This social media guide aims at promoting African knowledge (in particular about climate change adaptation).
This part of the guide is concerned with explaining what it means, practically, to promote African knowledge about climate change adaptation



How to use social media to promote African knowledge?


KVC_-_knowledge_stages.jpg
We have seen that promoting African knowledge in practice is not straightforward but can be done if due attention is given to who takes decision, generates content etc.

Knowledge itself - whether African or not - goes through several stages in its life cycle. Each stage of the knowledge cycle (each 'knowledge transaction') can be supported by social media. The knowledge value chain introduced by Mathieu Weggeman (1997) reminds us of these different stages as shown on the figure here.

Each stage mentions 'knowledge', although in practice, it might relate to information (the difference between knowledge and information we would like to suggest here is that information is codified data, packaged in a certain way, as a tangible resource, while knowledge is how we use information to apply it to a given context and it is therefore not a tangible 'commodity').
The knowledge cycle stages in the knowledge value chain are the following:
  • Identifying knowledge needed: Based on your mission, vision and goal, it is important to realize what you are trying to achieve and what kind of knowledge and know-how you might require to achieve those goals.
  • Identifying knowledge available: Once you have clearly identified what you need, comes the time to see how much of the knowledge needed you have in-house, to assess the knowledge gap that needs to be filled.
  • Developing knowledge: Filling knowledge gaps happens through developing knowledge. This means two things: generating new insights (through reading alone or through conversations with others) or developing information. The latter can be done by finding and acquiring (even purchasing) that information, updating/adapting existing information or by writing it from scratch.
  • Sharing knowledge: Once information has been created, it needs to be used. In order to be used, it needs to be found. This is where sharing knowledge, posting and disseminating information is useful. Sharing knowledge happens face to face or verbally anyhow, when one or more people share(s) their interpretation of information. Posting and disseminating information happens physically (e.g. in libraries) and virtually (on information repositories, databases, websites, relayed by e.g. social media networks etc.).
  • Applying knowledge: Knowledge and information have no value if they are not used. Applying knowledge is therefore the most important stage of the process. This stage implies the use of knowledge and/or information in practice, either to implement them in practice (as an action) or to use them for further writing and research.
  • Evaluating knowledge: The final stage of the knowledge value chain suggests assessing the quality of knowledge and information, its adequacy to the issue, the quality of the knowledge life cycle (from identifying knowledge needs to applying it).

How can social media support these stages? First we need to unpack what social media are and the functions they were originally design to perform.

What social media do: categories, functions and specific platforms


The graph on the right shows the wide variety of social media functions and categories. Some of them are more obscure or less used than others
Conversation_prism.jpg
Credits: Brian Solis / The Conversation Prism

Broadly, these are the main categories:
  • Blogging and microblogging
  • Social networking
  • Social bookmarking
  • Social writing
  • Social document management
  • Social video applications
  • Social picture applications
  • Social questions and answer services

Blogging and microblogging

Writing and reflecting
Typically, blogs and micro-blogging platforms aim at sharing information with a wide audience. The difference between the two is that blogging tends to be slower, more reflective and feel more like diary-writing, while micro-blogging is primarily used for speedy sharing of thoughts, resources, announcements and news.
This is one of the reasons why Twitter has been used extensively to share information such as the New York plane crash in 2009 or during the Arab spring.
More recently, corporate micro-blogging services such as Yammer have become very popular, trying to amplify the success of Twitter and the likes (in the public sphere) to conversations behind the organization's firewall.

Examples of tools and platforms in this category:

Social networking

Sharing and chatting
Perhaps the least focused, yet one of the most popular categories of social media are the social networking sites. These sites aim at allowing people to interact, network, share content, chat, post updates, comment on each other's postings. They can be used for personal or professional purposes. Facebook is the flagship example of social networking sites - from a myriad of them. Some social networking sites have developed a clear niche: LinkedIn has been targeting professionals (around job-seeking and professional groups providing a strong question and answer, forum-like, service), MySpace became the preferred social network for musicians and bands, there are geographically-focused social networking sites such as Orkut in Brazil or Hyves in the Netherlands, or Research Gate for researchers and Graduate Junction for graduates. Yammer features here too because it really has a strong social networking feature. The micro-blogging is but one aspect but the various groups, networks, files, polls and events that Yammer supports make it a great internal (corporate) social network too.

