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 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 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.
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,
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!