Thursday, May 24, 2012

May long shenanigans with the girls!

Hot on the heels of wrapping my second MACT spring institute came another annual tradition in my life - May long weekend with "the girls".

Context for those new to my blog, each May long I get together with my younger sister and two other girls as we all used to be English teachers in South Korea. We each take turns hosting a May long weekend and this year it was my turn.

True to form there was a lot of laughter over the weekend. We all try to stay in touch pretty regularly but between work, school, kids, families and distance it isn't always easy to get the four of us together.

Highlights from this year include: the never-ending marathon of Criminal Minds (so soothing for my school frazzled brain), people watching along Whyte Avenue and wardrobe malfunctions at Cook County Saloon (not us thankfully).

Thank you always Mel, Kelly and Meg for traveling and for making the weekend fun. Next year it's back to Saskatchewan!

Monday, May 21, 2012

And then it was over (MACT 2012)

We all knew it was going to happen sooner or later but this year it just seemed to happen sooner. After three weeks of intense highs, lows, laughter, tears, thought provoking conversations, a-ha moments and plenty of wine and beer, MACT spring institute ended.

Thank you Ann Curry and Kate Milberry for sharing your expertise, stories and advice on research and social networking - you made the three weeks so amazing. Thank you to each and every one of my classmates - you have made the experience so much fun along the way and I count you all as my family now.

Congratulations to all of the 2011 cohort as we take off for the summer and get re-energized to tackle our final projects in the fall. To cohort 2012 we wish you luck and I for one look forward to seeing you again next spring to discuss your research posters with you!

** Special thank you to Greg for the fabulous photos taken at Yellowhead Brewery on Friday.

My research and life for the next year
Anonymous MACT 2011
Cohort 2011 - miss you already!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Can social media spark and maintain the next revolution?

In his article Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, Malcolm Gladwell probes the emergence of Twitter and Facebook as tools to mobilize the masses for protest. He believes that really Twitter and Facebook are just tools and they can not create or start revolution like the organized sit-ins in the Deep South of the U.S.A. in the 1960s.

An interesting discussion erupted in class today when we discussed this article, one that everyone seemed to participate in. At first when I read this article I went back to look at the date on this article ~ because I felt that it was written before the Occupy movement. I was right (it was written in 2010), and while Gladwell wasn't privy to some of the events that happened this past year, I understand what message he was trying to convey in this article.

Yes social networks have a plethora of tools to choose from today to help stay in touch. And yes these tools have been used to motivate the public to join in something that they believe in. Gladwell argues that these "revolutions" or social movements that are organized via Facebook or Twitter have no lasting impact unlike Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus.

This is where I beg to differ - I think that while the tools may have changed, the reasons for being involved are still the same. In fact my classmate Amanda put it best, "It's not about the social tools, it's about the social movement. The reasons why people want to be a part of something have never changed." I agree with her - the desire to be involved in something that will make a difference has always been a part of people's DNA. Today we just have different ways to mobilize and educate people.

I see where you're coming from Mr. Gladwell but I don't agree with what you're saying.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Independent media and citizen journalism

The Independent Media Centre (IMC) is not a new concept - empowering citizens to share their own news, as they see it, in real time. The IMC has gained attention and fostered partnerships around the world  based on their coverage of the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings and citizen protests.

In her article The Independent Media Centre: A new model, Dorothy Kidd examines the circumstances around the birth of IMC, the ongoing events that IMC has been involved with and the components (technological and human) that keep the organization running and thriving.

Kidd acknowledges in the article that the IMC was not the first independent media network to stand up in the face of big corporations or to support neo-liberalism. What makes IMC unique is the breadth of their reach, the diversity of the volunteers that participate, the countries and organizations that are involved and the open source technology that is used.

The central premise of Kidd's article and the modus operandi of the IMC is for the public to not just fight the media - become the media. The hope behind this comment is that maybe citizen journalists can interrupt and change the patterns and behaviours between producers of media and the audiences who consume it.

