Meena Arivananthan

Meena Arivananthan

Six months ago, when Meena Arivananthan posted the first installment of her Social Media Series on our blog, no one could have envisaged the impact and popularity of her articles. This versatile woman has a passion for both writing and knowledge sharing, attributes that are evident in her posts. Indeed, those initial pieces, written in Meena’s informative, reader-friendly style, guaranteed that visitors to our blog would keep coming back for more.

A Knowledge Management and Sharing Officer tasked with overseeing our Triple A Project, Meena joined the Program at the beginning of 2009, a mere three months before she began writing her blog series – an obvious testimony to her ability to quickly embrace new technology and tools and translate her  know-how for others to understand. However, this modest young woman is quick to point out that she couldn’t have written some of her pieces without input from Antonella Pastore and Simone Staiger-Rivas

Find out more about Meena in her Program profile.

If you missed any of the articles in Meena’s series, the following handy recap will let you know where you can get information and tips on using newsfeeds, wikis, microblogging, and much, much more:

1. Microblogging
Looks at microblogging tools like Twitter and Yammer

2. Blogging for impact
Blogging and agricultural research

3. Social Media: how do you know it’s working?
Incorporating social media into your communications strategy

4. Social Networks: friend or foe?
Using social networking sites to your advantage

5. Social Media: Are You Listening?
Practicing social media listening

6. Social Bookmarking: storm-a-brewing
Social bookmarking and the CGIAR

7. Wikis, sites, docs and pads: the many flavours of collaborative writing
Tools for collaborative writing

8. Are newsletters a dying breed?
How effective are e-newsletters today?

9. Newsfeeds: delivering the latest news to your virtual doorstep; and ways to share it!

Taking advantage of newsfeeds

10. Put it out there! Tools for photo, video and slideshow sharing

How to share photos, videos and slideshows


11. Social Media: The Next revolution

How agricultural research and development organizations can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs

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Why do some of us shy away from trying out new technology such as social media? I can think of several reasons: too complicated to figure out; too expensive to implement; my supervisor/colleagues would never approve; more suitable for geeks and teenagers; it’ll take too much time … Or my personal favorite: I like things the way they are now.

Matt Hamm's social media bandwagonYes, change can be a pain, because it can shake up your organized, structured existence. However, we can’t close our eyes and hope the Internet will go away. While I feel we should not jump onto the social media bandwagon just because everyone else is doing so, social media’s potential cannot be denied. Whatever the reason people give for avoiding social media, don’t let ignorance and fear hold you back from what will probably be the next revolution in the way people communicate.

Social media is breaking down communication barriers: allowing people to reach out to others around the world – letting them connect, engage and share among themselves. Now more than ever, agricultural research and development organizations such as ours can leverage the popularity of social media to get more mileage out of their research outputs.

Social media tools can help you in your role as researcher, manager or communicator.

If all you’re interested in doing is organizing your online world, there are several social media tools that can simplify your life. These include social bookmarking sites that can help you organize your website resources and scientific literature. And if you’re struggling to keep abreast of updates from your favorite websites and blogs, newsfeeds may be your ticket out of mayhem. However, if you are yearning for more, hoping to connect with like-minded individuals or wanting to share your organization’s research with a larger audience so that it can be used, applied and improved upon, then read on!

The true value of social media lies in its ability to form communities organically. Often these communities, or social networks as they are called, come together because of common interests or a shared purpose. It is a nurturing environment filled with trust and camaraderie – the perfect milieu for effective collaboration and the sharing of ideas, information and knowledge. Add to that an outreach across vast geographical distances and the cross-linking between the different social media tools, and voila! You have a global, inter-linked audience at your fingertips.

Social media can give your communication strategy a boost in the following ways:

  • It can help you tap into a large, global audience base and go where the people are these days – the Internet!
  • The way people source for information has evolved. They are more discerning, preferring to seek out recommendations and suggestions from their colleagues, peers and experts. Information overload is a major concern, so people will not waste their time visiting a website, blog, database or any other resource unless someone they trust points them in that direction.
  • The usual way we do business is slowly coming to an end. Pushing information out to your target audience does not guarantee that it will be read and used. Information is useful only when it is received by the right person, who is looking, at the right time. Use social media tools as vehicles to get your message out.

