris Raines, to participate—by listening and engaging—in online communities for the purpose of building knowledge and learning.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Military Blogging Conference

I attended the Military Blogging conference to

  • learn about military, retired military, and military support groups who use of social media
  • meet people who represent groups that help military families.

A summary of my observations are:

  • Military bloggers are passionate, as you would expect.
  • Military bloggers who began blogging in 2002 and 2003 were leaders and drove a grass roots movement that led to identifying military bloggers in a loosely structured group, but tightly connected and networked individuals. The blog sites are aggregated on the Military Blogging web site.
  • Thousands of non-profit organizations serve military, soldiers, veterans, and families.
  • Throughout this community of military bloggers, they all have a sense of responsibility toward families.
  • As military families engage, the expression and sharing of small frustrations is often what ties military spouses together, regardless of their location.
  • Social media has enabled a community of individuals who are passionate about the military to form tight bonds of respect, admiration, trust, expectations, and influence among this community.
  • Over time, these bloggers have become influential not only among their own online communities, but also in making a difference in perceptions, policy, and legislation.
  • One reason for their influence is that blogging has moved to, and is encouraged, by soldiers and others to tell real stories. 
  • Though some of the early bloggers, started blogging anonymous, now it seems that there is not a concern of separating personal life and professional life online. In fact, telling own personal stories are encouraged.
  • @pricefloyd, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, says that military needs more conversations on topics about the military. Does not mean that mistakes will not be made and that mistakes that have been made are not more harmful than other mistakes.
  • Military leaders at this conference understand how two-way and multi-way engagement becomes powerful.
  • Social media is not only used to disseminate but also to engage to learn, and possibly change, leaders’ approacha and behavior.
  • @pricefloyd says that having dissenting comments and points of view that do not have approval gives more credibility to the engagement.
  • Military uses 3rd party sites so the world can read and interact and tell stories first hand reports from the troops.
  • The approach is to encourage people throughout the military to “go out and tell their stories”. Military leaders know that those online are professionals and “will do the right thing”.
  • Army leaders encourage individuals to blog on their own sites and link and cross link to the army blog site. They don’t care about negative articles or positive article, but they care that bloggers tell accurate stories.
  • The military has to use both traditional and new media.
  • The leaders see that criticisms are good because it means others are reading the blogs and gives something for them to learn. Negative criticisms will stay blogs unless it is overly obscene.

This conference has been one that is somewhat out of my element. It is refreshing to hear from leaders of the military who “get social media”, understand how

  • conflicting opinions are ways to learn and adjust.
  • personal accounts can be powerful ways to tell the military story.
  • engagement leads to learning and improving
  • trusting people throughout the military to do the right thing without posting strict rules is a good way to capitalize personalized stories.
  • grass-roots connections build credibility and trust.

All day, I keep thinking that if the military can trust their people to do the right thing and find value in dissenting comments, why aren’t more educational institutions in-tuned to the value of learning and improving based on the freedom of engagement.

Photo is embedded from

Friday, April 2, 2010

Transparency and Authenticity

Jaume Plensa Transparency
Originally uploaded by Arenamontanus

Some firms and organizations insist they are have an unprecedented brand name and reputation—one they can maintain without social media. The new caution today, though, is that transparency of organizations is no longer totally up to the organizations, and the brand can be easily tarnished.

There is a greater push, demand, and expectation that individuals' and organizations' actions must be true to their values and their communications. Organizations must do their homework, know facts, and know how communications, associations, and actions affect their reputations. Because if they don't, someone else will bring forced transparency to the organization.

Online environments, rapid fire and viral communications, will make it harder to keep brand images, if organizations are not true in their actions. Everyone throughout organizations, including customer services, operations, sales, marketing, public relations, decision-makers, and research and development, must understand and portray the same image that is marketed and is perceived.  Flip that thought on its head: what is marketed must portray the values and operations of the organization. 

Organizations, large and small, must understand how loyalty can be lost when their own actions do not portray their marketed images or do not serve customers’ needs.

All organizations—non-for-profit, advocacy, educational, corporate, and entrepreneurs—have to be really good at what they do. They have to serve their organizations’ purposes and customers’ and communities’ changing needs.

Additionally, organizations must be able to:

  • know they have no control of what other people say and understand the power—negative and positive—of others.
  • match actions and operations with image, mottos, slogans, advertisements, and social media efforts.
  • know facts about their own organizations, competitive organizations, and respective industries.
  • accept that conflicts will happen, but demonstrate understanding and adjust, if necessary, but staying true to the values of the organization.
  • admit mistakes.
  • be responsive.
  • adjust and realign processes and operations for needed changes.
  • communicate processes and operations that change based on demands.

As customers, potential customers, and competitors observe behaviors and experience services that are contrary to the organizations’ images, through online communications—with viral potential—they share their experiences and observations. This means that organizations can no longer hide their weaknesses. Transparency, or lack of, is no longer up to organizations to decide.

Transparency and authenticity should not only be discussed in online environments, but also considered in the way organizations conduct business. There is no hiding.