Unfortunately when you take on big corporate on a global stage, it also opens you up to criticism and hostility from exactly those people. Big corporate and governments have interests to protect and their own security measures that have been employed in attempts to scare and/or shut IMC down.

Being a provider of open access and openly sourced media for people has it's pitfalls - the IMC has had their system hacked and had it populated with hate messages. As such the IMC has had to begun to monitor their networks to reduce the number of trolls. Monitoring networks has met with resistance from within the movement because they don't like gate-keeping tactics being used.

So the two questions I leave everyone with from this brief lesson on the Independent Media Centre are these:
  1. This article was written in 2003. How would you see the advancements in today's technology helping or hindering the IMC cause?
  2. Kidd mentions the resistance to network monitoring and gate-keeping of information within the IMC. Do you see the IMC being editors or librarians of the information they share with their networks?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Slave Lake: One year later

Tomorrow the community of Slave Lake marks a sombre anniversary. It was one year ago that a wildfire rolled through their community, destroying most of the buildings and infrastructure and forcing many families scrambling for cover.

I remember a year ago sitting at my computer writing a paper for COMM 503 and watching with horror as my Twitter feed filled with photos and panicked pleas from shelters and organizations as they mobilized to help the displaced population.

I blogged about Slave Lake last year, the tragedy and horror that I witnessed the night of the fires. But in the days following the fire, I remember classmate Dianne tweeting locations where others could drop off clothing and personal hygiene items. I remember my co-blogger Felicia mobilizing her social network on Twitter and Facebook, collecting enough items to fit in a shipping container to be sent to the families in Slave Lake.

Out of so much heartbreak and tragedy I saw people come together, whether they knew each other or not to help others who needed it. That is really the power of a social network to me.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Crowdsourcing my abstract - feedback please!

Well bloggy followers I need your help. Below is my abstract for our research poster presentations next week. Deadline to have this in is 9 a.m. Sunday morning. It is now 11:16 Saturday night. Nothing like leaving it until the last second. I'd love your feedback please and thanks!

Making connections: An evaluative study of the role of social media in alumni engagement


Using Linkedin as a tool to foster alumni engagement, affinity and participation within a higher educational institution

Andrea Lauder

The School of Public Health (SPH) at the University of Alberta was formed in 2006 bringing together the Alberta Centre for Injury Control Research (ACICR), the Centre for Health Promotion Studies (CHPS) and the Department of Public Health Sciences (PHS) under the umbrella of one faculty. Alumni from the centres and department have expressed feelings of disconnection from SPH. As such, in the past two years SPH has dedicated resources to help build affinity, strengthen relationships and foster engagement, communicating that all alumni are part of the SPH family.

Literature indicates that certain social media platforms can help facilitate communications and engagement with those tied to higher education institutions. The purpose of this evaluation study is to examine alumni engagement through social media, focusing on the professional platform Linkedin. Applying Rogers theory of diffusion of innovation, this study will incorporate a census survey sample and semi-structured interviews to evaluate if the social media that SPH is using is engaging alumni in a satisfactory way.

Findings from this study will provide insight into the views of alumni and create the basis for further research in how they engage and communicate with their alma mater using today’s technology.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Globally networked movements

Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous, the Vancouver riots of 2011, the on-going student protests over tuition hikes in Quebec. What do these all have in common? For one these are movements spanning across Canada and around the world. Secondly they document specific events that have defined who and what they are, drawing attention worldwide.

In Jeffrey Juris' article Networked Social Movements: Global Movements for Global Justice, he references Manuel Castells, a well-known researcher of networks of power. According to Castells, the information age has helped cultivate groups of communal resistance "that have arisen in opposition to economic globalization, capitalist restructuring, and the disruption caused by global financial and cultural flows...Beyond creating alternative cultural codes, however, activists are generating new networking forms and practices that allow for the production of global webs of resistance, while providing diverse models for building an alternative, more directly democratic and globally networked society" (p. 345). 

