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  • 1. Eternal sunshine for spotless minds: Seven warnings for networking onlineKatherine Watson, Coastline Community College, Fountain Valley, CA 92708Bizarrissime@gmail.comBorn into an information-abundant world enhanced by access to multiple forms of media, morethan half of today’s college students take regular advantage of electronic access to “news”,whether personal, public, or private, using audio, video, or text (Dean, 2012). Indeed, in anepoch when the university has become not so much a marketplace of intellectual, professorialor institutionally-generated ideas as it has become a sunny, “learner-driven bazaar” (Squires,2007), the school that would remain not only “relevant” but societally integrated is expected toretain both an “ordinary online presence” and a “socially mediated” one, with updated, efficientlydelivered news and data made available continuously via multiple media.Thus, it has become clear not only that the lion’s share of the world’s college undergraduatesseeking degrees in the twenty-first century have grown up in a multimedia-mediated world. Aswell, the new, learner-driven “marketplace” of education, these students typically demand theflexibility, self-pacedness, and ease of access defining what they see as the most convenient,online curriculum. Indeed, millions of new acolytes have been joining academe exclusivelyonline since the early 2000’s, particularly in Asia and Africa (Sawahel, 2013), where recentlyimproved fiber-optic connectivity and readily available “self-paced e-learning products” haverendered learning not only possible in places where it never was in the past but practicable andpractical in ways unheard-of before 2005.But many newly connected individuals, whether they be self-directed students or academicofficials, still fail to realize how important or enduring are the electronic communications thatsupport the online learning process. In particular, their increasing exploitation of such “socialmedia” as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, to name a few, has led tomisunderstanding and confusion in many cases, and to embarrassment and scandal in others.Indeed, the Florida (Usa)-based Poynter Institute suggests that anyone who would post anyinformation online in any format or through any medium (e.g., audio, video, text) consider sevenreminders before tapping the “enter” key:1. Assume that everything is public and perennial2. Keep things professional, with a purpose3. Give information rather than simple reactions4. Avoid flooding the network5. Keep things concise6. Acknowledge sources/resources7. Interact in a timely way1
  • 2. These seven points should be considered before, during, and after information is posted,advises Poynter. Each point comprises communicative impact, and each connects, bothfiguratively and literally, to the next.Assume that everything is public and perennial: What’s out there stays out thereAlthough popular, if not universal, wisdom holds that one can find out just about anything aboutjust about anything in the wide-open world of online information transmission, many users ofsuch electronic social networks as Twitter and Facebook retain “a level of comfort” with theseservices and their so-called “privacy settings” that facilitates---in fact, encourages---a belief thatall communication that takes place in these realms is at once private, harmlessly entertaining,secure, and immutable to changes that may be fabricated by others. As Fincham (2012) haswritten for The Poynter Institute, however, users must beware: Social media postings arefrequently evaluated or criticized in ways not necessarily planned by their posters. Notably,Weddle (2013) reports, “…over a third of HR professionals have visited social networking sitesto look for information about employment candidates. Personal info and videos posted onFacebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other sites are now considered fair game when employersconduct ‘background checks’ on job seekers.” Weddle advises social networkers to “representthemselves well”, attending to the public image being conveyed. Even the seemingly short,insignificant posting comprises a tool for outsider evaluation. And Fincham (2012) counselstwenty-first century educational institutions to remind students as well as staff that, while“(Some people) think it doesn’t matter what they say, we need to change that mindset…Twitter(and Facebook) are a permanent public record (and) will be around a long, long time.”Fincham (2012) cites new-media journalism professors as having become particularlyassiduous in promoting public-minded “future-thinking”; journalistic social networkers inparticular are invited to imagine a world ten years from now: “Will this get me in trouble?” theymust ask themselves. And if there is any question, then they