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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In the beginning … 
Shwu Jiau Teoh

Shwu Jiau Teoh

Way back in the early 1980s, there was no email in CGIAR. When scientists wanted to collaborate with each other, they did so using the technology available at that time: phone, fax, telex and cable. Some of these communication methods were often slow and unreliable, and always expensive – factors that had a direct bearing on critical research efforts. Then in 1985, with the advent of email across the CGIAR System, things began looking up. Almost overnight, day-to-day communications became much faster and cheaper. However, long-distance collaborative efforts could still be slow and, at times, confusing.

The age of social media

Fast forward to the 21st century and we have a completely different scenario on our hands. Welcome to the Age of Social Media!

To find out how today’s scientists are collaborating in the CGIAR, we caught up with WorldFish GIS specialist Shwu Jiau Teoh at her office in Penang, Malaysia.

“I feel social media is changing the way some CGIAR researchers work with partners and present the results of their research,” she says. “For example, my team uses Google Sites to share documents and collaborate. It’s easy to create a website using the Google Sites template. You don’t even have to have a programming background – I picked it up in a few minutes. It’s ideal for accessing and sharing information and it’s free.”

Site features

Shwu Jiau is also impressed with the various features and functions of Google Sites.

“My team in Penang needs to be able to share information and collaborate with our Chinese partners while working on our project Valuing Living Aquatic Resources of Wetlands in China, led by Dr. Suan Pheng Kam,” she explains. “We started using the site last May, when the project first got underway, and we feel that the 10GB of storage (Google Apps standard edition) is more than enough for our needs. We have created content on a public Google site, so that visitors are informed of our work as the project advances. But we also set up a restricted site available to just our team members for sharing knowledge and documents in one place. The site settings allow us to easily assign different levels of permission to our members.

“Any changes to a document are tracked in a history archive, so we can follow the evolution of a document as it is accessed and changed by the various team members. There’s also a calendar, a section where members can see announcements in real time, and a page for project and research documentation. A dashboard page, which is by default a two-column webpage with four placeholder gadgets, automatically gives an overview of the project: an embedded calendar with the most recent posts from the announcements page, a list of updated files from the project document page and links to the different research components page.

File Cabinet

Of all the easy-to-use features available on Google Sites, this GIS specialist feels the File Cabinet, in which project documents and literature are stored, to be the one that team members value the most.

“Without Google Sites, we would have to communicate via email, which wouldn’t be convenient when we want to share large files, as some mail boxes have limitations,” she explains. “The File Cabinet is very useful for storing our reports and research literature. In addition, it immediately displays the latest version of all our documents. This makes it easy for team members to keep up to date and also helps with the compilation of donor reports – this is easily done by referring to the related documents available on the project page, without having to search through all the annexes.

“We also use the File Cabinet when we want to prepare material for a workshop and need input from our Chinese counterparts. At the conclusion of a workshop, we usually upload material from the event onto the site for the team members to access and also embed into the site a Picasa slideshow that displays the workshop photo album. There’s no way we could go back to using just email to accomplish this.”

It looks as if Shwu Jiau and her team have their feet firmly planted in the 21st century.

For those who are already using Google Sites, we’d love to hear your story, too.

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: 

ICTKM Newsletter BannerStories in the latest newsletter:

Enjoy and let us know what you like the most.

When we began our blog series on Social Medial Tools two months ago, we had no idea how successful it would be. Feedback from readers has been positive and encouraging, so much so that Meena Arivananthan (who has written the series with input from Antonella Pastore and Simone Staiger-Rivas) finished the tenth post on these tools a few days ago. And there’s no stopping her.

For easy reference, we have assembled the various links to these mini tutorials below, so you can now tell at a glance where to get help on 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

Sometimes I face bouts of uncertainty and wonder if the work we do in the CGIAR really reaches the people for whom it was intended. I know others feel the same way, as I’ve had conversations with people on this very topic. Since I started working with the ICT-KM Program, I’ve had the opportunity to examine this concern through a benchmarking exercise that the Program is spearheading.

Simply put, this activity allows us to measure our (the CGIAR Centers) research outputs in terms of availability, accessibility and applicability. My colleague Peter Ballantyne and I have been collecting, collating and analyzing data from various Centers to find out exactly how available and accessible their research outputs really are. But that’s a different story.

While your Center may advocate potatoes, maize, rice or tilapia to tackle the food crisis, in the longer term we all share a common goal: to reduce poverty in underprivileged communities. The science we do is practical – it has application. While classical research is also important, we do not have the luxury of time in the CGIAR. Our research has to show impact where it’s needed, and this can only be achieved if it reaches the right people in the fastest, easiest way possible.