I can't help but think about Castells' thoughts and how it applies to some of our most recent networked movements. Occupy and Anonymous have really been reaching out to audiences through social media to draw attention to their situation and motivate the masses in support.

The Vancouver riots captured delinquency as it happened, and eventually the photos and videos posted to online accounts like Twitter and Facebook were used to incriminate and charge those who had committed the crimes. Even at the moment there are ongoing blog posts, tweets and media stories being filed about the tuition hike protests in Quebec.

These movements are loose and uncoordinated, lacking true leaders. According to Castells all militant actions and protests are forms of symbolic communication (p. 346). I know I personally have come down pretty hard on the different movements and specific events, mostly because I was viewing them through my personal lens. What Juris, Cleaver, Kadushin and Castells have done is make me appreciate the different contexts that these movements have grown and thrived from.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Birds of a feather don't always flock together

This post is dedicated to @leahmcyyc, a rebuttal of her post What is your innovative threshold? (you know I couldn't resist answering back).

Leah makes a great case for Rogers' diffusion of innovation theory, referencing a bit of Kadushin, to explain how she got onto the Facebook bandwagon early into the adoption process. She also references the "tipping point" when Facebook exploded in front of everyone's eyes and her "snobby friends" finally joined the worlds largest social network.

Ok, here's my soapbox moment. I'm not on Facebook. Never have been, and if I have my way, never will be. Why? Well at first it was a principle thing for me - I watched my PR classmates jump on the bandwagon, trying their hardest to see who could collect more friends than the other. Ugh, popularity contest? Count me out please.

Then I started thinking of how I stay connected with people socially and it solidified my rationale to not be involved with Facebook. My good friends (high school, both undergrad degrees, throughout my travels, etc.) I still keep in touch with through other means. Most of them I still have a mailing address, email address and/or telephone numbers for and I'd prefer to pick up a phone and call them or write them a letter any day. I'm pretty good at staying in touch so I DO actually call and write.

I was talking about this with @hburridge yesterday and I explained that I've chosen different social technologies to increase and maintain my networks. It's helped me personally and professionally, connecting me with friends present and past. I was not an early adopter to Twitter (I joined in 2009), but within my group of good friends I was the first on the scene, and they are just finally joining me now. I look forward to networking with them in this space, and they've told me that if I've held out this long from joining Facebook, to stay off...that it's a dying network.

Not being on Facebook doesn't make me a snob (at least I hope that's not what I portray), it just means I've found different, equally robust ways to stay in touch with those that I mean to.

Image courtesy of:

Exercising influence in social networks

I will readily admit that I'm an early adopter with a lot of social media and technology and because of that, my social networks have grown exponentially. For example when I first moved to Edmonton, I knew only a handful of people that I used to be friends with in high school and during my first undergrad. I was fresh to the city and really keen to get involved in my community ~ Twitter offered the best platform for me to network with the movers and shakers of Edmonton and get my name and face out there.

Fast forward two years ~ I had already been operating personally on Twitter and LinkedIn and I started to see opportunities where my workplace could be connecting with community partners through social media, helping to build our online presence.

It took a bit of time, and use of anecdotal evidence, but eventually I was given the green light to research and create social media profiles for work. As Kadushin discusses in Chapter 9 of the text, through diffusion of innovation, as an early adopter in our organization I had credibility to create and then influence others to join social media.

Kadushin calls this the "Two-Step Flow" of communications - how media influences influencers who in turn adopt the technology and in turn become influencers on others (p. 140). Influencers model desired behaviours with the hope that through their enthusiasm they can hook others into joining.

Kadushin also talks about how potential adopters of innovation and technology tend to imitate the previous adopters within social networks ( p. 138). He mentions how later on, adopters tend to jump on the "bandwagon" with their interest. Early adopters on the other hand, get into the social space early and evaluate how the technology fills their needs as they go.

I am now happy to say that after setting up our social media accounts, I'm now conversing and connecting with our researchers, staff, students and alumni. I am also fortunate to have a supportive dean who is keen to learn about social media and how she can model behaviour so others in the organization follow.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Strong and weak ties and the Alberta election

In round two of our networked collaboration lectures perspectives from Clay Shirky and Keith Hampton shed further light into the grassroots of networked groups and in particular, the Hampton article looks at how social networks motivate people through the democratic process.

The concept of bonding and bridging is introduced by Hampton to help readers understand where the strong and weak ties lay within social network relationships. It is that relationships of strong and weak ties where Hampton believes people feel safe to discuss such hot button things like politics (sound familiar ~ safety in social networks....Kadushin).

Hampton writes that, "citizens and society benefit from individual and collective action to address issues of public concern through activities outside of elections and government" (p. 4). He goes on to discuss that the collectives that are motivated along political lines demonstrate homophilous tendencies and if there is any dissention it comes from the periphery or those with weak ties.

This article was an 'a-ha' moment for me as I further saw concepts that we've covered in Phelan, Kadushin, Shirky and Benkler solidified in this simple paper. And on the heels of the Alberta election I could see the case study that unfolded on my Twitter feed for 23 days before we headed to the polls.

When the writ was dropped immediately the voices of some of my stronger Twitter ties were the loudest - and I expected them to be quick out of the gates, throwing their support behind a candidate. Thanks to the many ways that we are networked, as Hampton iterates, "these new technologies have the potential to fundamentally change the nature of social interaction and democratic engagement" (p. 8). 

After about two weeks of constant, in-your-face campaigning on behalf of political candidates, suddenly my strong Twitter ties grew silent as each of their candidates navigated PR minefields. As election day drew closer and the panic of a potential Wildrose Party government loomed it was the weaker of my Twitter ties that began to chime in ~ those who are traditionally not comfortable talking about their political choices in a public forum. I remember being fascinated by the action leading up to April 23 as panic settled in and Alberta residents felt threatened. 

Much like the Calgary mayoral campaign this past provincial election really motivated the netizens to become involved and cast their vote. Surprisingly though, voter turnout did not hit an all-time high. Just imagine the ways people can be engaged and inspired by the time the next election rolls around?

Image courtesy of:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Being like the Borg?

I really enjoyed this week's readings and how Kadushin as well as Benkler and Benjamin Phelan transitioned from small social networks to the way organizations network.

The Hive (quibbling aside amongst the researchers in the first half of the paper) really delve into the world of eusociality - is a term used for the highest level of social organization in a hierarchical classification (Wikipedia definition). At the heart of this article appears to be moral behaviour and the differences between altruists and individualists - with the belief by Darwin that the actions of altruists would overpower the selfish actions of individualists. And all of these beliefs are understood and derived from looking at how ants perform in a colony and how bees perform in their hives.

If you apply this type of mentality to the social networks of today, does Phelan's article still ring true? Can altruistic traits be encoded in DNA and passed on from generation to generation (as Darwin tried to determine)? Well it seems that good character traits, like altruism, aren't just a part of your physical make-up. It's also determined by the environment one is raised in and the behaviours that exist in that group.

I was drawn back to an article that I had analyzed for our first assignment in COMM 501 - Communications Research. In the article I read about the Sichuan earthquake in China, and how media helped spread the message about how survivors could be involved in the relief efforts. I kept thinking that while we as humans are more socially networked today thanks to the Internet, it seems to take a worldwide catastrophe to motivate us to altruism. 

Gone it seems are the days where people did things out of the good of their own hearts. Now it seems that only when disaster visits the doorstep do people feel motivated to step out of their insular bubbles and help their fellow man. I would like to think that personally I could have my altruistic side tapped for much less than disaster but I don't truly know how I would react. How do you think you would in the same situation?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A day at the conservatory

This blog can't be about all school all the time, and thankfully this afternoon classmate Hillary and I left the books and blogs behind for a few hours and walked down the hill to the Muttart Conservatory for some sunshine, fresh air and plants.

