Facing Facebook: How New Technologies Support Branch Outreach
In past months, I have shared directions the Branch Organization Committee (BOC) developed at its strategic planning retreat. This month’s column addresses how Branches might access current online social networking tools to enhance Branch communication and outreach.
Blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Wikis, YouTube, and most recently, Twitter, are newly minted nouns that have become verbs. Today’s social networking technology makes it easy to track friends, colleagues, personal interests, and professional endeavors. At first glance, you might think such technology would have no value to your professional life.
However, the utility and ease these new tools offer are apparent in one of the earliest- referenced tools, the blog. A good example is the Small Things Considered blog (http://schaechter.asmblog.org/).The principal authors, Moselio Schaechter and Merry Youle, post new content at least twice weekly that is, to quote a student, “the most cool and accessible information about microbiology on the Net.” The blog has a wide audience and has won numerous awards. What’s their secret? What the student discovered, as have many others, is that the blog’s content is selected, written, referenced, and illustrated with a perspective and appreciation of the interests and needs of its intended and unintended audiences. In other words, it has value so readers repeatedly return!
The BOC questioned how Branches could make use of these tools and technologies without competing with Small Things Considered. The simple answer: it’s about content, not technology. The content must have value for the resulting audiences. Specifically, how can a blog and other such tools enhance the Branch experience?
Let’s consider one of the staples of every Branch, the newsletter. Imagine it transformed from a static, time-stamped document, to a dynamic, ever-changing blog. While many look forward to receiving a Branch newsletter in their mailbox, with each postal rate increase, Branches limit content by abbreviating the breadth and depth of topics relevant to members. Consequently, print newsletters are losing member value and increasing in actual cost. In future, Branches could abandon print newsletters or limit the scope to postcard reminders while expanding their scientific offerings on Branch Blogs.
The BOC understands that blogs require work. However, the advantage of these new tools far outweighs the time invested in mastering and managing them. And, while it is the content and editorial judgment that will keep readers intrigued, the BOC is certain that within every ASM Branch there are one or more Branch members who can facilitate a blog.
What content could populate a Branch Blog and become the cool, accessible place to learn about microbiology in a particular region of the country? Newsletter pieces for certain, but what about repackaging program content, poster abstracts, and special lectures? A Branch Blog can also be used to highlight member contributions to microbiology. For example, many Branch members are affiliated with institutions that require them to have a Web presence. Often this is a description of their laboratory research and/or scientific interests, the familiar “five-minute story.” The Branch Blog could highlight this information in a member section entitled “In Their Own Words.” The selected member(s) could entertain questions from bloggers thereby giving greater presence to their institution and research and to their Branch.
The blog’s editor(s) should present a unique mixture of science and perspective to engage readers and make the Branch Blog part of a reader’s daily/weekly routine. Thus, blog content might address the experiences of Physicians, Infectious Disease Practitioners or Clinical Laboratorians and highlight clinical trends. Interesting cases are always useful and could serve to help educators bring topical clinical relevance to a particular lecture. Building a Branch Blog with contributions from members reinforces the central core values of networking and programming, key to every successful Branch.
The value a blog can add to a Branch is clear. The blog will reinforce microbiology as a rich, diverse, and topical discipline. Good blogs may “infect” readers with the most viable, nonculturable microbe out there: a passion for our discipline. But that’s just what a blog can do. Imagine what could happen if Branches embraced Facebook.
Social Networking tools such as Facebook, MySpace, and now Twitter are becoming commonplace among digital natives, those individuals attuned to the Internet, its tools and resources. But, what about the rest of us and Branches? Briefly, Facebook requires permission from an individual to see their personal profile page. Individuals can also join or create groups and invite others to upcoming events. In future, Branches might encourage use of social networking sites to take advantage of networking or collaborative learning in a high traffic or particularly topical arena.
These tools are free, available, and user friendly. This technology should enable new communication platforms for Branches and our science. Done right, whichever tool(s) a Branch selects should elevate appreciation that Branches are “cool” and accessible resources for microbiologists. To learn of your next opportunity to participate in ASM Branch programming and networking opportunities, go to http://www.asm.org /Membership/index.asp?bid_23253. Check in next month for a discussion of Branch Volunteerism.
Michael G. Schmidt
Chair, Branch Organization Committee