This social media guide aims at promoting African knowledge (in particular about climate change adaptation).
This is the central part of the guide, showcasing key resources for the most important topics around 'promoting African knowledge (about climate change adaptation) through social media.

Confessions of a social media skeptic: doubts and pitfalls of using social media

Quick access to key resources

Find a description for each of these resources at the bottom of this page.

Doubts over using social media

The world now spends more than 110 billion minutes on social networks and blogs per month [1] and there are indeed numerous benefits of using social media.

However, not everyone gets excited by social media and many remain hesitant when it comes to sharing knowledge via these online tools and platforms.

It's fair to say that while there are many benefits to be gained from using social media, there are also a number of downsides.

In light of this, we've taken some of the most common doubts and concerns and tried to address them.

Lack of understanding
  • "I know what social media are but I don't know how to use them"

There's nothing to fear when it comes to social media. The sheer number of different tools and related literature might seem a little daunting at first, but don't let that put you off. The great thing about using social technology is that you are free to experiment with it. There are no rules, and there is no magic recipe for getting it right. It's better to choose one or two tools and practice with them, than to spread your time too thinly by struggling with several new tools at once. Do what makes you feel comfortable. If you don't know where to begin, visit our How To Get Started page. And, if you get stuck, check out our Reference Guide for help with some of the most popular social media out there.

Resistance to change

  • "I don't need social media - I've been using traditional knowledge sharing methods for years and they work fine"

Social media occupy a very prominent and celebrated space in today's vibrant and ever-evolving digital sphere, but that is not to say that they replace traditional methods of communication. In Africa, social technology can be viewed as a natural extension of the social learning, storytelling and conversation that has existed here for centuries. Social media should not be looked at in isolation, but must be recognised as one part of a bigger picture. Ideally, you will be able to use a mix of more traditional methods of knowledge sharing and up-and-coming social technology to best promote African knowledge on climate change adaptation.

Quality assurance?
  • "Social media are trivial and lack authoritative perspective"

The strength and attraction of some of the most well-known social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Yammer, lies in communicating short bursts of information from one individual or organisation to a wide network of people. While the use of social media for entertainment and marketing purposes might seem trivial, it is worth pointing out that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are a whole variety of social media available to play around with and, using collaborative platforms such as this Wikispace, the sky is the limit. Selecting the right tool for your work is therefore important and should form part of your social media strategy (see pitfalls below).

Unlike traditional peer-reviewed or quality assured publications, the very nature of social media does mean that anyone can post anything online. However, as the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia has demonstrated, the 'anyone can edit this' policy is a roaring success. Therefore, crowdsourcing helps filter quality and leads not to a traditional single-track authoritative perspective, but to community-based approval. The results are arguably superior, because if you don't produce great content, your knowledge will not fare well in the social media arena.

Privacy concerns
  • "I'm scared to share because others might steal my hard work"

One of the most common concerns voiced by those that resist sharing their knowledge, creativity and expertise via social media revolves around intellectual property rights, i.e. permissions over creations of the mind. Knowledgeable experts may fear other people in the same field taking advantage of their hard work and pinching unpublished data and results. The use of social media for sharing knowledge on any topic requires a degree of trust. It is possible to protect images and other forms of media online, and also to be relatively selective about the audience you are sharing with. Choosing the right tools for promoting different types of knowledge is an important part of the process, as is adjusting your privacy controls until you feel comfortable.

Pitfalls of using social media

Just as in other areas of work, time, budget and other constraints will inevitably limit your use of social media. However, this guide aims to convince you why social media are worth dedicating some of your time to for sharing knowledge on climate change, and beyond.

Information overload!
  • "All this information on the internet is overwhelming"

"It's not information overload, it's filter failure." as Clay Shirky, writer and consultant on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, infamously suggests. There are far more print publications in the world than any one person could read in a lifetime, and online knowledge is the same.

The advantage of using social media is that social networks naturally filter out irrelevant or sub-standard information on any given topic. In other words, the wider online community saves you time by sorting out the good resources from the bad for you. A quick search, with the right key words and phrases should lead you straight to what you're looking for. In the same way, social media can promote your own knowledge within the right networks and to the right audience too.

One of the best tricks for avoiding "information overload" is to be smart with your social network settings. Carefully setting privacy controls can avoid an overload of notifications and only highlights information that is most relevant or interesting to you and your work. Instructions can be found for the main social networks in our Reference Guide at the end of this guide.

Personal vs. professional social networking
  • "I have a personal Facebook account, so I know how to use all social media..."

It is important not to underestimate the difference between using social networking in your personal life and using social media in a professional setting Organizations and individuals making the shift from traditional offline knowledge sharing to social technologies should first think about why they want to use social media, what they are trying to communicate, how they are going to do that, and who they are targetting. Having a simple social media strategy like this maintains a standard approach to using social media for knowledge sharing and can avoid confusion and trouble further down the line.

Africa-specific limitations
  • "In Africa, so many people do not have access to the Internet"

The fact that less than 6% of the African population has access to Internet [2], does provide somewhat of a hurdle when it comes to promoting African knowledge on climate change. However, Africa's telecommunications industry is growing at a faster rate than any other in the world and the continent is a dynamic market for social media. With an increasing number of homegrown social media platforms, plus rapid growth in the number of international social media tool users in Africa, it is clear that the Internet will expand across both urban and rural areas over the next few years. Social media provide a great opportunity for the people of Africa to share knowledge with the rest of the world at the click of a button; to add their voices to the global conversation on climate change. For those that can access the Internet, it is therefore certainly worth doing so.


[1] M. Kirkpatrick. Rest in Peace, Social Media ROI Doubts 2006-2012, [Jan 11 2012], Read Write Web
[2] Internet World Statistics [2011]

Key Resources

It's not information overload. It's filter failure. (Clay Shirky, speaking at Web 2.0 Expo NY - September 2008)
Video of an insightful presentation by Clay Shirky, writer and consultant on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. Shirky explains that the sense of being 'overwhelmed' by information in our day to day lives is not a fault on the part of the internet, but is a result of inadequate filtering. Using social media and the internet wisely eliminates this problem.

5 Tips to a Separate Personal and Professional Life Online (Amber Mac - May 2011)
Amber MacArther, social media entrepreneur and netcasting personality, gives sound and practical advice on the differences between personal and professional social networking, and how to keep the two separate. This article highlights the thin line between different user approaches to social media and offers practical solutions to the obstacle of splitting up your networks online.

The Chicken or the Egg Theory for Social Media (Ian Smith for Intelegia - June 2011)
Great article on the reasons for having a social media strategy. Ian Smith advocates that such a strategy provides structure, eases the engagement process and helps avoid trouble later down the line. While he is targeting those wanting to "sell" a product, his advice is still relevant for those wishing to sell (or share) their knowledge and expertise.

All Organizations Are Social, But Few Are Social Organizations (Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald - October 2011)
This refreshing article describes a "social organisation" as one which is able to address significant challenges and opportunities through mass collaboration. Bradley and McDonald emphasise the important part social media play in becoming a social organisation. They focus on treating every individual as a valued source of innovation, ideas and energy - which is exactly how all those sharing African knowledge on climate change should be regarded.