should keep their thoughts tothemselves. Indeed, the wait-awhile test might well be applied to all social media postings, eventhough posters may think that they absolutely must comment instantly on things; often, even ashort wait can be educational, enlightening, perspective-giving.Waiting a moment before clicking “enter” can also help to warn social media users of a too-infrequently considered distinction about keeping not-to-be-made-public thoughts to themselvesin a twenty-first century world where boundaries of time and space scarcely exist. That is, usersmust remain alert that the divergence separating public from private is not the same one thatdistinguishes anonymous v. recognized. Appreciation of the former differentiation permitspeople to yammer loudly on cellphones in public even while retaining “private” conversationalintimacy. Attention to the latter, for its part, calls for awareness of one’s audience; the user ofsocial media must remain conscious that receivers of his message may not share his sense ofhumor, his point of view, his notion of what is significant or insignificant, casual or calculated.Keep things professional, with a purpose: Remember whyIt is seductive to retain the notion that electronic social media are indeed just casual, harmless,and social. Fincham (2012) reports that even in many schools of journalism in the United States,2
  • 3. students still “only see (the network) as a private messaging service to use with close friends”.But in an era when, as Weddle (2013) notes, employers have come to exploit electronic socialmedia as extra, enlightening, modern-era tools for ordinating innumerable applicants, studentsshould keep in mind that, as Fincham (2012) reports from the world of professional journalism,Twitter and Facebook accounts “…will generally be seen as reflective …”. Thus, we arecounseled to bear in mind not only that everything is public online but also that subtle, oftenunstated societal differences still exist not only between the aforementioned public and private,anonymous and recognized but between the formal v. informal and the professional v.unprofessional. Indeed, Fincham (2012) continues, social networkers must recognize that suchservices as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram can cast new light upon themselves;users must remain on top of their multimedia (inter)activity so as to “add value” and not detractfrom the image they wish to retain or broadcast professionally. As Thornton (2012) states, “It isso not about what you had for lunch or what color your nails are…” Users of social networksmust remember that the networks themselves use no culling tools; the banal and the vital maylie side-by-side, with neither accorded more or less social media ‘weight’”. Like a new tattoo, theimage that one exhibits online has no background/foreground, nor any really effective way ofde-imaging an image.Fincham (2012) points out that as more and more professionals take advantage of electronicmedia, it is becoming increasingly important for users to attend to something beyond the simpleimage or to the collage of images comprising Facebook or Twitter histories; ethics must beconsidered, too. Each post must be evaluated before it is dispatched, not only for its adherenceto principles of humane behavior but for its effect upon outsiders’ trust. As the StanfordEncyclopedia of Philosophy has noted, “social networking ethics” in the twenty-first centuryconcern “…virtually every type of significant social bond or role: friend-to-friend, parent-to-child,co-worker-to co-worker, employer-to-employee, teacher-to-student, neighbor-to-neighbor, seller-to-buyer, and doctor-to-patient, to offer just a partial list” (2013). Just as journalism professionalsadvise young writers to imagine a world ten years on as a test of whether or not a particularposting is a good idea in a socially mediated world, so should anyone who would tap “enter”consider the posting from the viewer’s or reader’s perspective. The “visitor from another planet”test might well be applied in the case of social media ethics: Imagine yourself as such a visitorreading/viewing your Facebook postings, your Twitter tweets, or the like, and then decide if youshould really click “enter”…or not.And finally, it must be recalled that retaining a professional tone is important in allcommunication, whether in formal writing, in speaking, or online. As Weddle (2013) suggests,those social networkers who would respond to others’ postings should “follow the lead” of theoriginal poster before making their own remarks, as long as the “lead” in question meritsfollowing. In short, as has been advocated earlier, social media users would do well to wait andweigh possible consequences before posting their remarks too quickly or reactively.Give information, rather than simple reactions: Remember when & whatThe speed and the lively nature of multimedia communication can easily trigger rapid, oftenunthinking, responses that may be categorized as automatic, trigger-happy reactions more than3
