With the 2016 New Year, you resolved to build your Professional Learning Network–finally, to stop living in the 20th century where your world revolved around a sticks-and-bricks building, a landline phone, and the mailbox. You joined all the big social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, blogging–just for starters). The plan was to connect with the movers and shakers in education, learn from them, and have them as a resource for those times you needed help on a lesson plan or to select the perfect webtool for a project. You committed hours to it, and then days, eager to make this work because everyone you know talks about how much they learn from social media. Now, six months into it, you know too much about your followers’ lunch plans and almost nothing about their educational pedagogy. You’re frustrated, angry, and ready to give this whole failed effort up.
Without knowing anything about you other than that paragraph above, I’m going to predict that you didn’t manage your social media, got intimidated by the words ‘friend’ and ‘defriend’, and quickly became overwhelmed by the volume of information that flooded your inbox every day. The purpose of a social media-based PLN is to extend your reach beyond the narrow confines of the bubble you live in, but that isn’t what happened for you.
Before you unplug from the virtual world, try these seven steps. They’ll clean up the clutter, smooth out the wrinkles, and put you back in the driver’s seat of your online life:
Keep your stream pure
Only accept or seek friends who are in your professional area of interest. This is less like a speed-dating party and more like a job application. When you come across a promising educator, visit their social media, pass judgment on whether they fit your needs, and then make a decision.
Don’t mix personal and professional
It’s tempting to share personal backstory with this new group of ‘friends’, but remember: A virtual world ‘friend’ has little in common with the real-world type who you go out of your way to cherish. These virtual folks arrived at your Twitter stream or Facebook page or blog because of an interesting professional teacherly tidbit you shared and they’re hoping you offer more of. Don’t disappoint them by talking about last night’s failed dinner or your expensive car repairs.
When you get questions or comments on social media, answer them. Assume that your visitors have no more time than you do, so offer responses that are brief, polite, and engaging while being focused and direct. But always answer. If they took the time to comment on your posts, you can take the time to answer.
Keep your lights on
Post to your social media at least a few times a week. Let people know you’re active, busy, and engaged in the conversations around you. Once a week–especially on FB or Twitter–isn’t enough. It’s barely enough on a blog. Notice the pace you like from people you follow–that’s probably the right pace for you.
Keep it short
Tweets must be short. Facebook should rarely exceed a few sentences. Blogs, though–too many people think they should write novels. Do you want to sit and read 1500 words from someone you barely know on a topic you are quite likely only tangentially interested in? Your readers don’t want to either. Keep your blog posts 500-1000 words (this one’s just under a thousand)–what you can read over a cup of coffee. Include an enticing heading and summative subtitles. Let readers know when they visit you, they can learn a lot for a tiny investment of time.
Text is only one way people learn. Just as effective is a blend of text and pictures. In your blogs, always include at least one picture, maybe more. In Facebook and Twitter posts, a picture is proven to attract more attention than the text messages. It takes a little more time, but is a much better way to reach the people you want to include in your PLN.
Keep your profile up-to-date
All of your social media platforms should include your professional profile. Include three pieces: 1) your picture, 2) a one-paragraph summary of how you’re involved in education, and 3) how to reach you (not your phone number; just social media handles and email address). You don’t need to include where you live, your mate’s name, or your children. In fact, it’s probably a better idea to skip those. The less you post of a personal nature on the vast wildness of the Internet, the better. Once you’ve created this profile, copy it to all of your social media locations. Every few months, check to be sure it’s still up to date.
One final warning: Don’t feel like you have to do all six of these at once. Pick one that resonates with you. Take your time to implement it. When it’s running smoothly, move on to the next. Let me know how it’s going. I’d like to add you to my PLN.
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.