Online Communities

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My social Network on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter...
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I was having a Twitter conversation late last week with Conner McCall about the definition of Twitter.  Is it social networking?  Is it a social network?  I had asked:

“Twitter - Social Network? Still just microblogging? Somewhere in between?”

Conner wrote a follow-up post on the topic, in which he brought up some good points about why defining Twitter just shouldn’t happen.

Under most circumstances, I too shy away from defining and corralling social media tools into categories.  Honestly, what’s the point sometimes?

However, I’m involved in some research through DigiActive concerning the use of digital tools in activism efforts around the world.  When it came time to coding qualitative data on how people use their mobile phones for their advocacy work, I had separated out Twitter from all of the other social networks such as Facebook.

While going over the survey coding with the research team, someone suggested that several of the responses get combined in some way, and one of those ways was to lump Twitter in with the social networks.  In fact, it was more like “Twitter is a social network so let’s put it in there.”

I really needed to push back on this because I see some key differences between the two, at least in terms of this project.  Firstly though, some important similarities:

  • One-to-many communication
  • Everything is public within your “network”
  • Information/data sharing

Aside from those major similarities, there are some differences that are too important to overlook for the purposes of trying to define how people use these tools to disseminate information and communicate with people.

In Conner’s thought process came one of the very reasons I needed to have a definition of Twitter.  He said:

“It’s a free eco-system that allows you to talk about what you want, but by limiting you to 140 characters it keeps conversations clean and neat.  E-mail, instant message, and social networks will all be around for a long time, but you get messages that take minutes to read where Twitter’s messages take seconds.  This enforced brevity let’s you interact with a lot more people on a daily basis.  Twitter just takes online communication and adds what events like Ignite add to presentations.”

It’s this quick, one-time communication aspect of Twitter that makes it very different than some of the longer-standing ways in which people interact on places like Facebook.  You can have months-long campaigns on Facebook, where you gather fans and advocates for your cause.  Or you can share photos or videos that can still be top-of-mind (read: in the first two pages of your friends’ Stream) the next day or several days. The interaction with information on a platform like Facebook is much more dynamic than it is on a platform like Twitter.

Twitter, on the other hand, is done-and-done.  Information is disseminated real time, and often forgotten after that.  This comes into play in any sort of activism effort because the length of time that Twitter is really useful is often much shorter than on social networks, and the reason that Twitter is used is usually much different than the reasons that Facebook is used.

Additionally, “this forced brevity [that] let’s you interact with a lot more people on a daily [or hourly] basis” is one of the reasons why people will use Twitter over social networks to mobilize efforts.  Such was (sort of) the case in the Moldovan protests last month (note: the Twitter aspect of these protests was, in my opinion, overblown by much of the media).

The one tough thing about this question is that I’m not necessarily in disagreement with calling Twitter a social network.  It is a network of people that you interact with socially, through social media (whatever that means), which is, at a high-level, what happens on Facebook and other “social networks.”  I have a problem bunching them together when you get into the specifics of how those social networks work at a functional level.

In closing, while I like to also leave thing undefined a lot of the times and agree, for the most part, with Conner when he says that Twitter has no rules, there are times when the distinctions between these tools, like any set of tools, need to be highlighted.  And usually these functional distinctions translate into at least small conceptual distinctions as well.

I would love to know your thoughts on how you might define social networks, or how you would make the distinction between Twitter and what everyone else considers social networks, or what you think about the whole definition thing in general!


Universities seem to finally be getting the picture that use of social media is vital to reaching their core constituents, especially given that Facebook and other social networks have surpassed e-mail as the best way to reach many of the university’s core audiences: students and alums.

Yet despite the idea that Facebook and Twitter are gaining popularity, universities still struggle with how much prominence to give these tools.  Brad Ward’s blog had a great post on this subject in February, with some intriguing preliminary research on how social media tools are built into university Web sites.

Of almost 1400 schools investigated, only 20% had any kind of social media component built into their homepage, alumni page or admission page. While that seems like a pretty good amount, consider the fact that that leaves a whopping 80% of universities and colleges that don’t have any kind of social media component on any of these three key pages! What is even more amazing is that only 56 schools… 4%  of the schools… had a social media component on more than one page. That means if alums get to your site they see it, but potential students don’t, or vice versa. These schools have forfeited huge chunks of their visitor population.