  • 4. as well-considered, communication-rich replies. Too, just as social media messaging tone ismost effective and least offensive when it remains professional, so must the message-makerremind himself that the tone of a reaction tends more often than not to be self-interested,subjective, rather than constructively objective. That is, for instance, the outsider---or, indeed,the aforementioned visitor from another planet-- who would read the reactive post will find outmore about the person doing the posting than he will discover about the matter that issupposedly under discussion. The social networker who would take professional, usefuladvantage of the systems would do well to retain as objective an air as possible in his postings,using concrete, specific terms, unbiased language, and genuine information, data, or facts.Opinions, if they are posted, should be marked as such. And naturally, as the Oxford UniversityPress Social Networking Guidelines state, networkers should “stick to what (they) know whenwriting”, avoiding posts that may misrepresent or give an inaccurate image, especially in theliteral sense.Twitter and Facebook provide easy systems for sharing images or links, videos or audio. Andas Newell (2013) states, “We can post everything that comes down the pike, and so we do.”But, Newell continues, “The trick is to post the relevant, but not the annoying.” But, as Fincham(2012) adds, remarks, photos, and URLs are really useful “only when they add value to anonline identity”, rather than serving as wordless, simplistic reactions or elliptical rejoinders. Andas the Huffington Post has pointed out, Twitter and Instagram seem even to invite hashtags,those “#” symbols preceding what someone has decided are single-word labels for “trendingtopics”; the hashtag user’s goal is to lead others into a (usually-Twitter-based) search ofcommentary on the topic in question. But with no accepted rules on how to use them, hashtagscan be attached to things that posters may wish to call their own but that may not exactly betheir own, just to attract more comments to their postings and grow their groups of “followers.”Kelly (2012) is one of numerous multiple-media mavens to warn, however, that using three ormore such tags in a 140-character post tends to be frustrating, distracting, and frequentlycounter-productive, referring the reader more often away from the original posting that into it.“Clues” must be given within the tweet or social media posting, suggests Fincham (2012), sothat readers will be able to know the gist of the post without having to click or scroll. Too,Fincham (2012) adds, each social medium must be recognized “as part of a bigger picture”; themedia altogether can have “a volumizing effect”, she notes, wherein the very quantity of datacan influence, or even determine, evaluation of its information-bearing quality.Indeed, no matter the quantity, the effective, high-quality information transmission must alwaysbe accurate and clear, as Gates (2011) summarizes, if it is to retain value. “Detailed,appropriate data” and “clear focus” must remain the bywords of communication, so that socialmessaging does not become “just talk” or network noise. Often, re-reading one’s prospectiveposting can be revealing; before tapping the “enter” key, one would do well to proofread, evenset aside a draft of the post before putting it online for everyone on the network to see.Avoid “flooding” the network: Enough is enoughNetwork flooding can come in more than one way, but it is always a frustration to fellow Internetusers. That is, as has been noted, neither Facebook nor Twitter is awfully excellent at4
  • 5. separating the wheat from the chaff, the significant postings from the trivial. Too, excessiveremarks on a subject can give that subject a seeming significance that it does not have inreality, while a more important matter has been washed over. In fact, as Fincham (2012) warns,too many postings on a particular subject by a particular individual can “make their regularfollowers feel spammed.” Newell (2013) warns: “None of us want one (other) personmonopolizing the Twitter feeds”, adding: “If anyone posts too many times…bam! They’ll bedropped…effectively silenc(ed) forever.”Indeed, as Newell (2013) suggests, users of the vastly and continuously expanding socialnetwork would do well to “find the sweet spot between abandonment and inundation”,commenting pertinently, neither ad nauseam nor ad infinitum upon postings made by othersand labeling their own postings meaningfully, rather than with cutesy, or in-group, or otherwiseobtuse tags. Fincham (2012) suggests that users of Twitter, in particular, sometimes seem toimagine that this social