Microblogging is a form of blogging based on short posts. A real-time communication platform, microblogs are short, tight snippets of information that tell others what you’re doing, where you’re going or even how you’re feeling at any given moment.

In a social context, you could essentially be keeping tabs on your friends’ activities and vice versa, within a private group or publicly on the Web. Several microblogging services are available: we’re featuring two popular ones in this post.

twitter Twitter is a networked web and mobile phone based shared short messaging system. It allows users to write brief text updates (max 140 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, MP3 or the Web (source).

You can open a free account at twitter.com.

yammer_logo_smallYammer is a similar tool for organizations, that allows quick networking and information sharing, with the added benefit of connecting easily within the common organization email domain (i.e. cgiar.org). Note: if you have a valid @cgiar.org email address, sign up to join the growing cgiar network on Yammer.

How can you use microblogging to your advantage?

Having started out as a “What are you doing now?” social communication tool, microblogging holds great potential at work. Whether you see it as an annoying distraction or powerful communication tool, it is in the hands of the user, you. 

Here’s why you should consider using microblogging at work:

  • Brevity. First, the 140 character limit on your microblog forces you to scale down your update to just the facts. Post an idea, a useful link*, ask for quick feedback all in less than a minute. This works in your favor because the responses are just as brief and to the point. (*Last week I mentioned learning about tinyurl.com. TinyURL is an excellent tool that helps you shrink a long url into a tiny one which you can then share with others via Twitter, Yammer or other instant messengers).
     
  • As an informal communication tool
    • Announcements to promote events/ activities
    • Asking for quick feedback and posting short updates create an informal structure that gets your point across without getting bogged down by more formal means of communications.
       
  • Updates from colleagues you ‘follow’. This feature is really the crux of microblogging. Whom you follow determines the type of updates you gain access to. By intelligently selecting the right people, you are now privy to their experiences, ideas and insights. You have the potential to ‘mine’ their resources as your followers ‘mine’ yours. What are the benefits?
    • You get breaking news. Real time conversations can be very revealing.
    • Networking is easier. The informal setting allows quick introductions and gets you straight onto their microblogs.
    • Connect within a community at work, increase visibility and engage with partners and colleagues.
       
  • Less email. Microblogging on Twitter or Yammer reduces the need for email exchanges, which help de-clutter your inbox. The versatility in sharing your messages through a variety of ways reduces the dependency on email access.
     
  • Real-time sharing during events (e.g. conferences, training events, meetings). It is one of the key tools for social reporting, i.e. “is where a group of participants at an event interactively and jointly contribute to some form of reporting, in text, photos, images or video. The resulting “social report” is made accessible, usually online, as soon as possible, sometimes as a half-product. This allows others to join in, to extend, to adjust or remix.” (explore the  ‘social reporting’ tag on this blog). Microblogging during events increases visibility and outreach of the knowledge that is generated at a rapid pace during face-to-face meetings, and it helps build a level of engagement and participation that goes beyond physical presence.
Why some people love Twitter

Why some people love Twitter

 

How to be a ‘savvy’ microblogger

  • Post updates that add value. This could be an idea, interesting links and shortcuts that have appeal but do not warrant a blog post.
  • Respond to microblogs when you have a contribution to make. You don’t have to interact on all posts that are shared.
  • Exercise caution when posting updates. In a more public group, you may want to hold back on personal details.
  • Choose whom you ‘follow’ wisely

Who’s been microblogging

  • Conference share and “back channel.” In the recent ShareFair in Rome, several participants twittered live and during the sessions to share insights and highlights with their twitter networks. Current example? Colleagues are now twitting live from the African Geospatial Week in Nairobi (with special postings on the Yammer cgiar network).
  • Incorporation of Twitter in CIMMYT’s blog. The ICT-KM blog (where you are now) incorporates the Twitter updates on the sidebar.
  • Media giants like BBC and The New York Times use Twitter to post headlines and story links (NYT and BBC)

Have you had any experience you’d like to share about microblogging? Perhaps you’ve identified other uses for microblogging at work. We would love to hear from you.