Our question today is… why? If schools recognize the importance of online tools, why aren’t they using them better? And if they’re not using them, what is the main barrier to adoption? Are there more professors and admissions people using these tools but higher levels of administration don’t buy it yet, or are there perceptions of this being a fad and schools are hesitant to jump as far as including these tools where the primary core of their web traffic would actually see and interact with the tools?

How are you seeing social media being used in higher ed?


Understanding the Conversation Online Between Consumers: Focusing on blogging
Liz Strauss, Social Media Strategist and blogger at Successful Blog

  • Learn the value of words
  • Make your content accessible, and repurpose your content (don’t think you need to make a brand new piece of content every time)
  • If you blog true to yourself and they know who you are, they’ll trust you
  • Don’t just aggregate content, because that doesn’t offer long-term value based on trust
  • 7 Keys to Online Relationships
    • Show up whole and human
    • Talk in an authentic voice
    • Tell your own truth
    • Have room for folks to tell their story too
    • Don’t try to tie ideas in a bow
    • Half the show is in the comments
    • Be helpful not hypeful, it’s about them not you
  • Be sticky: Simple, Unexpected, Credibile, Emotional, Story, Satisfying
  • Be irresistible: Your head + Your heart + Meaning of life
  • On Twitter, people who don’t have bios, they don’t last three months
  • Those who can look forward and talk deeply will be successful


If you’re anything like me, you get inefficient when things aren’t organized. And if you’re anything like me, the number of networks/groups/randomness that I’m connected to online is huge, and can sometimes feel unwieldy. To me, better organization means more time and more focus of energies. I also know people who shy away from some of the great online tools because it’s “just too much.” What a pity, if only they streamlined it, it could be quite rewarding.

So I’ve devised a few ways that I organize my online life.

  1. Mimic your communities across platforms as much as possible
  2. With all the Twitters and the FriendFeeds and the Facebooks and the this-and-thats, how do you keep up? What I try and do as much as possible is make my communities the same across each platform. Most of them have ways of searching other platforms to see if some of your connections crossover. Remember, if you’re up on new place to be, a lot of them are too (or you’re getting referred to new places by them!). This way you communities are generally the same.

    To me, this means I don’t need to be so concerned about keeping everything, everywhere, immediately updated, or that I’m losing large portions of my network in one place, or that. Plus, the developers of “new things” know that there’s a switching cost for users, so they try and make that as easy as possible. This brings me to my next suggestion.

  3. Whenever possible, link your tools or communities together
  4. Most of the tools you’re using offer linking capabilities. Your Twitter will update you Facebook, FriendFeed will post your Diggs (and 34 other “things” you might be using).

    This allows you to kill two birds… or three…or ten… in one stone. Why WOULDN’T you do that? Usually this is in the preferences or settings tab.

  5. Read the website of each tool you use
  6. At least in my experience, these “things” can do a whole lot more than I think they can at first. So every time I get a new one, I spend 10 or 20 minutes reading about it, and reading reviews about it, so I have a much better handle of what it’s doing for me. Would you install a microwave without reading what all those darn buttons do? Well, ok, not gunna lie, I do that, but then again, maybe I’m not the most efficient microwaver (touche to myself…. and I don’t use the microwave much).

  7. Have one central place to organize the links
  8. The way I so this is old school. I have a folder on my bookmarks toolbar, labeled simply “Online Tools” (tricky, I know), and I have the links to all the networks or whatever right in there. When you get upwards of ten (which is low for some people!) you forget some sometimes. It makes for a pseudo To Do list. You can figure out the best way to do this on your computer depending on how you use it. The idea is just that there’s one place where their all cataloged and easily accessible.

The last two items I’d like to throw out have less to do with organizing your online life, but how to fit it enjoyably into your “real” life (you know what I mean).

  1. Make your online community into your “real” community as much as possible
  2. Many of the people you connect to online, you’ll know in person. But there may be a lot that you don’t (Twitter makes this very easy!). To make those connections more meaningful, try and meet up offline with as many people as you can, even it’s just for beers at a Tweet-Up (I missed one last night organized in part by Chris Brogan, who I’ve been following on Twitter. It seems that close to 30 people went).

  3. Unplug sometimes Last night, I went unplugged from 6pm onwards, and it was awesome. I read a magazine, made dinner and relaxed and my mind unwound. I highly suggest this to anyone

What tips do you have for organizing yourself online? Please comment below.

Also, I would like to extend this challenge to anyone. I’m only going to give you my Twitter name (just_kate), and see how many different places you can connect to me from (hint: I’ve mentioned a few tools above…..).

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