the morning after we all became social media gurus

One morning, all my friends woke up as experts.

Or rather, thanks to years of what academia had mostly framed as the gauche and wasteful habit of talking excessively to people who lived inside our computers and iPads, many of us whose social and work lives had merged somewhere in the ether of that Third Place/Space woke up with workshops to give, because…academic service. When what was gauche and time-wasting yesterday is The New Black today, it’s handy to have a vanguard of self-taught experts to teach everybody else how to play along.

But what are all these workshops doing, in the context of the academy? Mark Carrigan posed the question of social media as fashion or fad on Twitter this morning. I retweeted his post. We ended up in a conversation that eventually included another three or four colleagues, from a few different countries. THIS is how social media actually works for me, when it works.

These excerpts carry the gist of the conversation better than I can encapsulate. They also raise questions that I think all of us passing as social media gurus – however unwillingly – in the academy need to grapple with, and soon.

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  •  Are the workshops helping…or just making people feel pressured to Do Another Thing in a profession currently swamped by exhortations to do, show, and justify?

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  • Does the pressure over-emphasize the actual power of social media and encourage people to dig in against it as some kind of new regime, without necessarily having the experiential knowledge to judge whether it could have any value for them?
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  • How SHOULD we count digital and networked scholarship within the academy? Should we count it at all?
FWIW, I think we should, but I’m very wary of how. And so I wonder what happens the morning after we all wake up as experts, so to speak.

I feel like I’ve been here before. Yesterday afternoon, somebody tweeted an old post I wrote four years ago, back when I’d had a personal blog for years and was trying to understand the shift I was seeing in the economy of social media, from relational to market.

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It was the words “a path into the machine” that gave me a sense of deja vu.
Because one morning back in about 2008 all my friends woke up as social media gurus. We’d been hobbyists and bloggers and it was kind of wonderful but faintly embarrassing to talk about in polite company and then BOOM people started appearing on Good Morning America and it gentrified and stratified fast.

Switch out “brands” for “institutions” up in the pull quote above and we are living a parallel moment in academia, just a few years late. And the the many-to-many communications that the networks were based on risk, once again, being instrumentalized into something broadcast-based and metrics-driven that misses the whole point.

There has been plenty of excellent – and necessary – advocacy for the inclusion of digital, public engagement in academic hiring and tenure and promotions and our general sense of what counts as scholarship.

But the practices that get encapsulated as digital scholarship or networked participatory scholarship straddle two worlds, and two separate logics. One is the prestige economy of academia and its hierarchy and publishing oligopoly and all the things that count as scholarship. The other is social media, which has its own prestige economy.

The overlap goes like this, IMO:
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I never liked Klout’s reductionism to metrics – scale of account, reach of posts. Yet the thing that these two spheres share – their common language, so to speak – is metrics. And while those of us engaged in the complex logic of influence and prestige in academic Twitter *get* that the ephemerality of a tweet that goes viral isn’t the same as a reputation of smaller scale over time, nor does a broadcast account operate on the same terms as a reciprocal account, metrics divorced from context – either on Klout or in citation counts and h-indexes – do NOT get that.

So if those of us giving workshops to the academy about social media don’t make it really clear that it’s more than metrics – and don’t give people the experiential opportunity to taste what a personal/professional learning network (PLN) feels like and can offer – we have only ourselves to blame when the academy eventually tries to subsume social media into its OWN prestige economy.

The morning is now, kids. It’s been now for a little while but it won’t be forever. Seize the day.

How do YOU think we can best engage scholars and institutions in networked scholarship without selling the farm?

3 Comments the morning after we all became social media gurus

  1. Catherine Cronin

    Hey Bonnie – sorry I missed this conversation on Twitter yesterday, so thanks for blogging and sharing. I’m struck by your first question: are workshops (we?) making people feel pressured to Do Another Thing? This is emerging in my research at the moment. As you know I’m exploring open educational practices in higher education. In the 1st phase of that study I’ve been speaking with academic staff at one university – across disciplines, seniority levels, employment status (permanent/temporary, full-time/part-time) – about why and how they use online tools & spaces for research, learning & teaching. Overall, there is a relative lack of participation in social media for professional development and for teaching. But many participants spoke specifically of the pressure they feel to be doing “something” or “more” re: social media, to keep their various profiles updated, to maintain their digital identities. One participant even used the exact expression you used: “it’s just Another Thing – capital A, capital T”. This is layered on top of other concerns re: data ownership, corporate influence, and privacy in general.

    I share your wariness about the way this is becoming institutionalized. As far as I can see, first wave “social media training” was simply informal peer-to-peer sharing; a 2nd wave was invited workshops for sharing ideas & practice with fellow educators, as you describe. And now we have official Social Media Training courses by university HR. Here’s an excerpt from a staff training course description I spotted just this week (my emphasis added):

    > understand best practices to *drive engagement* with peers & students
    > use new technologies to *add value to your role*, School & University
    > build groups & lists to *drive interaction* and increase awareness
    > what & when to post as part of *overall marketing strategy*

    My heart sinks.

    This comment is already too long, just wanted to let you know I am considering these questions too. I’ll be sharing preliminary findings & analysis at #dlRN15 next month and will blog also. Really looking forward to the conversations. Thanks Bonnie ☺

  2. Simon Ensor

    The farm isn’t yours/ours to sell…

    D’ya wanna be a bishop or a heretic?

    “While the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great reigned (306–337 CE), Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Historians remain uncertain about Constantine’s reasons for favoring Christianity, and theologians and historians have argued about which form of Early Christianity he subscribed to. There is no consensus among scholars as to whether he adopted his mother Helena’s Christianity in his youth, or (as claimed by Eusebius of Caesarea) encouraged her to convert to the faith himself. Some scholars question whether he should be considered a Christian at all: “Constantine saw himself as an ’emperor of the Christian people’. If this made him a Christian is the subject of … debate.”,[1][2] and he did not receive baptism until shortly before his death.[3]”

  3. Pingback: Your Story, Your Terms: Unofficial CV activity -

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