Examples of tools and platforms in this category:
Academia.edu, Facebook, Google+, Graduate Junction, Hyves, LinkedIn, MySpace, Orkut, Research Gate, Yammer etc.

Social bookmarking

Saving and finding quality content
When we browse the web, we sometimes find excellent resources online. We can save them as favourites or bookmarks on our computer's browser. But that is limited to us. Social bookmarking allows to save one's online finds on a public site so that others can also benefit from those finds. Social bookmarking allows sharing of collections of links (bookmarks) very easily too. It saves a lot of time finding information and usually indicates how popular or interesting (based on some rating system) each resource is. Delicious and Diigo are online extensions of in-browser bookmarking. Mendeley and Zotero were specifically set up to bookmark citations and literary references. Pinterest is the newcomer and has taken the Internet by storm with its visual collections of interesting bookmarks which people find and 'pin' on their Pinterest boards. Increasingly, social bookmarking are thus moving away from simple bookmarking to curation of bookmarks (as with the board collections of pins that have made Pinterest so popular or with the 'stacks' of bookmarks which Delicious proposes now).

Examples of tools and platforms in this category:
Delicious, Diigo, Mendeley, Pinterest, Zotero.

Social writing

Collaborating
Before social media became popular, whenever a team worked on a single document together, they ended up with too many copies of the document, rapidly losing track of the current version. Social writing has made this nightmare a past concern. Wikis are the most prominent social writing platforms here. They allow working on a single document as well as working on an entire 'workspace' where lots of pages can be developed jointly. They can be particularly useful to plan events, write proposals and keep track of team work. Google docs has taken a different approach by focusing on single documents (Word-type documents, or spreadsheets, or presentations etc.) without offering 'spaces'. Zoho write more about this here.

Examples of tools and platforms in this category:

Social document sharing and management

Managing information and documents, sharing and commenting it.
Where to save and share similar documents of all kinds once they have been created, to make them accessible to all? Entire collections of pictures, videos, audio recordings, presentations etc. can be put together in dedicated platforms, helping to find similar content more easily but also to keep these resources neatly in collections. A lot of audio, picture, presentation and video tools and platforms have emerged in the past to cater for this need. All these platforms also allow rating and commenting of the content, following special collections and channels to keep abreast of updates in relevant collections.
YouTube is the heavyweight example here, as it has become the second most popular search engine after Google - although many organizations prefer BlipTV to YouTube for professional applications. FlickR and Picasa take central stage as social picture applications (although FlickR now also allows uploads of videos), SlideShare has become THE reference to share presentations and in terms of audio applications, Podomatic is the most prominent podcast platform.

Examples of tools and platforms in this category:

Project management and meeting tools

Working as teams, managing the workflow and meeting virtually.
As boundaries are coming down and allowing teams to work across time zones and scattered geographic locations, the demand for virtual project management and meeting tools has grown enormously over the years, further stimulated by cost-cutting imperatives and the will to reduce carbon emissions (thus reducing face-to-face interactions to the strict minimum). These tools allow a) collaborative approach to keep track of milestones, work plans and deliverables and/or b) the organisation of virtual meetings where sharing presentations on the screen, talking together and seeing each other are all possible. With over 30 million users worldwide, Skype is the most obvious online meeting platform and has proven its value in low-bandwidth environment - it has however gone one step further by releasing a low-bandwidth version.