How social media can boost your communication strategy:

Increase Visibility

  • Create awareness by raising the profile of your organization on social networking sites. Cultivate long term support for your organization by creating your own network of scientists, research partners and interested individuals.
  • Use social media tools to promote your projects, events and activities. Announce time-sensitive, newsworthy items and get a head-start on others by microblogging. Microblogging involves posting short sentences (max 140 characters) that can be used to promote your journal article or a useful website, act as a reminder for an activity, or even ask questions. Tip: Ensure that your microblogging network consists of like-minded individuals who share your interests and concerns so that the information exchange is meaningful. Be prudent in selecting whom you follow.
  • Promote your name: use social media to establish your reputation in the research and development arena. Blogging is a great way for researchers to share their research ideas with others and gain feedback from a wider, online audience. A recent Blog Tips post  provides practical reasons why blog sites may surpass websites in generating traffic to increase Internet presence.Well-thought-out blogs attract people with similar thoughts and queries, people who can validate your ideas and also challenge you by sharing varying opinions.

Engage people

  • Promote issues that resonate with people to encourage involvement and gather support for your cause. A great example of this is the Obama campaign which relied heavily on social media to garner visibility and support, resulting in victory for the Obama camp.
  • Form strategic alliances with influential people and institutions that help boost your organization’s profile.
  • Source expertise or talent, whether potential research partners, service providers or other experts.
  • In the ICT-KM Program’s Social Media Tool series, I sharedMicrosoft Clipart some thoughts on how social networking sites can help you engage with others. Reinforcing the sentiment that it is easy to find and connect with people of similar interests and even easier to set up online groups, Christian Kreutz and Giacomo Rambaldi provide interesting examples of local and global engagement. They also describe the various levels at which people engage while participating in social networks.

Share Knowledge

  • Social media transcends geographic boundaries. Test your research ideas by sharing them with your colleagues globally. Collaborate, enrich and validate your work at a fraction of the time and cost associated with face-to-face meetings. As wide-reaching as it can be, collaborative sharing sites also come with security options that allow secure knowledge sharing.
  • Create an environment where people recognize your expertise, and establish your organization as the expert in your field of research. Whether you are a researcher who is new to a field and eager to learn more, or the resident expert, share your knowledge and experiences by contributing to insightful blogs. I may be new to blogging, but already I’m learning so much from just opening up to a new community. My boss, Enrica Porcari, CGIAR Chief Information Officer, is a regular blogger and attests to its value. As she believes, and as I have been experiencing, blogs go beyond just sharing your words. The true value of blogging is in the exchange of information and knowledge, and the nurturing environment that allows differing ideas and opinions to emerge without defensiveness.  See how these successful bloggers use their expertise to share and learn:
    • Agricultural Biodiversity blogs  (by Luigi Guarino and Jeremy Cherfas, who are living their passion for all things related to biodiversity in agriculture)
    • ICT-KM Blogs (Blogs on knowledge sharing and social media in the CGIAR by 6 active bloggers and many guest bloggers)
    • Blog Tips (On blogging and social media for non-profits)
    • NEW: Rural Climate Exchange (new CGIAR blog connecting agricultural and environmental science to the climate change agenda) 
  • Share your photographs and videos online. Place useful slides online so others can learn from them. Tip: Think about the keywords/tags that you use to describe your product, such as blog, photograph, slides, videos, etc. How would you search for information online? Use that as a guide for your tags.
  • Get more mileage out of your research outputs by filtering content to fit different social media tools. Think of social media as strategic communication lines that branch outward to several different networks, which in turn branch into other networks.
  • Reach out to interested people outside your regular circle and gain valuable ideas/feedback from your pool of social networks. Practice what some call social listening.

As my colleague Simone Staiger-Rivas often quotes, “Social media is not about technology. It is about conversations enabled by technology.”

  • Going beyond self-promotion, we should be paying attention to conversations that are already ongoing on social media sites; conversations that we are also passionate about. Sharing is a two-way process, and we should take the time to interact with others in a similar fashion.
  • Share resources within interested communities and broaden horizons at a fraction of the time it would take to search for data or information or knowledge on your own. Social Bookmarks and Newsfeeds are great for keeping track of what’s being published on your favorite websites and blogs. Share this with others, and see the favor being returned manifold.

Consider your communication goals when you decide to incorporate social media into your strategy:

  • Decide on whether you want to increase visibility for your organization, share knowledge or engage people.
  • Choose the right social media tool(s) for your organization based on the target audience, research content and technology available.
  • Start small. Many social media tools are relatively low-cost to implement in your organization:
    • Experiment with a low-risk pilot project.
    • Use short timeframes, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
    • Evaluate your progress with pre-determined goals and measure its success. Read Antonella Pastore’s post on how to check if social media is working for you.
    • In the event a social media tool does not work for your organization, it is wise to let go and start over with a different, more suitable tool. Don’t take it too personally.

 Until you try social media out for yourself, you will never know what you’re missing. This reminds me of the days before the mobile telephone came along. Can’t imagine your life without it now, right? Similarly, the potential of social media is limitless. When you use several social media tools in tandem to inform, disseminate, share, collaborate and interact, you work within an environment of networks that grow exponentially. That’s power you can’t afford to ignore. Resistance is futile!

Till next time.

Resources: 

When I was in university, I had an ingenious way of bookmarking important facts/points from articles: 3×5 inch white, lined cards! I would use one side to write out a key point and the reverse side for a citation of the relevant book or journal article. What can I say… it was the 90’s! My 300-odd cards were so valuable to me that whenever anyone wanted to borrow one, I’d watch them like a hawk – till I got it back. Not that I’m averse to sharing, but the time and energy spent bookmarking key points, and the fact that I was relying heavily on them to complete my literature review, made this resource too valuable to lose.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and enter social bookmarking. Filling a niche need for Internet users who navigate their way through websites, social bookmarking is like a little storm in a big teacup – a storm that it is growing bigger everyday.

Some of us may already be saving links to useful websites we visit by ‘adding’ them to our ‘Favorites’ or Bookmarks in our preferred browser. While this means these websites are pegged or bookmarked, the time it takes to retrieve these ‘favorite’ links and the fact that you will need to use your own computer to access the websites, limits this organization tool.

Social bookmarking takes you, the user, to a new level of organizing your precious research, whether it’s a useful restaurant review or a comparison of pathogenic plant viruses. Social bookmarking services such as del.icio.us let you save and store your favorite online resources in a single location that is accessible from any computer with an Internet connection. All you need to do to organize your web links is to assign keywords (tags) that will help you recall the link when you need it. Bookmarks on del.icio.us can be shared publicly, for others to see and add to their resource lists, and vice versa. What a great way to filter through the information overload on the Internet!

How can you within the CGIAR benefit from social bookmarking?

Well, first, online resources can be shared across your Center between scientists and their peers. All that’s needed is a bit of thinking when tagging favorite website links with specific keywords.

As one participant of the Online Social Media workshop put it, “I can see real value in using social bookmarking to create ‘validated’ libraries of information sources on the Web. Choose a topic, set a ‘Network tag’, sign up a bunch of people interested in the topic and away you go. You could post the link to these ‘libraries’ on your own or your organization’s website.”

When you start using network tags, that’s where you really see the power of social bookmarking. Here are some simple instructions provided by Nancy White, online communication expert and lead facilitator at the Online Social Media workshop.

1. Choose a tag. This is a key practice!

2. Recruit Taggers. Here is my rule of thumb. In a group of 20 people, having 2 taggers will make a difference. It doesn’t have to be everyone. Some people are better scanners/taggers than others. I find people who are fast readers and global thinkers make great taggers. First I try and find out if anyone is already using del.icio.us and tagging. Then I ask them to consider tagging for the group as well. I always encourage people to install the little tag bookmarklet on their browser.
I REALLY love it when people don’t just tag, but they add a short annotation of why they think the link is valuable and add other tags beyond the shared tag that help further define the tag.

  • A tag should be somehow obviously related to the topic. People need to be able to remember it.
  • If it is related to an event, add a year at the end. So if we wanted to identify the CGSocialmedia resources to this year, we could make the tag CGSocialmedia09
  • If you need it to be unique to your group, you will have to work harder to make the tag unique. The tag socialmedia is used by many people so it is too generic.
  • Some caveats: Tags that are too long, have slightly weird spelling or too obtuse tend to have challenges. People forget them, mispell (and thus mistag) them. So bottom line, keep it as simple as you can while still being unique.
     
  • 3. Make the tag feed visible to users. So this may mean you are recruiting users, or simply making the fruits of the tagging visible to an existing group. You can pull the RSS feed (Meena: coming soon, I promise!) and embed it in a blog or webportal page or any site that allows simple scripts. You can find the RSS feed for any tag at the lower left of that tag page on del.icio.us.

    Social bookmarking and scholarly literature

    Maybe you don’t use 3×5 inch cards, maybe you’ve been trying various free or licensed software to keep track of your references on your personal computer. How about a web-based application that allows you to do exactly what del.icio.us allows, for your scientific literature, with no more than a mouse-click?

    There are too many web-based/social bibliography management tools out there that try to meet the needs of the scientist, created by various sources from esteemed journal publishers to PhD students. I’m going to highlight just three here, namely Connotea, Aigaion and CiteULike. Not for any other reason except that Petr Kosina of CIMMYT sent out a little question on Yammer (see post on Microblogging) asking which of these three online reference management tools would be suitable for geographically distributed research institutions – which would apply to the CGIAR.

    A quick scan of Connotea, Aigaion and CiteULike reveals:

    • All three software are free: CiteULike and Connotea are hosted services, while Aigaion is a web application that needs to be installed on a server
    • You can save and organize your links to references found online
    • Your bibliography/list of references can be easily shared among colleagues/peers
    • Use any computer to access your list of references anywhere, anytime
    • CiteUlike allows you to store your pdf files for easy access from any computer
    • Aigaion enables you to export references to other formats, like bibtext

    (Updated: Here’s another bibliography management tool, Mendeley, which indexes pdfs and manages bibliography in Word – courtesy of William Gunn)

    As you can see, your choice of online reference management software will depend on your needs. Shop around and check out some of the links below that make more detailed comparisons.

    If I can sum up the utility of social bookmarking sites, I’d say it’s the wealth of useful links you can get from having access to your colleague’s list and vice versa. Cutting out unnecessary trawling, it is time-saving and leads to the discovery of new, subject-relevant articles. Also having all your useful website links online just makes it easier to shed a few pounds off your travel gear. It’s just one more way to lose your notebook when you travel!

    Till next time….

    Examples:

    Resources:

    Before launch we did a 2 hour session on KS tools. Participants had identified previously a set of tools that they wanted to get to know better and discuss further.

    We used the Commoncraft Show videos as an introduction and than shared our experiences, questions and answers. Here are some examples:

    Wikis

    • Can two people edit a wiki at the same time?
    • What does History meanand what is it good for?
    • SPAM is often a problem. It is better to have login and password protection.
    • A specific version of Tiki Wiki allows you to work offline which is useful for those with bad connectivity (like our colleagues at ILRI campus in Ethiopia 😉 Also Google just released a service.
    • Is the administrator is the only one who can change and go back to previous version?
    • What are the weaknesses of wikis? Formatting issues, not easy to see tracked changes.
    • Wikis focus on content and not on the voices of the contributor. Not good for conversations.

    Blogs

    • Stories: hard to keep up.
    • It is useful to use plugins to send the same blog post to different blogs.
    • When we have project blogs we tackle the problem of writing our personal thinking versus institutional messages. We need to get language right.
    • Blogs don’t need to be a discussion forum, they can be used as an announcement mechanism.
    • Difference between discussion forums and blogs. As far as blogs are concerned, there is a main blogger and the comments are secondary. In discussion forums everybody is on the same level which is better for equally distributed conversations.
    • It is difficult to promote blogs when the center restricts access.

    RSS

    • With RSS feeds we subscribe to content and take it from one place to another.
    • Does the use of RSS limit our spirit of discovery?
    • RSS allows knowing quickly when our organizations are mentioned in the news.
    • Gauri shared http://www.agrifeeds.org with the group which is a services where feeds from different web sites have been aggregated. It allows us to subscribe to selected feeds related to our specific interest.

    Social Bookmarking

    • How can I see what others are bookmarking?
    • Being rigorous with tags is important.
    • Recognition of tags in different languages will help to create multicultural bridges.