Till next week!

Resources 

Get these links and more from the microblogging tag at CGXchange on Del.icio.us

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Twitter, Yammer, Social bookmarking, Facebook…facewhat?…are you feeling overwhelmed? 

Well not to worry. Fresh from the Online Social Media Workshop that kicked off early this month, ICT-KM is ensuring that the wealth of knowledge generated is distilled into golden nuggets that are bound to keep you coming back for more. The workshop featured discussions on several Social Media tools (yes that’s what Twitter, Podcasting, Facebook etc. are known as) and we want to show you why you’ll want to get your hands on these tools.

Look out for our Blog series on Social Media tools, featuring one tool every week on this blog space. We’ll tell you in plain English – what it is, how you can use it but more importantly, why you should consider using them. 

For example, here’s something new I learnt today (thanks, Enrica!). Many of us know how to cut and paste ‘urls’ into emails when we want to share a webpage with someone. That’s fine and easy, but ‘urls’, which are really webpage addresses found on the top left hand window of a webpage, can occasionally be very long.  Sometimes, long ‘urls’ tend to break or expire when sent via email, which can be frustrating. Solution: Go to http://tinyurl.com/ and copy your lengthy ‘url’ into the box provided. Click on ‘Make TinyURL’ and presto- you now have a tiny ‘url’ which you can share with others. This tiny ‘url’ can also be used in Twitter…but that’s another story.

Watch this space… 

Today we had our second and last conference call with 11 participants. Before the call started Nancy White shared some statistics with me about the workshop participation. It was interesting to see that participants were more active in the first week (this week there was apparently an annual report deadline in many centers), and that there were more or less three times more reading then posting going on. This was confirmed in our call today where participants highlighted that they enjoyed the reading even if they didn’t participate that much.

In total and until today 165 posts have been shared and approximately 800 views registered. Not bad!!!

We did a first round of comments and asked participants what ideas the tools generated. Here are some examples:

  • Innovative e-newsletters using more communication channels like YouTube for example
  • Possibilities of social media as a discussion topic in the upcoming Penang workshop of Communications Directors
  • Social reporting
  • Twitter / Yammer as a short messaging system
  • Start to think about M&E of social media
  • More strategic use of social bookmarking
  • More strategic use of Wikipedia, Bioversity experience
  • Google apps for increased collaboration needs in the CG
  • Use social media promote a campaign (Facebook, YouTube)
  • Support school to school exchanges in Africa (Mobile phones)

The other topic we started to surface in the call relates to the question on how we might use social media in the “new” CGIAR: Should we have a strategic approach or should we experiment and learn first?

  • We should go the exploratory path. We could put some funds into pilot projects, learn and make recommendations.
  • We need to start to think about quantitative and qualitative analysis of the experiments we undertake.
  • We could start to more intensively aggregate feeds from different centers
  • Social media could kick off the Marketing group again who lost its energy and impact. The Marketing group was networking solution of its day. We should combine it with social media, the technological aspects and open it up to new members.
  • Social media is subversive as it goes around the formal channels element. And this is the perfect time to present the opportunities and do some positive disruptions within the CG
  • Social media represent the tools of the future. We need mechanisms to get to talk about them widely, and go beyond the experts to reach a second level of adoption.-    Social media can empower the younger CG staff. We should let them show us the way through social media instead of telling them what to do.
  • We need to show the impact of social media in research to convince.

Some closing impressions from participants

  • Now I know some people I can go to if I have questions
  • We shouldn’t be that careful and try things out.
  • The potential of social media becomes clearer
  • We have to look at the M&E of social media
  • Look at http://search.twitter.com/search?q=agriculture just to get a sense how powerful Twitter might be!

goals2The workshop started with the basic question: What are our communication goals? Incredibly basic, but it triggered a more then 80 post thread! I played around with participant’s answers and offer the following list with some examples of what has been said.

