Thursday, March 5, 2009

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

As the next generation continues to acclimate to the age of the Internet and harness its power, there is a steady stream of new tools, new products, new websites, new blogs that just might be the next big thing. They also just might be another distraction taking us further from those things that really are most important.

So where's the happy medium? And how do we find harmony between the Outdoor Program of the Boy Scouts of America, and our increasingly computer savvy young men in the Scouting programs?

There are pages that could be written on that subject, but today I wanted to address social-networking sites specifically and discuss some of their benefits and potential pitfalls.

The new powerhouse on the block appears to be Twitter, but there are other useful networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to take advantage of as well. Each of them are really quite different, and I'll discuss some of those strengths as well. The fact that the Boy Scouts of America has taken note of these tools and now has links to their profiles on these social sites from their home page and online store lends further credibility to the grassroots online scouting movement.

Here's some basic information and tips about each of them (in alphabetical order) and how I use them for Scouting:

Facebook:

Facebook is really about connecting with friends and family. It allows you to create different security groups to control access to the content you publish, and easily network and connect with peers anywhere from High School, to the office, college alumni associations, and special interest groups.

I've encountered a few people in other social network sites that I have "friended" on Facebook, but primarily use it for people that I have met in real life.

LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is very similar to FaceBook, but is directed to more professional networking where you can post your profile similar to a resume, get professional endorsements, interact with various professional and corporate associations.

I've found LinkedIn to be a bit more helpful than FaceBook for scouting networking and have even found groups for Wood Badge Alumni, and even my own Wood Badge Patrol, the Good 'Ol Antelope!

Similar to FaceBook, LinkedIn is more about networking with people you know, and meeting new people with similar interests.

Twitter:

Now Twitter. I'll admit I wasn't an early adopter, but I'm certainly a convert! I have staked claims on various parts of the Internet and have blogged at Blogspot, LiveJournal, and several others. I have a Plurk.com account, but admit I rarely use it. Twitter on the other hand is my latest tap into the Internet pipe of information - especially for all things scouting.

In just a few weeks I've garnered over 500 followers, and more importantly located more than 1,500+ people that in most cases have something to do with scouting. And that's just with this identity. I actually maintain a second - admittedly less beloved account - for random information and politics. With that much chatter - how can one possibly keep up? I'll admit it's not easy, and I certainly don't claim to have it down. But with tools like Twhirl and TweetDeck you can sort and classify this barrage of information and extract out the information you want.

For the most part I only read messages that are directed to me (using the "@" symbol like: @latterday_scout in Twitter-speak), Direct messages, and messages using the key words BSA or Scout. This allows me to sort through thousands of messages very quickly and dig out just that content I'm looking for, as well as share (or Retweet! in the vernacular) the content I think my followers and friends will find useful.

When it comes to scouting, Twitter is by far the most useful online tool I've found for networking, making scouting friends, and learning more about scouting. In a very short amount of time I've found new friends, picked up fundraising and program tips, been pointed to useful scouting resources I was previously unaware of, and ultimately had exposed to me a wealth of scouting news that is beneficial to me, and the scouts I lead.

Twitter also lets me share my experience and insight, and update more people when I create new blog entries and the like. It's also growing into a place where my Troop can collaborate and go for quick up to date information and I've already created an account for my Troop so we have our name reserved when we mature our communications plans to that point.

There are certainly downsides to Twitter, like those who disparage scouting, or the spammers, marketers, and porn stars that follow everyone they can to gain credibility. But like any beautiful garden it just takes some careful pruning and once you've started building your Twitter network - you'll find it a powerful resource for scouting or your hobby/platform of choice!

Feel free to comment with any useful Twitter resources, questions, or other social net-scouting subjects. I hope this is useful to you!

Yours in Scouting Service,

Latter-day Scout
Twitter Button from twitbuttons.com

Some Additional Twitter Resources
Twitter "follow me" badges:
Search "Hashtags" # and see what's happening in specific communities or subjects on Twitter. Also does trending of hot topics
Search Twitter for keywords or subjects:
Twitter Grader Grades your Twitter identity and helps you find the "twitter elite"
Nearbytweets lets you find tweeters in your local area and search by topic!

8 comments:

Nick Wood said...