network comprises a combination of a storytelling tool and a globalinformation network ripe for everyone’s interactive commentary. She suggests that users whoplan to be tweeting a lot during a particular period of time would do well to “give followers aheads-up with an introductory tweet, (making them) ready for a lot of tweets from you in a shortperiod.” In such a manner, Fincham (2012) suggests, users’ “friends” or “followers” can choosefor themselves whether or not to attend to a temporary flood.Keep things concise: When in doubt, leave it outAlong with avoiding a network flood, Weddle (2013) notes as well that baffling with bull is neveras successful as is wowing with wisdom, even in social media: “Multi-syllable words andcomplex thoughts don’t influence as much as clearly expressed ….simple, accurate(presentations).” Concision also means clarity, with words and phrases selected carefully so asnot to be misunderstood by anyone not in the message-sender’s cognoscenti; ambiguity willusually annoy. As Oxford University Press Social Media Guidelines (2013) point out, the use ofindustry jargon or of social media/tech lingo is not beneficial to understanding, but neither is itsmart to attempt to write/comment about areas beyond one’s expertise. Happily, Twitter’s 140-character limit does help posters to keep things concise, but the service’s “extremely highsignal-to-noise ratio”, as the Oxford University Press (OUP) calls it, tends to make posters feelthey must cry out or repeat themselves, so as to attract interest. OUP suggests no more thanthree to five tweets per day, so that the system will retain its utility as an effective broadcasting,sharing, or advertising tool. And Fincham (2012) adds that the Twitter design of 140-characters-or-fewer offers users an excellent opportunity to train themselves in how to write short and well.Tenore (2012) calls Twitter “a powerful tool for writers…an electronic editor that forces us to finda focus and make every word count—a constant reminder that it’s often harder to write shortthan it is to write long.” Tweets can show that short writing can demonstrate depth, significantweight, and strong writing in a short space, Tenore (2012) observes, giving pithy immediacy aswell as insightful outlooks on the work of others.Acknowledge sources and resources: Give credit where/when it is dueSocial networkers can be so eager to get their own words out, their own insights into thenetwork, that they neglect to acknowledge what triggered these words. Happily for users of5
  • 6. Twitter, the re-tweet exists, automatically making reference to a previous remark, and Facebookposts discussion threads. But many users seem to feel, as Fincham (2012) notes, that they canshow their creativity or novel modes of thought by pretending to be the first to post something,when in fact they are neither the first nor the very interesting. As Oxford University Press SocialMedia Guidelines (2013) suggest, “active engagement” with social media will make a goodimpression only when rules of “Netiquette”, social etiquette online, are attended to; users mustacknowledge sources and give credit where it is due.In “How Not to Steal People’s Content on the Web”, Endon (2012) observes, most social mediausers are eager to see that their material has been commented upon, re-tweeted, or otherwisenoticed by others. The problem arises, however, when users fail to notice whether or not“copying is okay”; Endon warns that those who fail to notice such things may---and should—“…receive threatening E-mails or letters and even demand that you pay them for using (theircontent.” Endon offers advice on how to cite content in blog posts, on Twitter, and on Facebook,LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest, with examples and citations of his own. Notably, he includesthrough his blog posting on this matter certain pertinent questions, such as “Are you takingsteps to ensure you give credit where credit’s due with shared content on the internet?” and“Like what you’ve read? Click here to subscribe…”. As Oxford University Press Social MediaGuidelines (2013) assert and reassert, copyrighted material must never be posted as one’sown, and even in blogs and YouTube postings, copyrights can often be found. Indeed, andonce again, as has been suggested in other areas of this present discussion of the uses andutility of various social media, putting oneself in the position of the audience will prove valuablehere; asking oneself how it might feel to see one’s carefully chosen words, one’s well-conceivednotion or layout, picture or commentary, set forth on another person’s homepage as if itoriginated with that person can prove more than frustrating.Interact in a timely way: Do it nowIn an era of speed and concision, not to mention dissolution of ordinary time zones, it is not onlyinventions and innovations, but the