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

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: 

It would be hard to use the Internet and not come across a slew of social networking sites. Facebook, MySpace…these are just two of the popular sites that regular Internet aficionados use to keep in touch with family and friends and/or meet new people.

Social networking sites allow users to create their own personal virtual space that includes applications like photo-sharing, instant messaging, Twitter and blogs. Users can connect to friends and family, but more importantly, their friends and family are connected to others, resulting in potential new networks. And therein lies the argument in favor of using these sites to promote our work in the CGIAR.

Of course, there has been extensive critique of social networking sites, with people calling them ‘useless time wasters that drag users in’, ‘ isolating rather than connecting’, ‘something for the kids’… Add to that the stigma that comes with social networking sites, thanks to cyber stalkers and identity theft. Whatever the reason for getting onto these sites or getting off them completely, there will always be people who either love or hate them. For those sitting on the fence – why not give them a try before you dismiss them? You just might be pleasantly surprised.

Why you should consider social networking sites for your work

Well, how does having access to a huge online audience sound to you?

Facebook alone boasts 175 million active users worldwide. LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, hosts more than 39 million members. This no-nonsense site lets you form links for career growth, and creates a unique environment where talent and expertise can be sourced by people you trust in your network.

Five years since the introduction of  Facebook in colleges, with many Facebook users jealously guarding their Facebook accounts as private social networks, keeping out colleagues and acquaintances, there has been an interesting development. Even in their private virtual spaces, some people are now looking for ways to engage and make a difference.

How you can use social networking sites to your advantage

  • Create awareness. Raise visibility and build a presence for your Center. There are already more than 100,000 non-profits, universities and other organizations using Facebook to connect with people. Recognizing the need, Facebook revamped its “Facebook Pages”, now known as “Public Profiles”, in March 2009. Check out the step-by-step guide to Public Profiles.
  • Engage people. Promote issues that resonate with people, such as food security, climate change, potable water for all, etc. A recent example of the strategic use of Facebook was the promotion of Earth Hour 2009, which saw almost one million people signing up on the Earth Hour site via Facebook. People were requested to switch off their lights for one hour on March 28 to promote an awareness of climate change and send a strong message to world leaders ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009. The result: millions of people voted “Earth” by posting photos, videos, blogs and using Twitter.
  • Form alliances. As Michael Hailu of ICRAF stated during the online Social Media workshop last March, “use these tools to link up with influential people and institutions”. He cited a blog post by the UK Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Hillary Benn, who posted an entry about his visit to ICRAF.
  • Find expertise or talent. Sites like LinkedIn , which contain a network of trusted, professional contacts, may lead to potential partners, service providers and other experts.
  • Virtual Marketing. Use the extended networks in Facebook or your Facebook Page to publicize and promote specific activities such as blog posts, video clips or any new content. As noted online communications expert Nancy White states “we pay attention to things that are recommended to us by people in our network”.
  • Spread the word about your work, publications, website. Post short comments and links to news, updates and new content you release to let interested people pick them up and, if they are interested, redistribute them.

Tips for getting the best out of social networking sites

  • While there are quite a few sites that can be used to promote or publicize your activity, event or Center, it is wise to exercise restraint. How much time do you really have to dedicate towards updating and maintaining your Facebook page? You would ideally need to update it regularly (at least weekly). Do you have the resources to work on several social networking sites? These are things to consider before jumping in.
  • Make sure your profile page is complete before you present it to the online world. Incomplete information does not encourage return visits, mainly when it is about your face and credibility.
  • Content needs to be interesting, fresh, enticing … use your imagination. Remember, you’re going to be competing with singing dogs and flying babies! But seriously, there are many people online who crave knowledge and learning. Enlighten them! ICARDA’s Moyomola Bolarin had a great suggestion for YouTube videos being posted on social networking sites. It involved “combining a delicious chickpea recipe with information on how ICARDA work on its (chickpea) improvement”.
  • Keep track of whom you invite to your page; start with influential contacts who already have established networks. It is better to have a meaningful network of people who genuinely support and will likely promote your cause.

Still unsure? Well, why not start with a small event that may be happening at your Center – promote it on Facebook or any other social networking site, and monitor the impact.

As for me, once this blog post is published, I’m going to include the link in my email list, Yammer and Facebook!

Till next week…

Pssst! BTW if you’d like to explore the area of social media more extensively, check out ICT-KM’s social media workshop starting May 25th.

Facebook examples


Resources