Cracking the social media network

I just noticed that Mashable has declared 30 June as Social Media Day, and asked people to write in and contribute their stories of how social media has changed their life. Their request is a timely one for me, as I had started drafting this post on the same issue a couple of days ago.

Since MW2011 my use of social media has changed a lot. Prior to the conference, my interactions on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter had primarily been personal. Although I had some sense that there were online conversations happening in museum tech, I really didn’t know how to crack into the networks (this is something that Perian Sully talked wrote an excellent post about a few of months ago). I wasn’t sure what contribution of value I could make to the field, nor how to just start participating in a conversation that I hadn’t been invited into. In some ways, it felt like eavesdropping on a conversation at a party, and trying to interject… almost rude, and possibly unwelcome.

But at the conference I started to tap into the Twitter channels, and from there I started to feel a bit more confident entering into conversations in the blogosphere and so on. It turns out that it wasn’t so scary starting to join the conversation (even writing my own blog!)… most people are welcoming (even if they are still unlikely to interact closely with too many more than Dunbar’s number) and are often happy to interact. And thanks to overcoming those fears of joining in, I have now really started to tap into some great online networks – networks filled with great ideas and opportunities.

As a result of these new networks, I now read piles of interesting articles that I probably wouldn’t otherwise come across; I’m hoping to attending events like THATCamp Canberra and MCN2011; I’ve been participating in great cross-blog conversations (and here); and I’ve been meeting excellent new people – and even Skyping with museum techs across the other side of the planet. And I don’t doubt that in a couple of years time when I finish the PhD, and am looking for work, it is through these online networks that I will likely find it. It’s clear that in only a few months, social media has started to change my career landscape and helped me connect with like-minded souls from all over the world.

Despite this, I know a lot of people who work in museums – and other industries – who remain disconnected from the online social networks in their fields. For some, it is because they simply aren’t online, or aren’t looking for networks in the right places. For others, it is that they haven’t realised how beneficial such networks can be. And of course, there are people like me who know that the networks exist, but are uncertain how to tap into the opportunities or join the conversations.

But if you can locate those networks, they are definitely worth joining (you could start by commenting on my blog if you want). You might just find someone who’s passionate about the same things you are. And then another. And another…

In the meantime, if you are just starting out in museum tech or digital heritage and want to find out a bit more about the online community, Sheila Brennan’s Getting to know DH if you work in cultural heritage is a great starting place.