“Now where do social media tools come in?” you may ask.

Besides our final products (journal articles, reports and other Center publications), we should consider making our research by-products, such as slideshow presentations, photograph collections and video clips, just as accessible. When we make our work available to a wider network; when our work is accessible in a way that it may be used, re-used and adapted for application; and when we make our PIGs fly; only then can we say we are truly “nourishing the future through scientific excellence”.

Last week, when I wrote about using newsfeeds to establish a scientist’s or professional’s credibility as an expert, the underlying idea was that when we share our research outputs with colleagues, peers, national partners and the scientific community at large, we create a credible resource into which others can tap. In the same vein, we can be the first place scientists or potential science partners go to when they need photos, videos, presentations, etc.

So if you wonder why you, the CGIAR scientist, should consider using social media tools to share your photos, videos, presentations, etc., here are two reasons:

  • Internal: social media tools minimize email clutter. Large files that would normally clog up your inbox, can now sit comfortably on the Internet, ready for you or your colleagues to access as and when required.
  • External: establish your presence as an expert. Social media tools allow you to reach many different network groups. You no longer need to stay within a tight circle of the usual suspects. You have greater outreach.

When we share our information via social media tools, we make it available and accessible in a location where everyone else is hanging out these days: the Internet. Photo, video and slideshow sharing sites often have their own search and tagging facilities that allow anyone interested to discover your information.

I’d like to stress that sharing information with social media tools does NOT mean you should give up publishing the same information on your own Website, and it most certainly does NOT replace the good practices of storing and cataloging your files in Center databases/repositories that maintain institutional memory. Imagine these tools as a variety of fishing nets that can be used to capture as many fish as possible in that huge virtual sea commonly known as the Internet.

Or as Simone Staiger-Rivas put it in her presentation on making the most out of social media, it’s about reaching out to as many users as possible. After sharing her presentation on Slideshare for just one day, five times the number of people who had seen Simone’s live presentation had seen it online – four months later, a whopping 1,839 people have viewed the presentation online.

Where to share photos, videos and slideshows

There is an overwhelming array of social media tools that can help you share photos, videos and presentations easily. Without needing any IT-related knowledge, it’s all a clichéd click away!

Photo sharing:

flickr

  • You can sign up for a free account, or a “pro” account that entails a charge for unlimited uploads.
  • Upload and share photos.
  • Categorize photos as either public or private, and attach copyright permissions ranging from reserving all rights to sharing the photos freely for others to use.
  • Photos can be organized into sets and tagged, enabling people to find specific photos and allowing publishers to point out their photos of choice.
  • Re-use Flickr images, especially those labeled ‘Creative Commons’, on web pages, slide shows and publications.
    o Consider those photos you’d like to share with others, make them accessible, and assign copyrights, watermarks or Creative Commons as appropriate. Think big! Your photos could well end up on a major website or in important blog piece!
  • Examples on Flickr:

o   IRRI Images and Photo Sets (note the number of views)

o   ICT-KM Knowledge Sharing Projects Photo Sets

o    WorldBank Photo Collection

picasa

  • Similar to Flickr.
  • Integrates well with Gmail and free server space on PicasaWeb to store photos just like Flickr.
  • Share albums via a ‘secret’ URL, so search engines won’t find your photos – only those people to whom you send the link. This is useful, for example, if you need someone to select pictures for a publication or a site.
  • Good photo editing tools.

Video sharing:
youtube

  • The biggest video sharing site at the moment.
  • Huge audience base to tap into when embarking on an event or campaign.
  • Videos need to be compelling as they will have to compete with thousands of others for attention.
  • Keywords or tags should be well thought-out.

blip tv

  • Supports a variety of video formats.
  • Hosting, distribution and advertising platform for creators of Web shows.
  • Provides content creators with free hosting.

vimeo

  • More polished than YouTube.
  • Growing audience base.

Examples:

Slide presentation sharing:

slideshare

  • PowerPoint slides can easily become huge once you’ve added pictures – and a pain to send to colleagues. This option lets you place your slides on a website.
  • Add your comments to each slide so that your audience doesn’t lose the context of your presentation.

google_logo_sm

Google Presentations:

Examples:

I’ve only highlighted a few tools for sharing photographs, videos and presentations. For others, do go to the KS Toolkit . There are more sprouting up even as I write this. There are also social media tools that allow you to share pictures, send and receive emails, and connect with friends, all in one place. Yes, I mean Facebook, which I latched onto when Yahoo! Pictures shut down a while ago.

