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Learn about using social media, part 2 #socialmedia

October 29, 2010 16:20 by Tora Estep

Yesterday, I wrote about the social media training session that we had here at ASTD and described a few companies that are doing great jobs at engaging their audiences through social media. Today, I am going to talk about what I learned about using Facebook and Twitter and a bit about what we are doing inside ASTD with Yammer. (Please note that I am not covering everything; this is already a long post.)

The first lesson about using social media is that there isn’t really a “right” way to do it. The ways people use it are constantly evolving, and the platforms themselves are constantly changing. But you don’t have to keep up with every change to make it work for you and your organization.

What you do have to do is be authentic, ready to engage with people, and consistent. What people want to see when they follow an organization or “like” a company is a lot of activity with frequent updates, but they don’t want to hear canned messages; they want to hear someone’s voice. The authentic voice is the key to social engagement—people like to feel as though they have an “in” with the company they are following, that they have some sort of connection with real, live people on the other end.


Facebook is probably one of the most dominant social media sites out there. More than 500 million people are on Facebook, and it’s one of the best ways to create engagement with your audience. Why? Because Facebook is more about conversation than Twitter, which is more broadcast-oriented. Facebook allows you to connect directly with your audience by enabling you to respond to questions, to comment on what people are saying, to start discussions, to post pictures and links that your audience may find relevant, and so forth. (To be clear, Twitter does allow a lot of these things, but it’s more organic on Facebook.)

The important thing to remember when you create a Facebook Page is constant attention and interaction. Don’t just throw content on the wall and hope that people are getting it. Ask questions, try to find out what people are looking for, be a resource. And don’t just promote your own products and ideas, share what other people are doing that could be valuable to your followers. Seth Godin had a great blog post about reasons for sharing ideas. 

And once again—I am going to keep reiterating this—be real, use your own voice, and have fun. Talk to people! Do it often!


Twitter is one of those things that you don’t really get until you’ve tried it. And maybe not until you’ve tried it some more. I mean, 140 characters? Really? What can you say that’s meaningful in 140 characters? And why would you want to read it? I certainly didn’t get it at first. But I signed up for an account and messed around a little bit—and then messed around some more.

It wasn’t until my husband got stuck in Vienna, Austria, during the Eyjafjalljökull eruption back in April that I got it (and yes, I do know how to pronounce it—my father was born in Iceland). I would click on this trending topic trying to find out what was going on, what news was out there, and what people were saying about it. I started finding links to gorgeous photos of the eruption, maps of airport closures, and all kinds of other stuff (including jokes about Iceland firing off a volcano at Great Britain as revenge for the banking debacle).

Suddenly I was starting to get why this was cool. I looked at various topics that were interesting to me, like food and cooking, and found lots of chefs that I like, so I started following them. I started following my favorite newspapers, which tweet headlines of the day and I can click on links to the stories I want to read or just get an ambient awareness of what’s going on out there. I don’t have to know where to find everything that I am interested in, because a lot of it comes to me.

I also found that it was an unmediated, uncensored way to get a real sense of what real human beings are doing and saying out there (even though that’s not always great, but you have to take the bad with the good).

It’s also fun. Who doesn’t want to hear directly from their favorite celebrity from time to time? Or hear what people are saying about the new movies that are out?

Once again, there are no real rules for success when it comes to using Twitter but here are a few ideas:

  • To start, sign up for an account and start following people. Lurk. Find out what other people are doing. Click on trending topics. Search particular subjects. Just see what’s out there. You don’t really have to do anything at first—just try to get the hang of what it is and get a feel for what you can find out and what appeals to you. When you see someone do something you like, don’t be afraid to try to emulate it. If you come across posts that are interesting to you, re-tweet them. 
  • Don’t forget to check out Twitter’s own 101 guide for businesses. They have lots of tips and ideas for using Twitter to connect with your audience.
  • If you’re in an organization with multiple departments, don’t spread yourself too thin. When ASTD first started using Twitter, we sort of went crazy and started lots of Twitter accounts for different departments or for different events (using social media is definitely a trial-and-error kind of thing). The problem is that all these different accounts are hard to keep up with—and the constant attention rule is true for Twitter just as much as it is for Facebook. Also, it takes some time to build a following, so you want to try to concentrate your efforts.
  • If you want to get a conversation going about a specific event, use hashtags (#). Some hashtags to try are #astd, #L2010, #lrnchat, #elearning, #socialmedia. When you click on a hashtag in someone’s tweet, you will get a display of every post that includes that hashtag. So, for example, while Learning 2010 was going on a few days ago, I would regularly check #L2010 to get everything that people were saying about that conference. Using hashtags is also an effective to create an audience for your own tweets if you don’t already have one. If you put a particular hashtag in your tweet, your message will be read by everyone who is following that particular topic.
  • Find an application that helps you monitor your Twitter traffic. TweetDeck and HootSuite are popular applications (and they are free!).
  • Some cool ideas suggested in the training session are creating events on Twitter. For example, ASTD’s Chapter Services has bi-weekly chapter chats that are popular, and something we may try in the near future is to have a Twitterview with an ASTD Press author.

Update: In her 2009 story on Learning Circuits, Pat Galagan also talks about using Twitter for learning.


Finally, I am going to talk a minute about what ASTD is doing with Yammer as an example of things that your organization may want to try. Yammer is a social network for use within organizations. This allows all the members of an organization to be in contact with one another, but to restrict information flowing out to the general public. It works a little bit like Facebook in that you can post brief messages and people can comment on them in turn. What it does for us is connects all different parts of the organization that may not have all that much interaction typically. In our training session, our facilitators Jennifer, Anthony, and Kristen asked what we liked about it. Some of the responses included

  • sharing interesting stories, information, and links that everyone may not be aware of
  • finding out what other departments are doing
  • creating a more personal connection with people in the organization you may not interact with very often
  • recognizing others for the work that they do in a public forum
  • discussing topics of interest and getting different perspectives
  • finding specific information or getting access to specific resources (for example, someone may throw out a question like “Does anyone have a copy of this book?” and they will have an answer in no time).

For more information about social media, a sample chapter from Darin Hartley’s book has a table that lists some of the platforms that are available. You can also check out Beth Kanter’s blog about how nonprofits use social media to create change; CMSWire’s website, which aggregates articles on social media; a variety of social media groups on LinkedIn, or just do a search for social media on Google and see what’s interesting.

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