Examples of tools and platforms in this category:

Social questions and answer services

Finding answers
As indicated previously, many social media platforms actually provide a question and answer (Q&A) service as part of their broader offering (e.g. LinkedIn groups, discussion forums on wikis etc.) but some social media have made it their specialty to address Q&A in its own right. This type of social media applications relates to the information overload that many people seem to experience (for which they want to find trustworthy pointers to quality information such as search engines) and to the power of the network to provide contextual details beyond the raw information that can be found on search engines. This Q&A tradition goes back to the internet forums and to the search engine 'AskJeeves'. The most prominent (and recent) platform in this family of social media is perhaps Quora, which has been built with an eye for crowd-sourced filtering and rating of answers. Search engines such as Bing and Google are still very valid alternatives to these social media, although a recent article seems to indicate that particularly Quora is faring much better than even the powerful Google search engine.

Examples of tools and platforms in this category:
Ask.Com, AskJeeves, Quora, The answer bank, True knowledge, YahooAnswers.

Other social media services and applications

The diagram above gives a glimpse of the richness of social media. Out of the myriad of other social media, perhaps these platforms and applications are worth mentioning, above others:
  • Klout and SocialMention etc. are tools assessing the social fame and 'clout' of a given user or site - they provide some indications as to the influence of a brand, organization or person.
  • Charity Happenings Ticketing, EventBrite and DoAttend are event organisation and registration sites that help you assess the attendance and possibly organize the ticketing for a given event you are organizing.
  • Paper.li, The Tweeted Times etc. are social curation services helping you organise Twitter messages and other sources into self-made newspapers covering the sections that are relevant to you.
  • FourSquare, Dopplr, TripIt are location and travel services allowing to plan trips, identify interesting places and sights, find out who in your network is nearby you at any given time etc.


How to make social media work for you


The categories mentioned above are only as helpful to understand the original idea behind the platforms under each category. The excellent social media guide for researchers compiled by the Research Information Network (and featured as the one resource to read if you have no time to read more), categorizes social media in three different families supporting either communication, collaboration or multimedia.
In practice, however, any platform can be used for other purposes than was originally intended and some platforms combine various functions. A blogging platform such as WordPress can be used for a corporate website. Twitter can be used as a powerful search engine (using its search function and various other search tools). A wiki can be used for collaboration and communication and even multimedia, even though it is stronger on collaboration and was built for that purpose.

Using social media to promote African knowledge along the knowledge cycle

Focusing back on the original intention of this page, here are a few examples of how social media can support every stage of the knowledge cycle.

Identifying knowledge needs?

Identifying one's own knowledge needs is not necessarily best carried out through social media. This is indeed an introvert inquiry which might be best carried out using a series of internal consultations or a survey (using for instance SurveyMonkey) using some online meeting facilities.
However, the questions themselves can always be asked on most of the social networks mentioned above (Facebook and the likes), on wikis, as comments on Google docs, on an internal Yammer network etc. If the questions are more open (e.g. what services and products should the best African climate change adaptation initiative provide?) it could be posted as a question on Quora or a relevant LinkedIn group, or on Twitter, or even as a blog post or blog consultation could help glean very useful answers.

Identifying knowledge available?

This phase in the knowledge value chain is also best answered internally. A search engine would be very helpful here, but arguably the connected expertise and knowledge of the people in-house would beat it. Yammer and other social networking sites therefore reveal their true power here, by connecting questions to the people with experience - who can also engage in longer conversations (beyond the initial answer provided).
If the question can be answered by other people than staff members, the same services as mentioned for the knowledge needs (right above) can be used.
In addition to asking people questions, one can also investigate information repositories. The best place to start here are social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and Pinterest, since they have made it their specialty to help keep track of good resources, curated by people that you choose to trust or not.
If looking for specific resources (videos, audios, presentations etc.) going to these social media platforms is obviously a must and usually brings together a number of other helpful suggestions (as suggested or related links).

Developing knowledge?

Developing knowledge can be understood as a) generating new insights (mentally) and b) actually developing information together (concretely).