effective exploitation of those novelties, that is expected. AsKlein (2010) has suggested, most of what has generated the touted boom of “social networking”has been “1% inspiration and 99% timeliness.” In like manner, those who exploit suchnetworking have grown up in an epoch of instantaneity, where waiting is not an option; updatesto Facebook and Twitter, message threads, tags, and links happen each within less than aminute of the last, with no attention to time zone. As Gates (2011) suggests, “week-old, evenday-old information, no matter how quickly distributed, is still old information.” And as Newell(2013) reminds, although quality, timeliness, and volume may be the evaluable measures ofblogging or other electronic communications, it is timeliness alone that remains the nec plusultra of the social network. No one likes to have to wait, time seems limitless online, and, asTenore (2012) observes, one of the particular advantages of Twitter in its recent common useas a tool for delivering world news is its ability to transmit quick, present-tense, especially timelyimmediacy. Too, access to Twitter and other social media via portable communication devicescan take advantage both of the “always-on” nature of electronic updating mechanisms and ofthe ease of transmitting graphics, video, audio, and text simultaneously. “Own the media now;the minute you stop telling your story, the media tells it for you”, advise Chang et al. (2012).6
  • 7. Of course, the need for timeliness should be weighed against the aforementioned warning not toenter electronic information into the network in a simple signal-response, reactive way. It is notin military operations alone that “the first report is always wrong,” as Bratt, et al. (2010) state,adding that the second report is often frequently wrong, too. Thus, just as the social media useris advised to find the sweet spot between abandonment and inundation with respect to qualityand quantity of his postings, so should he seek the temporal sweet spot lying between too-quickand too-slow.Conclusions and consequencesThe Poynter Institute’s Kelly Fincham (2012) warns that one of most problematic features ofsocial networking, apart from its ease of use and convenience, is its tendency to be considered,particularly among young people, as fleeting, not serious, not really “significant” or “legitimate.”Alternatively, universities have accepted, almost begrudgingly, that they “have no choice but tointegrate these platforms into their marketing and communications plans” (Klamm, 2011).Indeed, Klamm (2011) points out, “a recent study showed that an astounding 100% ofuniversities have a social media presence.” And so it appears, although “the 18-to-24-year oldcollege student demographic”, as Klamm calls it, would use social media regularly for quick,not-always-significant minor acquaintance-connecting, the older, college-educatedadministrative demographic has come to take these media with major seriousness.Unfortunately, institutional staff seems more often than not to have failed to understand what todo and how to do it online, as Pidaparthy (2011) reports. Pidaparthy describes institutionalWebsites with outdated faculty and staff lists, curricula that are not offered, and images notrepresentative of the schools in question. Thus, it seems, although institutions may “have anonline presence”, that presence is not always as effective or as interactive as it might be.Tilsley (2012) notes survey results indicating that more than three quarters of current andprospective students “check their Facebook at least once a day”, and more than two thirds ofthose surveyed “use social media to research colleges”, but these are probably not sufficientreasons for institutions simply to “have a social media presence” alongside an online one.Rather, Tilsley notes, it is what the entire institutional staff does with social media that reallycounts, not just to prospective students but to currently enrolled ones and to the staff that wouldinteract with them. Indeed, as Pidaparthy (2011) reports, “…a robust social media campaign,along with such creative features as student-run blogs, can lure…while a stale online presencecan turn off.” In fact, Pidaparthy adds, the organization Student has created aranking of the “Top 100 Social Media Colleges” to classify institutions “on how well they usesocial media.” But even though the Pidaparthy and Tilsley pieces quote students as saying thatthey “like” or even prefer to get information about colleges through social media, stating thatsuch information is easier to access, faster to peruse, and even “more reliable” than might bethe traditional slick marketing tools of the past, these same institutions are, for the most part,using the social media only for advertising themselves (Osborne, 2012).With all the interest in new media and institutions’ most effective exploitation of them, it might beasked if the communication/media tail is wagging the communicated/information dog. Using analternative metaphor, Pidaparthy points out that once an institution does decide to join7