What do you think about those goals?

1. Create a two-way communication

  • Moving towards the model of ‘conversations’ with our networks of contacts.
  • Connect people to ideas and information across my network.
  • Tapping into my online network as a way to think together, do tasks together and solve problems – communications for collaboration.
  • Connect people and show that YES, there IS a way to break silos among disciplines, between projects and Centers.
  • Strengthening of lateral connections in a network
  • Make communications more innovative and engaging by mastering new tools
  • How we can engage in a more continuous and participatory communication process with our target groups?
  • Take actually the time to LISTEN. What are our next and end users saying about us, about their needs, issues and achievements?

2. Overcome the internal and external limiting factors

  • Target audience not online; Target audience not familiar with and comfortable with (trust) social media; Organization not supportive of our use of new tools
  • Limited bandwidth, so Skype, video streaming, etc. are out of bounds unless we make special arrangements
  • The intersection of technology and communications.
  • Exploring how to help these people overcome that fear of loosing control and make use of social media tools to enhance both our institutional and personal communications.
  • How to introduce/persuade others to try social media!
  • Finding ways to communicate via web2.0 and use social media in challenging conditions such as Ethiopia.

3. Disseminate outputs

  • Significantly build up the number of people the CGIAR is reaching.
  • Active, rapid and widespread dissemination of our research outputs.
  • Make the community of donors, policymakers and investors fully aware of the high impact our scientific accomplishments through a program of public awareness activities.

4. Understand audiences and needs

  • Clear understanding of the information needs of our primary audiences
  • Audiences: Research scientist, Research partners, Policymakers , CIP’s external community and associates, Donors and investors, The CGIAR Consortium, The media and the general public, students.
  • Learn more about what the communication needs are across the system to get a better idea of how we can support each other and work together to meet our goals.

3. Raise profile and resource mobilization

  • Rebuild image after financial and governance crisis
  • Public – Increase the perception of our center as a global center of excellence
  • Ensure efficient communication in the context of major organizational change
  • Corporate communications: How do we build the profile globally for better partnerships and fundraising?
  • To enhance the awareness, understanding and appreciation our work by partners, stakeholders and staff members

4. Strengthen the role of communications within the research cycle

  • How to integrate communication tool, web2.0, and social media methods into the research process
  • Assist Centre scientists to proactively think about effectively communicating their research outputs to achieve better outcomes and impacts
  • Help integrate communications into the planning, budgeting and implementation of research projects
  • How to use such tools to enhance our work with partners and stakeholders.

7. Learn and innovate

  • Explore what has worked best, and how can we make it happen more often.
  • Identify the common elements and propose a comprehensive set of objectives to the Transition Management Team for the new CGIAR
  • Bring my own communications practices in line with such approaches through networking and the acquisition of new tools and skills.
  • Take the opportunity to explore the power of social media as a personal networking tool.

8. Improve internal processes

  • Management – Increase recognition of the essential contributions form communication and information professionals
  • How to engage with the technical programs/the scientists on communications issues
  • Create a culture of sharing and transparency within the CGIAR so information flows freely and there’s a “meritocracy” for information/knowledge.
  • Understand CGIAR’s institutional culture, which provide important background for this workshop on social media.
  • Promoting these new approaches in the CGIAR
  • Organize internal resources / data better
  • Internal Communications Strategy: What Culture are we going to build and how is information being shared and communicated?

Photo Credit: Faria

On the second day of our Social Media Workshop we had our first conference call with ten participants.

Nancy White facilitated the call and kicked off by asking what social media tool each one of us has been using most recently: Blogs, social bookmarking, wikis, Dgroups, photo and video sharing, social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn , and Skype were some replies.

