To continue my series on the three C’s of social networking in education, I will turn my attention next to the one that seems to get overlooked the most: community.
The web has long been dominated by a “Field of Dreams” mentality: if you build it, they will come. Now that we have the ability to publish our own sites, blogs, videos, micro-blogs, etc – we tend to follow that line of thinking. If I put up a blog or FaceBook group or even create my own social networking site, people will just start showing up and using it.
But then a scary thing happens – few people show up and fewer even do anything when there.
Creating your own corner in some social network is just the very first step. People won’t come unless you get out there and invite them. In education, this usually is not that much of a problem because most educators will tell students and colleagues where to go. But regardless of whether you have a captive audience already or are just opening up a general site for anyone to come along, you have to spend time getting the word out. This is just the first step in building a community.
The next step is probably the most important one. Building a community takes consistent action and activity. You have to consistently give people something to socialize about. This is where I see many educational social networking activities fail. People set up a new blog or FaceBook group or other tool and then use it as if they are still stuck in Web 1.0. To use a few buzzwords, they use a “red/write” solution to publish “read-only” content. They don’t ask questions, start discussions, or even put anything worth commenting on. This is what many blogs tend to do – some even intentionally shut off the comments feature. Even some micro-blogs are not worth checking more than once a week at the most.
So, when you are thinking about setting up some social networking site or group, think about what people who come to your network will actually do or discuss. Give them something to socialize about. Give them a reason to network with others. Don’t just use it to show off your own witty statements or thoughts. Make it an actual activity to join in, not just another site to read. Thousands of new blogs and sites are started every week online – so give your small niche of visitors some reason to stick around. Think of a reason for them to socialize and build a community.
This can even be a problem in educational settings where students are required to visit. If you don’t do something interesting and educationally valid with the network, students will be tempted to just contribute the bare minimum and hit the road to a more interesting site or network.