Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Purposefully tinker to build your on-line presence

Participate in a variety of social media platforms - and on your own terms - in order to build an on-line presence that you enjoy and that moves you toward your goals.

I've been purposefully tinkering. Since fall 2011 my goal has been to develop a philosophy of practice for making the best personal/professional use of various social media platforms. The initial work was prelude to an exploratory course I am teaching entitled "Black Studies Dissemination in the Age of New Media." More on that later; for now I'd like to focus on my experience developing a theory of engagement.

Spaces I inhabit include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Academia.edu, this blog, and Linked In. The experiment is so far: 1) yielding distinct sets of interesting new relationships; 2) facilitating increased dialog (and learning) about things I care about; 3) facilitating rapid discovery and response regarding local crises and opportunities; and 4) resulting in an increased dissemination of my published work.

While I suppose that I am not all that different from others in terms of why I engage social and new media, it is still worth noting that my engagement is purposeful and specific. There are: a) things that I want to learn, b) knowledge and perspective that I want to share, c) dialogs I want to engage (thus furthering both "a" and "b"; d) people I want to connect with; and e) students I want to see grow and achieve career success. My social media participation serves these broad interests. 

As a matter or course, I see no reason why we all shouldn't be purposeful about our engagement with social media. So this semester in my Black Studies in the Age of New Media course, I ask students to consider: "Why do you engage social and new media?" After that question, I ask: "How do you engage?" For folks who've done some real work, have something to share, and are naturally inquisitive seekers of knowledge and perspective, the emerging media offer an incredibly powerful set of tools. I would urge all social media participants to consider both the "why" and the "how" of their engagement and then to map a plan for moving forward. Thoughtful, purposeful participants can tangibly and noticeably benefit from this new world. 

Facebook for me has settled into a site for the engagement of people I like on some level - be they family and friends whom I like very much, or acquaintances, whom I don't know well, but whose perspectives I like. As with others, it is a convenient place for me to follow and at times engage friends in Austin and DC, the two cities to which I am most strongly attached. 
Most importantly, Facebook is also the place where I put my best self forward. In the Facebook realm I am a purposeful micro-blogger, sharing that which represents the person I aspire to be. I have defined myself as community-engaged, family oriented, fun-loving, thoughtful and a few other things and see Facebook as a mirror for the person I hope to be. As a self-check, the easier it is to post about my life the better. If I find that activities and thoughts that occupy my time aren't things I can share, then I have an early warning that I may not be living up to the person I hope to be. So Facebook has emerged as a place where I get to post and thus share, but at the same time take a look at the mirror. 

In the twitter realm, I pick up articles and perspectives on issues and areas I am passionate about, share my own perspective, and share word of things that are important to me. These include my own articles, events I am excited about, or articles, events and comments by others. Twitter is an active experiment for me, and over time I've noticed that I can use it in different ways but that I almost have to choose, because the engagement approaches do not always blend. For instance, if I use it to talk about one area (say education), I may lose followers and valued interactions in another area (say new media innovations). If I tweet more often, folks who share or like my perspective may initiate relationships (aka follow), but again, others may drop off. I have found that whatever I tweet, if my tweets are well composed and have the effect of inviting thought, people are appreciative and more likely to retweet (share what I've tweeted with others), which opens my sphere of influence, but also leads to more followers whom I can then follow back.At the end of the day, twitter for me is largely about building a network of information sharers and commentators by sharing interesting information and offer strong commentary myself.

YouTube Channel
I teach at The University of Texas at Austin and find that the better organized I am the better I am as a lecturer. Well organized lectures are critical and maintaining a YouTube channel allows me to collect all clips for each lecture so that, semester after semester, I have a stable site for each lecture's supporting materials. 

At some point after opening an Academic.edu account I noticed that I could upload my articles there, attach labels/keywords to each and then disseminate and track the readership of my work. Phenomenal! When it became apparent that folks were discovering my work from all over the world, I became a true believer. In short, Academia.edu serves as a open access repository for my articles, lecture slides, article drafts and past syllabi.  I trust it more that my university's blackboard system.Another new media platforms I use is google docs for collaboratively developing articles or events or projects. Then, of course, there is this blog.At the end of the day, I find tremendous professional and social value in purposefully engaging social and new media. Most of what I've mentioned is old hat to many. For such folk then, the take away may simply be the renewed call to not just actively engage a multitude of platforms, but to purposefully do so as well. Still others may gain some new insights. Regardless, the journey of engaging, sharing and acting -- as a learner, a commenter and a teacher all in the same set of realms -- is worth the considerable low price of admission.  

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