  • Immediately an important issue was raised: The personal versus the professional use of social media. Most of us have our first social media experience in the personal domain to connect and keep up relationships with friends and family. Nancy thinks that this is a great entry point and might help us to create a comfort zone and then move on to additional professional uses . Moreover, social media allow us to reach younger generations who are growing up with this natural mix. But it is definitively an issue when we consider the habit of separating our professional lives from our private lives, which is typical of many organizations, i.e. when we discuss IT aspects like the bandwidth required, or organizational policies.

Two other important discussion points are summarized below:

  • From the pipeline and dissemination to the conversational mode: Social Media enables us to interact more broadly with our target groups even if so far only 10% of social media activity generates interaction. Nathan Russell invites us to keep a critical perspective: How sure are we actually that social media empowers people? Some experiences in the field show that interactive communication tools can even increase inequity. Two interesting replies to that question were given, one by Nathan himself: Emphasis has to be given to empower rural organizations rather then individuals, which has greater and broader impact. Nancy highlights that Mobiles can be seen as having huge potential considering their exponential growth in number and coverage, as they are benefitting a much wider constituency.
  • Reaching (sub) target groups: Edith Hesse asks us how social media can help us to reach our different target groups, like donors, development professionals, the CGIAR community, policy makers? Paul Neate suggests that we, communication professionals should think about democratizing the communication exercise, which means motivate and support our staff to interact with their target groups more directly and actively, instead of having messages coming from us exclusively. Paul Stapleton adds that we need to see the individual relationships behind the target, i.e. our interaction with a donor is at the end a one-to-one relationship which we need to cultivate. Those comments seem to suggest a more fragmented communications approach rather then a broad and massive dissemination of our research products and outcomes. Nancy adds that it is probably a combination: We need to get the message out and available and then engage users around that content. One example could be: Publish a blog post and let your networks know about it and invite them to subscribe via Facebook, Twitter, on your skype status, or via a newsletter etc. Another important and often missing aspect is our availability and effort to actually listen to what our target groups communicate. Active (social media) listening is a key to relationship building and requires openness and readiness to hear negative feedback. Antonella Pastore wonders how we then manage to bring all the bits and pieces of social media interaction together. How can we avoid to become too dispersed?

We closed our conversation by going around the clock and raising some questions that emerged for each of us during the call:

  • How can I engage and keep up a dialogue with users of our CG information systems to keep content relevant?
  • How can I use social media to involve donor offices, identify my donor network, and move to a more informal connection with the donor community?
  • What are the ideas and examples to communicate more effectively (i.e. Alternative Slash and Burn approach)
  • How do we deal with the organizational fear of letting go and open up, including the IT departments?
  • How can I prioritize some tools versus others knowing that there are so many options?
  • How can social media support internal organizational discussions, i.e. support the interaction between Communication and researchers to discuss the content of a new website?
  • To which degree can we expect to mainstream the use of social media in our work? What are the next steps?
  • How can we assure that we support the use of social media through good facilitation, including the challenge to cover several languages?
  • What are the opportunities to join forces among centers, like important events?
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Everything is ready for this event that registers fully booked with 30 communication professionals from 13 CGIAR centers.

We will start for three days with introductions and a short review of our communication goals. Next Tuesday we will hold a teleconference call (in two sessions to cover different time zones). We will talk about what social media is and how it can help us achieve our goals.

For two weeks participants will explore specific tools of their interest (i.e. blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, photo and video sharing, micro blogging etc). For each tool the facilitation team (Nancy White, Petr Kosina, Simone Staiger) prepared a short introduction, recommends some resources and offers a couple of questions as discussion starters.

At the end of the workshop we will discuss via the event platform Moodle and a second conference call how social media might play a role in the new CGIAR communications approach, taking specifically into account the CGIAR change process: What role could / should social media play in future communications strategies? What are the ideas that we could start to try out together?

Watch out this space for regular posts about this event.

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