So as always, keep an open mind and try these tools out! There is no “ONE” perfect tool for sharing your work. We’d love to hear about your experiences using these tools, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Till next time …

My thanks to Antonella Pastore and Tania Jordan for their technical input.

Here’s a test: Take a look at the bookmarks of your favorite websites and blog sites, and tell me how often you browse them? If your answer is not often enough, allow me to let you in on a little secret – it’s called “RSS” in geekspeak, and “newsfeeds” in English.

If you’d like to have the information you want or need at your fingertips, you no longer have to go looking for it. Instead, you can have it delivered to you via what is known as a ‘newsfeed reader’ or ‘feed aggregator’. A newsfeed reader is like an email inbox or website that holds all the newsfeeds to which you subscribe. And before you say, “Information overload! Not another Internet thingy”, let me share with you the power of the newsfeed reader.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re browsing the Internet and come across an excellent article on a research and development website. The website appears to be authored by an expert on issues that are of interest to you. You bookmark the site on delicious.com and plan to return to it in two weeks. However, other priorities soon relegate all such plans to the backburner. While the bookmark on delicious.com lets you share useful sites with colleagues and partners, how can you keep track of new articles and updates without having to visit the individual sites?

The technology that underlies newsfeeds, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), lets you subscribe to web content. Once you’re subscribed to a feed, a reader, also called aggregator, looks for new content at intervals and retrieves updates. So, instead of having information ‘pushed’ to you by email or other media, you decide the websites from which you’d like to receive updates.

All you need to do is:

  • sign up for a free reader from Google, Bloglines or Newsgator (there are many more, and some can be customized to suit different tastes),
  • go to a website or blog site you like and subscribe by clicking on the RSS icon (if available),
  • enjoy reading the updates at your leisure.

Looking for an  introduction to RSS and how it can help your work? Here’s a simple slideshow on Syndication of online content created by our colleagues at Bioversity International

What are the benefits to you as a scientist?

  • Your choice: you pick the newsfeeds you want to receive, thereby controlling the flow of information coming your way. In effect, you build your own little online newspaper.
  • Flexibility: you are the master of your newsfeed reader. So you can scan the headlines for interesting news items; view several content streams from various sites; and add or remove feeds as you like.
  • De-clutter your email inbox. Yay!

In a nutshell, newsfeed readers allow you to manage your collection of favorite information sources and, ultimately, your attention.

So, why are we focusing on newsfeeds as social media? Here comes the sharing part …
 

Using feeds for sharing

Newsfeeds can be shared with like-minded individuals so they, in turn, can use and share them with others.

The research and development work carried out in the CGIAR does not progress in isolation. It involves communications among colleagues, peers, experts, national partners and students. We cannot deny that we are unofficial communicators and, sometimes, experts whom people rely on.

As communicators, content to which you subscribe can be used to populate other communications media such as your newsletters, Twitter account, and basically any other social media tool that you’re linked to. If you’re a closet techie and need to know how it works, RSS liberates Web-based content from format by packaging it in such a way that it can be shared and republished on other websites and newsreader services.

As experts, the newsfeeds to which you subscribe could be of immense value to your colleagues, partners and anyone else looking for some guidance.

Newsfeeds are probably the easiest and fastest way to facilitate the exchange of information. The format can travel very far. If you include a newsfeed subscription option on your website, it will make it easier for people to follow you and build loyalty over time. Many CGIAR Center websites already have this, which is great, but how about including the newsfeeds to which you subscribe on your website?

Why put newsfeeds from other sources on your website?

  • Establish your expertise. Offering selected newsfeeds from external sources via your website will only add to its popularity as the website of choice when someone needs a selection of trustworthy sources on specific topics. As an expert in your field, what you know is influenced by your networks and contacts. Your circle establishes your credibility. As a content selector, you offer your audience (networks) content that is relevant and quality-controlled.
  • Enable value-added information services. Newsfeeds can be shared extensively. Your selected content can be aggregated by other people to read, re-use and store on multiple devices. People can take the content and create valuable information out of it. And if you’re concerned about intellectual property rights, your newsfeeds will attribute the source of all content.
  • Create a participatory, collaborative Web presence. When a group of partners who already have their own websites come together for a joint initiative, feeds from existing sources can be selected and aggregated to create a space for a truly shared voice on the Web.

End-user, communicator, expert, maven, whichever hat you’re wearing, it appears newsfeeds may solve many communication challenges. Whether you want to keep updated on website content, populate other communication channels or establish your role as an expert, newsfeeds make content really simple to syndicate.

Till next time…

Thanks to Antonella Pastore for the valuable discussions over coffee on the use of newsfeeds and for giving up ‘deejay’ in favour of ‘maven’.

Examples:

Resources: