We Need to Teach Digital Citizenship

(photo "IACP austin 2011: cooking with UT elementary kids at whole foods" by Sarah Gilbert)
(photo “IACP austin 2011: cooking with UT elementary kids at whole foods” by Sarah Gilbert)

How can we establish a local and national effort to better prepare young people to participate online? They need to learn how to identify and use tools; understand and model behavior that won’t embarrass their parents or themselves unless they want to do so; and connect with others and contribute in a positive way online and offline.

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” -Abraham Maslow

It’s easy to get attached to the first tool you pick up. It’s also easy to use that tool in situations where it doesn’t function as well. We need to teach young people that when engaging with other people, there are many ways to influence others. You can use your writing and snappy wit to shine on social media. You can wow a friend with a heartfelt thank you note. And you can impress a colleague by putting your phone away, making eye contact and having a great conversation. Digital citizens know when to use the right online and offline tools to make a great impression.

Would you like your words repeated by others?

The best tools are not very useful when you use them poorly. We need to persuade and teach our digital citizens to understand and model the right behaviors online. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean encouraging them to be robotic or boring or perfect. It means helping them to understand the impact of their behavior so that they won’t embarrass their parents and themselves (unless they want to).

How would you behave if internet actions were more like being at a dinner party?

We also need to encourage our digital citizens to meet online and engage offline. Connecting with others is much more powerful in person and turns your interactions into meaningful lifelong relationships. You can connect with more than 150 people online, and you can’t really know them unless you talk to them, meet them face to favs, and connect to them on a human level.

Where do we go from here?

Becoming a digital citizen doesn’t mean giving up the tools and joys and horrors of social media. It means engaging with the world as a person and not as a persona. It means taking the time to go visit a friend instead of just clicking “like”. And it means making the effort to be fully engaged as a human with your surroundings while understanding the worldwide reach instant publishing can grant to spread your words and thoughts around the world in an instant.

Please contribute to the discussion by adding your thoughts below – what is the one thing you would teach a teenager about interacting on the Internet and understanding your impact on people?

As a community manager, how should you be using Twitter?

photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/

Imagine you are a community manager and today is your first day promoting the brand. How should you use Twitter? You might be overwhelmed with the river of information and wonder what are the “right” answers to questions like these:

  • How often should you tweet? And should you retweet?
  • How do you decide to follow people on Twitter? And should you unfollow?
  • Should you care about your follower to following ratio?
  • Will people share and discuss your content?

The Best Twitter Strategy (doesn’t exist)

I think the best Twitter strategy (and really, the best content strategy overall) for a community uses metrics like these and doesn’t live by them either. It’s important to measure your activity, and you should explain why you are participating in a channel.

Here are three core beliefs I think are important to build community on any channel:

  1. That you should share relevant, interesting content with your community and your industry;
  2. That the best content is sharable by nature because it teaches and informs;
  3. And that you build an ongoing community by writing and sharing that content.

Community=Actions + Beliefs

You can’t build a community on beliefs alone, so here are some tactics that are useful to consider when you are engaging on Twitter and elsewhere. The act of engaging in conversation means that you should do more than just share your own posts or your own news. You should ask questions. You should always respond to conversations, even when they feel difficult to start or to continue. And you should understand that Twitter is a fluid, changing medium.

The “rules” for engagement are changing constantly as well. Here are some ideas to consider to help you build the kind of community you want. Post as much as you want to – and understand that this may drive some people away. Follow as much as you want to do – and understand that the dynamics of Twitter favor a high follower to following ratio. For your next 10 posts, tweet 1 about yourself, 2 about your firm, 4 about your industry, and 1 just for fun.

Be A Human.

When you reinforce your brand message in the style and tone of the communication channel, people come back. And they talk to you. You should talk back to them and engage in real conversation.

So are all of those metrics up top important? Yes, and they are not the only thing you should consider. You should build real relationships offline with people whom you meet online when you building a community on Twitter or elsewhere. That interaction at a conference or an event brings a community to life. In the meantime, share great content and make sure you talk to the people around you (offline and online.)