I've taken enough photos of these gorgeous pyramids on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River from the outside, but this is only the second time I've ever been inside of the pyramids to see their wonders. Three pyramids are static, with plants from the Tropical, Temporal and Arid climates. The fourth pyramid is a feature and this month it was hydrangeas! Oh the perfume when we walked in.

The walk was a perfect way to break up some of the reading and writing monotony of our spring intensive. Back to the books this week though. We're already planning what adventure we'll be on next weekend!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The wealth of networks

Well so much for this post being saved so I could revisit it later. Have you ever written a brilliant email or a couple of pages for a paper and then it never saves? That's what happened with this post. to see if I can pull together the threads of Kadushin and Benkler again.

Kadushin and Benkler both examined what social networks were like from the perspective of small groups. Small groups could comprised of any number of individuals, close friends, family members, etc. but these members all had certain roles and characteristics that were enhanced by their small group interaction.

Kadushin probes the idea of small groups or pure informal groups, observing that over time these groups create cliques and that the group exhibits certain characteristics including judging the group by attractiveness and formalizing some sort of leader for the group. Those external to the group will always want to be inside the small group, so will place their social networking efforts in the direction of hopefully joining the group. For members internally, they see no value creating relationships outside of their clique so do not reciprocate social efforts to those externally. A lopsided network is created and maintained (sigh...does this remind anyone of high school and either being one of the cool kids or not?).

Benkler's article examines how with the advent of the Internet came the occurrence of more virtual communities and with that the fear that society would disintegrate. Benkler quotes Howard Rheingold's 1993 The Virtual Community, "There is a hunger for community, no longer satisfied by the declining availability of physical spaces for human connection. There is a newly available medium that allows people to connect despite their physical distance" (Benkler, p. 359) which gives us an understanding of how the advent of the Internet was first received and perceived.

From 1993 to 2000 reports continued to emphasize that the longer that people spent online, the less time they actually invested in human to human contact. However, over time a different picture emerged. Benkler references a study done by Keith Hampton and Barry Wellman. These men studied a Toronto suburb that had access to high-speed wiring ahead of broadband (Benkler, p. 363). What they found was that through Internet access, members of the community began to make connections to the weaker ties in their community, strengthening them so that offline people were more inclined to visit with others when they ran into them around the town. This seemed in direct opposition to what researchers first believed ~ that society would disintegrate physically as more people moved online.

Personally I've seen the change in my family over the years; as we've moved increasingly online, so too has the ways in which we stay in touch with each other. When I first began travelling in 2000 I had daily emails, weekly long distance telephone calls and handwritten letters to stay in touch with my friends and family. Over the years I incorporated IM (instant messaging) and video chatting to the mix. Today I spend a lot of time text messaging or tweeting family or friends and while it's a quick fix to catch up with those I care about, I still prefer to pick up the telephone and call them or arrange a visit in person.

Technology added to the mix or removed, social networking I believe always depends on the person doing it and they will make all the difference to the mix.
Image courtesy of

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Relationship broker

In Chapter 5 of Charles Kadushin's book, he begins to analyze some of the psychological foundations upon which social networks are built and maintained. As he begins to analyze the depth to which social networks run, Kadushin references, Boissevain who wrote a book called Friends of Friends.

Boissevain mentions at one point how within social networks there are highly specialized at the social network process and he named them "brokers" (Kadushin, 57). These brokers help manage the connections between networks for some sort of profit - but not the monetary kind.

It makes me think of the connections I've made over my lifetime, through the different hats I've worn professionally. Some of these connections have stayed professional, some are more close to me. But all have come in handy at some point in time. Have you ever had someone ask if you could put them in touch with another group they know you have connections to? It's a heady feeling.

More than just a heady feeling, social networks fulfill two needs according to Kadushin: 1) to feel safe; and 2) to reach out (Kadushin, 56). Rationalized as almost an inherent function in humans from birth (we are programmed to feel safe and reach out to our mothers in infancy), I find the reasons that I seek out others is because growing up I had very few friends, at least until I was a teenager. If anything the experience has helped me appreciate the relationships and connections that I do have that much more.