I find all this stuff is great for knowing what is going on in the world. I wouldn't know half of what I do now about the BSA if it weren't for blogs and now Twitter.
One thing we must bear in mind is if we are seen on a social networking site, for example, by our Scouts etc. we must remember we are 'on public display' and behave accordingly. We as Leaders have a responsibility to act properly and as we would when we are on line as we would when we are at meetings, camps etc.
The Scout Association in the UK produce and interesting fact sheet which gives some good advice on how to behave online - http://tinyurl.com/atwa6b

johnscout said...

I've found Twitter an excellent resource for all sorts of distractions, including fellow Scouters. I use twhirl (http://www.twhirl.org/ note spelling) on coffee breaks during the work day.

Our Troop started a Facebook page recently to try to reach out to Scouts who don't seem to use email much anymore. So far it's good for the older Scouts--I believe they have an age limit, and the 5th graders really don't care much either way. This is where the Mom-pony-express comes into play!

Latter-day Scout said...

That's a great fact sheet Nick, thanks for sharing! I plan a future post about exactly that kind of thing. I don't know if the BSA has something like that already or not.

Johnscout - I agree, I use Twhirl (which I misspelled in my article and have now corrected) to manage my entries as well. It works best for me of all the clients I've tried so far!

Dave said...

I expect the 2010 National Jamboree to follow the same rules as 2005 regarding electronic devices, but I'd love the ability to Twitter while there. Our Jambo troop has been discussing how a "Web Scribe" could be responsible for twitpicing photos and tweeting while there.

Either way, Twitter offers a layer unlike Facebook or LinkedIn. When properly filtering and searching Twitter, you have the context of a conversation while Facebook and LinkedIn is more scattered content.

Brian Buchanan said...

Great post! BSA DOES have something kinda like a social network. MyScouting @ Scouting.org is a social network just for Scouts and Scouters. Unfortunately, it's not something that is widely promoted, nor is it as easy to use as any other major social networking site. The main problem I find with getting Scout-aged youth to join a new social network is that they don't use social networking like adults do. They want to go where their friends are, and most of them I've talked to see no reason to use more than one social networking site.
I get what Nick Wood is saying about us 'being on display,' but if we're teaching our youth how to behave like responsible members of a community, how can we then censor their views on the internet? Why are we trying to hide our youth?
When it comes to BSA using Twitter now, I really think they're missing the whole boat. They're steadily building followers, but they aren't following anyone. They really need to latch onto the good volunteers out there on Twitter and Facebook and LinkdIn and start exchanging ideas!

YIS,
Brian

Latter-day Scout said...

Thanks for your comments Brian. I've tried the MyScouting network. It's clunky, scarcely used, and difficult to find people or information. I think the BSA's resources would be better spent integrating with existing technology rather than reinventing the wheel.


not to put words in his mouth, but what I think Nick was saying is that WE as scouters and leaders need to properly represent ourselves online. If we teach the scouts one thing, and do yet another, that's sending the wrong message. I don't think it's about hiding our youth, it's about protecting them. There is a difference. I've seen many adults with content on their facebook accounts or whatnot that is not suitable for youth. And if you're using that tool to communicate with your scouts, you need to be mindful and selective of the content you display. We also need to beware of identifying information of our youth online, so they are not targeted by predators.

The Internet is an amazing resource, but can also be a treacherous place, or worse if the resource is misused.

Latter-day Scout said...

Good comments Dave. I likewise would love to be able to liveblog the events and keep parents informed. From the sound of it, it's not so much about policy as it is about the fact that it's a military base and doesn't have cell towers etc. It would be nice if they'd offer a wireless LAN connection or something for leaders, but also understand they don't want everyone plugged in. Will have to see about getting a cellular or satelite card for my laptop for just the month of the trip or something..

Nick Wood said...

Latter-day Scout, you are right, and aren't putting words in my mouth!
Sorry, if I wasn't too clear Brian, what I was saying is that we must make sure we 'practise what we preach' as Leaders when on line. We cannot, for example, have a Facebook account and have our Scouts as friends and then engage in using more 'choice' language etc. Even in our emails to Scouts we must remain professional.

For the SA's staged IT badge http://tinyurl.com/ctstb5 one of the criteria is about using the internet safely. There is nothing about censorship, but just keeping safe online.

Hope that clarifies what I was talking about!

Nick