How can you be a better beta tester (and not get frustrated in the process)


I like to try new apps, processes, and things. Perhaps it’s the kid in me who always wanted to join a club, and I love being a beta tester (usually.) Yet even the most thoughtful beta tester misses a few key points and is blinded by their biases. On the occasion of being noticed as a helpful Quora tester (thanks Stormy Shippy for mentioning me in the What is the combined answer length for the most active Quora answerers?) or at least a verbose one, I thought it would be interesting to think about some methods to become a better beta tester.

When you become a beta tester, you are trying an uncertain product pointed at an uncertain customer occupying an uncertain market with an uncertain likelihood of success. Beta customers feel special (you are – trust me) and companies feel free to stretch the tolerance of these users constantly by changing policies, user interface elements, or the basic functionality and process of the app or service (“the way things work”) in one fell swoop.

It’s pretty cool though. For the price of my time (it’s stated as *free* but there is a substantial investment that any serious tester must make in terms of their own time) you get to see a laboratory where changes are being made in (near) real time and gain the ability to influence and learn from the people who are making a brand new thing. I’m appreciative of the opportunity to share with and learn from some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. So how can you help the company (or companies) for whom you’re doing this beta testing?

You can help by being a “more certain” customer
Beta testing challenges you to articulate what you’re doing (or trying to do), to be able to explain it to others, and sometimes to realize that you’re an edge case and to stop wasting your time and the time of others.

Practicing this set of skills is the real reason I love being a beta tester (that, and the free t-shirts), and I try to do the following when I’m giving feedback to a team or an individual:

  • determine what it is I’m trying to do – if I’m not sure how I’m using the product, it’s going to be pretty hard for me to explain it to someone else;
  • explain what I’m doing in terms the “person on the street” could understand – it’s really easy to drop into jargon, and so I try to use the same terms throughout the feedback and detail my steps in clear language (and try to use the instructions myself to complete the steps);
  • be honest with myself when I’m bored and no longer want to test an app or service – it’s very easy to keep YAASA – Yet Another Social Account Alive. And much more kind to yourself and to the team building the app if you just bow out. (And let them know why you’re leaving.)

Learn new things, meet new people, and stretch your brain a little. What’s not to like? It’s true that trying new applications and services can sometimes clutter your experience or distract you from the things you ought to be doing today. Or maybe, practicing the skills of being a beta tester (and making it easier for teams to understand and learn from your feedback) gives you the exact set of skills you need to better beta test yourself.

Post on Quora

3 Reasons Customer Service and Twitter go together

How many times have you thought when experiencing a negative service experience: “if only I knew who to talk to, I would give them a piece of my mind … right now!”  Mobile and social tools now make that possible, and even a little bit too easy.  Despite the risk that you might say something faster than you have time to edit it, I think that Twitter is an excellent tool for Customer Service.  There are three basic reasons why it excels here:

Reason #1: Twitter gives the organization immediate feedback

Too often, a customer will have a problem, shrug it off as something that will never get attention, and never bring it to the notice of the company or service.  Twitter gives the organization immediate feedback.  Whether you’re great or whether you haven’t exactly wowed someone, it’s a lot easier to respond if you at least know that there is a problem.

Reason #2: The Organization or Company has some frame of reference already established for the customer

When you get a random phone call, how easy is it to know who’s calling, understand a bit of their personality and motivation, and have the opportunity to think about what you’re going to say to them?  Sounds kind of hard.  Twitter gives that to you in a nice neat package and shows you whether the caller is popular, well-connected, or not and what kind of persona they portray on their social media pages.

Reason #3: 140 characters makes everyone get to the point.  Fast.

It’s very easy to scan a 140 character message and to quickly understand the situation.  Of course, there’s always the problem that the caller is not quite specific enough for you to be able to solve the problem.  But most of the time, having a constraint is good — it forces the customer to quickly state the problem, and you to answer it succinctly.

Twitter is great for Customer Service.  Giving another channel to the customer, getting and giving instant feedback, having an idea of who they are and why they’re calling, and having to do that concisely makes the Customer Service process move better and faster.

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