  • 8. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, or another social medium, that institution is opening avery active can of worms whose worms must be tended to regularly. “Students will make ajudgment about a university if it is not current and responsive online. When their post doesn’tget answered, they aren’t interested anymore.” Socially mediated attention spans arenotoriously ephemeral. It therefore appears that, in the twenty-first century as in epochs past,we recognize often without realizing it that structural changes are taking place in our affairs thathave been provoked by new modes of message transmission. McLuhan’s 1964 observationsthat new media can play with the conceptions of speed and time so that a world of sequenceand connections can be transformed into a universe of creative configuration and structure areindeed being re-echoed more than five decades on. .ReferencesBratt, E., Domeshek, E., and Durlach, P. (2010). The first report is always wrong, and other ill-defined aspects of the army battle captain domain. Stanford University, Stottler-HenkeAssociates, Inc. Retrieved, J. and Oliver, M. (2009). Media effects: Advances in theory and research. New York:Taylor and Francis.Chang, H., Dailide, A., and Walker, S. (2012). Communication in crisis: Social media andemergency communication in the Green River Valley. Retrieved, J. (2012). Smartphone user survey: A glimpse into the mobile lives of college students.Retrieved, C. (2012). How to not steal people’s content on the Web. HubSpot’s Marketing Blog.Retrieved, K. (2012). What every young journalist should know about using Twitter., J. (2011). There’s talk, and there’s communication. Govloop. Retrieved, J. (2013). What skills do journalists need to build online communities? Post (2013). Hate-filled hashtag reveals new behavior.
  • 9. Kelly, K. (2012). Don’t use too many hashtags. Retrieved, D. (2011). 6 best practices for universities embracing social media. Mashable.Retrieved, E. (2010). Facebook: Where genius was 1% inspiration, 99% timeliness. In TheWashington Post, Post Business. 9 October. Retrieved, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. London: Routledge.Newell, G. (2013). Social networking --- The thin line between informing and annoying. 602Communications. Retrieved, C. (2012). How do universities use social media successfully? ZDNet. Retrieved University Press. (2013). Marketing and social media. Retrieved University Press (2013). Social media guidelines. Retrieved, U. (2011). How colleges use and misuse social media. CNN Special Reports.Retrieved, W. (2013). Africa is the most dynamic e-learning market on the planet. UniversityWorld News. Retrieved, L. (2007). College students in multimedia relationships: Choosing, using, and fusingmultimedia technologies. Retrieved Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013)., M. (2012). What Twitter teaches us about writing short & well. Retrieved, A. (2012). Social networks and college choices. Inside Higher Ed. 24 September.Retrieved
  • 10. Weddle, P. (20013). Three simple rules for E-mailing potential employers. CareerCast.Retrieved media best practices, summarized from Oxford University PressHere are a few things to bear in mind as you develop your presence on the social web.DOs DONTs• Showcase thought/ideas leadership.• Post frequent updates: A good rule ofthumb is weekly+ forblogs/YouTube/Facebook, and daily+for Twitter.• Be friendly and casual: Social posts willappear among posts from users friendsand family.• Be human: Have a (consistent & clear)perspective and voice.• Be concise: Get to the point beforelosing readers interest.• Be timely: Respond to comments andqueries as soon as possible, but in awell-considered way; avoid simply“reacting”.• Use social etiquette: acknowledgesources and give credit where its duevia. attributions, retweets, and so on;follow others and they may follow you!• Stick to what you know: when writing ablog article, stick to your areas ofexpertise.• Use overly familiar or potentially offensive language.• Use industry or social media/tech jargon.• Sound like a different person on differentchannels/media.• Be overly promotional of yourself or your work.• Post too frequently; this can be seen as spammingor ‘flooding’.• Write about topics outside your area of expertise.• Misrepresent yourself or your qualifications.• Post copyrighted material without proper clearanceand attribution.• Underestimate the resources—in terms of contentand time—required to launch and maintain a socialpresence over the long term. Don’t forget: (a) toupdate; (b) to realize that first reports are generallywrong/inaccurate/incomplete10