Tips for Parents: Tapping Web-based Social Media to Learn, Collaborate and Advocate
Mersino, D.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
2010

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Deborah Mersino about social media being used for advocacy efforts.

If you find it hard to believe that 140-character posts on Twitter and updates on Facebook could possibly help change the world of gifted education, think again. Social networking among gifted advocates is at an all-time high and continues to grow. Five years ago, it would have been hard to imagine educators and parents of gifted students from across the world gathering weekly on Twitter to share resources, insights and inspiration. Yet, now it’s a reality. More than 1,000 tweets are devoted to Global #gtchat (a Twitter chat dedicated to gifted and talented issues) each and every week.

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development, National Association for Gifted Children, Council for Exceptional Children, SENG, Prufrock Press, Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, Stanford University’s Enrichment Program for Gifted Youth, The Center for Gifted Studies at Western Kentucky University and dozens upon dozens of national and state gifted associations and local gifted organizations, as well as schools and businesses serving gifted communities, are now actively tapping the benefits of social networking and engaging their constituents in real-time.

So just how and why do people seem to be flocking to these platforms and what are the potential benefits for parents? Let’s take a closer look at what I call the 6 Cs of Conversion.

  1. Convenience
  2. Communication
  3. Cohorts
  4. Collaboration
  5. Creativity
  6. Consciousness

1. Convenience
In our 24/7 digital world, we’re finding ourselves — and our students — plugged in. We now take email for granted. Who would have thought “cleaning out one’s inbox” on a Monday or after vacation would be such a well-understood phenomenon and dreaded task deserving attention a decade ago? Truth is, we’re already online and most individuals have gotten accustomed to a Web-laden world and lifestyle. It only makes sense, then, that people, who spend a good portion of the day in front of a computer and/or on a mobile device, find the convenience of Facebook and Twitter appealing These mediums — and all the millions of people associated with them — are literally right in front of us.

2. Communication
From party lines to rotary phones, cordless to cell phones, faxes to email and texting, human communication continues to evolve. Seth Godin, renowned business visionary who has authored dozens of bestselling books that have been translated into 31 languages, including one of my favorites, Linchpin:  Are You lndispensable?(Penguin Publishing 2010), recently noted on his blog:

Kevin Kelly argues that the most important breakthrough in the history of mankind was the invention of language. After language, humans as a species took a huge leap forward. Language allowed us to coordinate, to teach and to learn. The second great breakthrough on this axis was writing. Writing is language solidified Writing permits language to travel through time or over distances It ensures that ideas last more than one generation. Now, were on the cusp of the third breakthrough, one that is proving to be as powerful as the other two. And we’re living through it, not reading about it in history books,.. We’ve taken the smartest and richest people on earth, hundreds of millions of them, and put them to work sorting and organizing and polishing data. Think about all those folks checking their Blackberry, upvoting Digg articles, retweeting links and connecting people to ideas online. Think about the human enabled filtering, a giant system working without obvious compensation.

Social networking and the organization of data via tribes will significantly influence and impact communication in the years to come. As parents and gifted education advocates, we can employ these tools strategically to help forge alliances, discover and explore new learning opportunities and lobby for better funding outcomes to benefit our high-potential students.

3. Cohorts
One of the most intriguing aspects that social media allows for (which some people are unaware of) is the ability to customize one’s experience. You can choose to connect and Communicate with people who share your passions and interest. Yes, you can decide to look up an old friend from high school, but more importantly, you can be quite purposeful and connect with those interested in gifted education, gifted issues and gifted advocacy.

I’ll share more about this momentarily, but building cohorts/tribes online is one of the more potent outcomes of using these mediums effectively. It’s also why people who are impassioned about social media - love it.

Finding like-minded individuals and using social media to share ideas, dialogue, resources and opportunities not only makes sense, but it’s also one of the ways that “The Big Sort” that Godin spoke of (the organization of all this online data) will happen.

4. Collaboration
The power of the cohort/tribe is ultimately collaboration. As Shel Israel, author of Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in New Global Neighborhoods (Portfolio 2009), points out, it’s time to say, “Good-bye broadcast. Hello conversation.” Marketing over the past decades has centered on broadcasting, Companies and organizations broadcasted what they wanted their customers, constituents and/or members to hear. They held the power and controlled the output. They weren’t so much interested in what their customers or clients had to say (except for the occasional customer satisfaction survey and/or focus group). Rather, they wanted to ensure they were in front of these customers frequently with well-crafted messages that (hopefully) moved them to action.

That is all changing. While it is perfectly all right for businesses and organizations to share news about products and/or services (i.e. conferences); marketing and advocacy as we know it has evolved to a new level — one that requires dialogue. And given the current state of gifted education in the United States and throughout much of the world, widespread collaboration via social networking should be one area we place our attention upon.

5. Creativity
It takes a while for new individuals to get the hang of tweeting, posting to Facebook, participating in Webinars and utilizing blogs and various platforms (and understandably get over/through some of the more common hurdles); however, it does beg one to be creative. Because social networking promotes dialogue — ideally centered on a critical issue — it inherently allows for fresh thinking.