Image courtesy of carloszardoya's Flikr account

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sharing generously

On Tuesday we had a guest speaker in our class, Dr. Raul Pacheco, and he talked about how we as students and practitioners of communications on social media could create and maintain our social profiles effectively.

I'm no stranger to social media - I've been blogging since 2008, been on Twitter and LinkedIn since 2009 and picked up other social platforms along the way (Yelp!, Foursquare, Instagram, etc.). I've even collaborated on other blogs with friends and been part of a group wiki. Being social for me personally is like the air that I breathe - something I am naturally inclined to do.

However something Dr. Pacheco said on Tuesday resonated deeply with me - share generously with your networks and don't be afraid to let your personal profiles creep into your professional profiles and vice versa. I remember struggling with that concept when I first started the Twitter feed for my organization (@UofAPublicHlth).

For months and years I had been tweeting from my personal account, building a steady group of followers and solidifying some great relationships. I knew how I wanted to portray myself personally in the online environment but was scared stiff to tweet on behalf of my organization. I won't lie, the first few months were pretty terrible...I had built up a great group of followers but they weren't our internal folks and they weren't the media members I had hoped to engage with.

One day out of desperation I contacted the social media expert at the University of Alberta at the time and asked him for some advice on how I could grow and connect with audiences from our professional account. I remember Andy telling it to me straight and it went something like this, "You have this amazing personal network of followers and those you follow. You have great conversations with these people and you share relevant information. This is what is missing in your company Twitter account. Don't forget that even professional accounts need to show a personality - it helps build credibility."

Once that lightbulb came on for me my organization's Twitter feed skyrocketed and I haven't looked back since. So while I also share generously with retweets, comments and connections on my social media platforms and on those I follow, I also remember to share just a little bit of who I am on the places where I live socially.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How do you measure ROI of relationships?

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how I use social media personally and for my own workplace. I'll admit I love connecting with people and connecting people with other like-minded individuals. It's been my calling pretty much since birth and with today's social technology I find they are an extension of what I love to do.

At work I have used Linkedin and Twitter to connect with our faculty, staff, students and alumni, and also to facilitate conversations and collaborations with community partners. The best part about being on Twitter is being able to comment on and re-tweet (see "share") information that you think your network would be interested in. Social media is all about the reciprocity, if someone in your network has shared your work with others, say thanks.

Lately I'm a little disillusioned with how reciprocity has been actually working within our larger parent organization. I'm talking everything from being left out of tweets when our researchers are featured with their new discoveries to no acknowledgement when we recognize other researchers. We've been told to follow some basic criteria when posting to social media, and that should ensure pick-up and shares amongst other faculties. It saddens me to say that it isn't quite the truth.

As always I bounced this blog post off of @marynedwards and as we talked it through she said the way people and organizations behave on social media these days is not unlike the group projects that we used to have to do at MRU! There's always that one person that takes the reins, often ignoring the contributions of others on the project (thanks for the insight as always Maryn). 

Instead of letting this phase me I have come to realize that the community where we are physically located in is much smaller than the virtual community that we've been building. For each snub from the folks back at home, we get three new follows and multiple shares from the relationships we've built externally. So where is the value really? The value is everywhere, as long as both sides can see it. I still find value talking about my organization online each and every day, and others must think so too, our engagement is ongoing and ever-growing. I hope that eventually those within our own community might see some value in who we are and what we're doing and invite us to the table instead of ignoring us.

Adventures in blogging

Well I'm about to dive into this "daily blogging" thing (A-M, I look to you for examples of how to do it right). I apologize bloggy friends but for the next three weeks I will be exploring the concept of social networks through my blog.

Part of this is for class credit, but for those of you who have been followers for a long time, you know occasionally I will throw out posts about my job and communications conundrums I've had. Just think of the next three weeks of one big long extension of that (with some legitimate travel and adventures thrown in along the way). Thank you so much in advance and I hope that my next posts might pique your interest.