A) To generate new insights, almost all the social media tools mentioned above can be good places to have conversations and generate insights, although social networking sites are places of choice, and perhaps more so blogs, due to their reflective nature.

B) The best social media tools to develop information together are wikis and Google docs, and to a lesser extent project management and online meeting tools. On this front too, blogs are good alternative as they allow different roles (writers, editors, contributors etc.). If working on one-off documents, a Google doc (internal use) or a blog post (for external audiences) might be the best options. If working more structurally as a team, a wiki is probably the best option, although a number of content management systems such as Drupal, Joomla, eZpublish etc. offer even more customization options to create information together - but are perhaps less straightforward and quick to use than these social media platforms.

Sharing knowledge?

This is where social media are strongest - as they have indeed been designed for social interactions. Whichever social media is considered, its functionality is to provide opportunities for sharing content and opinions about that content. Giving opinions on the content (crowdsourcing, crowd filtering) is one of the major characteristics of social media. Indeed, what almost all social media have in common are a) commenting on content and b) rating or assessing content. These functionalities can be used to provide feedback on content.
In addition, some social media allow to share content itself, either under specific file formats (audio, video, presentation sites), in specific shapes (short bits of text such as with micro-blogging, longer bits of text on blogs, wikis and social networks), specific types of content (citations on Mendeley and Zotero, links on social bookmarking sites) etc. The possibilities are almost endless.

Depending on what you want to share, with whom, for what purpose, there is a set of social media that can help you.
  • News, announcements: on social networks and micro-blogging platforms (Twitter, Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.);
  • Events: on event management sites, calendars, social networking sites etc.
  • Thoughtpieces: on blogs, wikis,
  • Questions: on Q&A sites, on social networks and on forums of any other social media;
  • Work documents, procedures etc.: on project management sites, wikis etc.;
  • Proposals and working documents: on wikis and google docs;
  • Publications (books, articles, reports etc.): on wikis, project management sites, - relayed by blog posts, micro-blogging platforms etc.;
  • Presentations, pictures, audio recordings, videos: on dedicated social document management and sharing sites such as Slideshare, Podomatic, Blip TV etc.

There are interactions and mutually reinforcing mechanisms between social media: a publication produced could be posted on the website, reviewed in a blog post, announced on Twitter and Yammer, questioned on Quora; an audio-recording of the abstract could be posted on Podomatic and a Powerpoint presentation could be made on the presentation, posted on Slideshare and embedded elsewhere.

Applying knowledge?

This stage in the knowledge value chain relates to putting knowledge in practice and thus probably happens not online but offline, in 'real life'. Social media are not adequate for this, unless applying knowledge means using information from other sources to do research or write further, in which case the 'developing knowledge' stage gives good indications for the set of social media to use.

Evaluating knowledge?

Finally, when it comes to evaluating knowledge:
  • The feedback functionalities offered by almost every social media (as highlighted in the 'sharing knowledge' part above) provide a first option to crowdsource the evaluation of knowledge. Comments, likes, ratings, followers and the conversations that unfold from posting resources are all some indicators of the quality of the content posted - although they usually indicate only to a limited extent the potential use of that content and the outcomes it might have contributed to.
  • The social clout tools mentioned above offer another way to assess the popularity of a given person and s/he posts.
  • Question and answer services such as Quora and Yahoo Answers are very useful ways to evaluate knowledge on the questions that have been posed.

When it comes to evaluating the whole knowledge cycle, it relates back to an internal consultation process that might involve some social media but not necessarily so, in a similar fashion to identifying knowledge needs.

Feedback is hard to elicit and any assessment of external assessments and evaluations on the basis of these indicators should be taken cautiously. A thorough evaluation process requires a mix of approach and a well thought-through approach linking the content posted with the reactions it triggers and the outcomes it generates. The field of knowledge assessment, monitoring and evaluation is vast and deserves a guide in its own right. We are not covering this part in this guide but have indicated a few resources on this in the full list of resources.