Social Media; Beyond the Marketing Department

An interesting evening last night at a birds of a feather session on how NRENs can use Social Media. After a summary of the existing materials gathered by TERENA’s Task Force on Communications and Public Relations, we had a presentation on how ARNES are using Facebook to promote the work of their Slovenian CERT. Visitors to the page can obtain tips on how to stay safe on-line, find out about current threats and even play a game during which they learn how to recognise on-line scams. This has been so successful that Facebook is now the most common way for visitors to reach SI-CERT’s education pages. Visitors clearly expect frequent updates – a period when CERT staff were on holiday so not contributing new material to the page was clearly visible in the reduced number of visitors.

We then moved on to questions of how to use social media can be used for more than just traditional Marketing/PR communications. One question was whether it might provide an alternative platform for discussions in technical Task Forces and, if so, which platform(s) would be appropriate. One NREN had done a survey to ask which media its users would like to read – in contrast to the Slovenian experience Facebook scored low as did Twitter, however just over half the respondents would like to read more blogs about NREN activities…

…which brought us to an evidence session with me and Lars Fischer from NORDUNet as “witnesses”. Lars made excellent points that readers expect social media to involve communications from people, not organisations, and that one of the most effective ways to share information is through existing networks of contacts. Thus if you want to reach technical people then posts need to be written by those connected to technical people, if you want CEOs/CFOs/CTOs to read posts then you need them, not marketing departments, to be contributing. There may also be particularly suitable applications, for example NORDUNet’s trouble tickets are automatically posted on Twitter. He confirmed that blogs seem to be the most appreciated form of communication, with Twitter used to let people know about new postings. This can be even more effective if trusted individuals in relevant communities then re-tweet to their own networks of followers. I then talked about my own experiences of blogging and (much more recently) tweeting about regulatory issues. I’m particularly concerned that my posts not be taken as “legal advice”, but I do want them to be considered reliable. That seemed to involve quite a tricky balance to get the right sort of content, style of writing, etc. For blogs I looked around for existing legal bloggers that I could use as role models, and did find several where I was comfortable adopting a similar approach. With Twitter I have found this much more difficult – most lawyers who tweet seem to reveal more of a campaigning interest than I’m comfortable with; as someone who has always kept personal and professional lives separate I’m also disoriented by the mix of personal and professional content that many people seem happy to put on public and semi-permanent display. My current personal guideline is “would you say this from a conference podium?”, which I suspect may be more strict than Lars’ person-to-person guideline would indicate.

The general discussion following our sessions looked more at how to involve this wider range of contributers beyond the Marketing/PR people who may currently write and publish on behalf of NREN organisations. Organisations need to identify individuals who could write for social media (given the nature of social media, some of them may already be doing so in a private capacity), and support them with guidelines on the sorts of content and style issues I have struggled with. Guidelines shouldn’t be too prescriptive, however, since this risks making everything sound like a press release that will not engage the desired audience. It also needs to be recognised that blogging in particular takes time and that this needs to be fitted in to individuals’ workloads. My own experience is that a blog post takes between an hour and half a day to research and write, but that the benefits for clarifying my own understanding of the issues I’m writing about are well worth that time.

[UPDATE: I now have evidence of the link between real-world and Twitter contact networks – during my presentation I added six followers :)]

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