We’re creating the future online — one tweet, one post, one legislative action link — at a time. And this is only going to become more and more prominent — and normal. Because new application and interfaces are being created every month, social networking’s opportunities to impact will only grow. Who would have thought a single post on Javits could help spur hundreds to contact their Senators and House Representatives with fervor? The more creative — and technically savvy — we become, the greater our chances of being heard, understood and supported.

6. Consciousness
People, including parents and educators of gifted, are on social media because they’re natural learners. They want to stay current, in touch and in the know. Those who are willing to get up to speed and make powerful connections will have the opportunity to share information, soak up learning and participate in real-time advocacy. It’s a conscious choice.

Contrary to popular belief, the goal of social media campaigns has nothing to do with:

  • Follower counts
  • "I suppose we should look into it" add-on marketing tactics 
  • Time wasting
  • Reaching the younger generations, or
  • Shouting into a black hole

The goal of social media for gifted organizations, parents and advocates can actually be quite clear: to further support talent development and provisions for gifted students. To do that effectively requires:

  • Knowledge of platforms, including how they work
  • A willingness to be flexible, adaptable and thoughtful in learning from one another (and other industries and non-profits) to discern how these mediums will continue to evolve and impact our lives over the next decade and beyond
  • A bit of patience on the front-end (as one gets accustomed and learns to navigate)
  • Creativity

Just like gifted education, social networking also has its fair share of myths and even naysayers. I’ve touched on a few of these, but here are just a few common myths and misconceptions about Twitter:

  • It’s too hard to figure out.
  • I don’t have time.
  • I’m not technical.
  • I thought Twitter and Facebook were for young folks.
  • I’m not interested in what celebrities are eating.
  • I don’t need another distraction.
  • My life is chaotic enough.

I’ll use Twitter as an example; here’s what you need to know:

  • Twitter is relatively simple once you give it a try.
  • You don’t need to spend inordinate amounts of time on Twitter; you truly manage your own experience.
  • You don’t have to be a programmer to tweet.
  • The over 40 and 50 crowd is one of the fastest-growing segments on Twitter.
  • You can easily use Twitter solely for gifted interests.
  • You can make social networking work for you with a few insider tips.
  • Life may be chaotic (raising gifted children/adolescents, educating them, advocating for them, running a state gifted association, teaching gifted professionals), but Twitter can actually make you feel a bit saner and more empowered!

We all know how detrimental myths about gifted education can be. So, please don’t be dissuaded by social networking myths. Social media is changing the face of learning, collaboration and advocacy worldwide. Moreover, it’s an ideal environment for gifted types, It’s timely, pertinent and educational. And frankly, it’s fun!

If you’re new to the world of Facebook and Twitter, here are some simple tips to keep in mind:

  • Get started: If you’re not already set up on Twitter and Facebook, consider doing so now. There are hundreds of guides available (just do a Google search on how to get started). Facebook is easier to navigate at first. Twitter requires a bit more savvy and knowledge. If you’re interested in Twitter, feel free to email me at: deborah (at) ingeniosus (dot) net. I’ll be happy to help you get started.
  • Be deliberate about who you follow: It’s not about quantity; it’s about quality!
  • Choose a time of day or some regular times every week that you’ll devote to social media: Decide upon how long you’ll spend and try to stick to it. You need not invest hours upon hours every day to make a difference. You’ll likely be amazed at the timely and useful articles, research, blog posts and resources you’ll find in short order.
  • Be generous. One of the most inspiring facets of social media movements is the intrinsic generosity. If you like a blog post, resource link and/or article, share it or retweet it. And always give proper credit.
  • Learn how to shorten URLs: Twitter is working on a new application that will shorten URLs, but right now, I prefer www.bit.ly. It allows you to easily shorten lengthy URLs (Web site addresses). This makes it easier to share Web sites, posts and articles on both Facebook and Twitter. Creating an account takes just a few minutes.
  • Find the Gifted Organizations Already Online: The Davidson Institute compiled a list back in 2009. This will at least get you started: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10563.aspx  
  • Consider Participating in Global #gtchat: If you’re on Twitter and/or would like to learn more, feel free to visit the Ingeniosus Web site for more information on #gtchat: www.ingeniosus.net.
  • Keep learning and envisioning the future: Seth Godin’s TED talk on Tribes is worth a peek. If you’re able, contemplate your potential role and social media’s role in gifted education advocacy as you watch: httn://sethgodin.tyneadcom/seths blog/2009/05/the-ted-tribes-talk-is-now-Iive.html.  
  • Encourage Other Gifted Parents and Organizations to Get Online: Remember you can be a part of the solution! The more parents we have tapping social network’s benefits, the more apt we will be to forge a movement that positively impacts our gifted learners, their education and our future. Just think of the difference we can make together!

About the Author
Deborah Mersino serves as founder and principal of Ingeniosus (pronounced: in-genie-oh-sus), a global marketing communications firm specializing in gifted and talented education. As a consultant, writer and speaker to gifted and talented organizations and communities throughout the world, Ms. Mersino helps public school districts, private gifted schools, universities, state and national gifted associations and businesses serving the gifted population with marketing communication strategies, including social media tactics and thought-leadership. She also moderates two #gtchat sessions on Twitter every Friday. She can be reached via email at deborah (at) ingeniosus (dot) net.


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