Tag Archives: facebook

Does a Facebook focus do us any favours?

[Summary: Reflections on going beyond Facebook in online youth work. Reposted from the Youth Work Online blog]

When I started out researching Youth Work and Social Networking in 2007 I really wanted to look at ‘Youth Work and the Internet’, but the needs of focussed research meant the boundary was drawn to look specifically at social network sites. At the time, a considerable number of young people were on Bebo and MySpace, and only certain groups were using Facebook, which had not-long opened it’s doors to everyone – having started out restricted to students at selected Universities. Talk of social media would range over a wide range of tools – from YouTube and video sharing, to still take in ideas of online chat and instant messaging, and niche photo-sharing or art-sharing websites. Now when I talk about young people online, the conversation far too often becomes ‘Young people on Facebook’.

There is a tension. The youth work idea of starting where young people are means that Facebook may well be a natural starting point. Bebo and MySpace are all but gone, and Facebook is the starting point for many young people’s online lives. Yet, Facebook is not all there is to the Internet, nor should it be. I’ve undoubtedly been guilty at times of ‘promoting’ Facebook as an youth work setting and writing about online youth engagement in very Facebook centric ways. Facebook is a youth work setting; and it does offer powerful tools for youth engagement. But as well as starting where young people are, youth work principles also encourage us to ‘go beyond’ – and to work with young people to explore alternatives and to be critical about the dominance of Facebook.

What does this mean in practice?

  • When we think about young people’s media use and online lives – we should be careful not to focus entirely on Facebook.In a presentation today by Stephen Carrick-Davies on how young people in a london Pupil Referral Unit are using the Internet Stephen emphasized “For Internet, read Mobile Phone” and highlighted the messaging and social networking taking place through Blackberry Messenger.
  • We should mix-and-match different online engagement tools. Even if there is a Facebook point of contact with a project, there might be other more open tools for hosting other elements of interaction and conversations.
  • I’ve long advocated for making blogging platforms the ‘home’ of any open access online content, with an ‘outpost’ taking the content into Facebook. Facilitating in the online space might involve encouraging young people to move from closed discussions in Facebook, to discussions in blogging spaces or on discussion lists – reflecting in the process on the different impacts of each technology choice.
    I’ve watched a recent process with interest where a discussion has moved from an open Ning network into a Facebook group. The velocity of discussion has increased in the Facebook group – but different voices are coming out stronger.
  • ‘Going beyond’ in digital youth work isn’t just about moving from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator’ of digital content, but also from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator’ of digital spaces.
  • Whilst it is hard to establish any sort of online network that will ‘compete’ with Facebook, the process of setting up and running online discussion spaces (or even just exploring how to create pages and other spaces within Facerbook) can help young people gain critical skills for thinking about the online environment. And even if we don’t create Facebook replacement spaces, we need to raise awareness of the wider potential of the open Internet – beyond centralising and dominant media platforms.

I realise some of this is pretty demanding stuff. How many practitioners would feel they have the digital skills right now to set up and manage their own online spaces – working with open source software and servers to make space. Yet, if I go back to youth work values, and a vision of informal education as helping young people to be empowered in a digital world – it’s exactly some of these skills that workers and young people may need to be exploring together.

What do you think? Do we focus too much on Facebook?

 

(Image Credit – Webtreat ICONS Etc)

Safe and effective social network site applications

[Summary: Inviting feedback on first public draft of working paper about developing social network site applications for young people that can be effective and engaging, whilst also promoting safety and limiting risk to young people (PDF)]

Update 18th May 2009: Version 1.0 of the paper posted here.

For the Plings project – concerned with promoting positive activities to young people – Social Network Sites (SNS) offer amazing opportunities. One of the main ways people find out about positive activities (the football club, dance group or arts society for example) is through word of mouth. So if you can feed information about positive activities into SNS, and increase the flows of information about positive activities through the networks of young people already active there, you could potentially have a big impact on young people’s awareness of activities they could take part in.

Take a look at the slidecast below to get an idea of how a Social Network Site application could work:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sns)

Of course, local authorities and professionals working with young people have a duty not only to make sure young people are aware of the positive activities available to them, but also a duty to keep young people safe from harm – and Social Network Sites can be places of risk as well as of opportunity. Which is why public and third-sector organisations engaging with SNS shouldn’t just copy the ‘viral marketting’ and often aggressive tactics of commercial SNS application builders – but need to develop a clear ethical and risk assessment framework for engaging with Social Network Sites.

I hope that this working paper which I’ve put together for the ISP/Plings project can go some way to starting off that development.

‘Safe and effective SNS applications for young people: considerations in building social networking
applications for under 19s’
aims to build a coherent foundation to support public and third-sector engagement with SNS through application building by:

  1. Unpacking the reasons why we need to treat young people differently;
  2. Exploring the features of Social Network Sites which lead to both amazing opportunities, and potential risks;
  3. Clearly identifying the risks to young people within the Social Network Site space;
  4. Proposing three levels of response that should lead to safe and effective application building;

The document also includes an outline risk assessment framework.

The three responses proposed are:

  • Abiding by ethical principles – and designing applications on the basis of principles derived from law, a respect for young people’s rights, and existing principles from professional practice;
  • Having a clear risk assessment in place for all projects - to make sure potential risks are identified and design decisions or resources put in place to limit potential harm to young people;
  • Building safety in – and creating applications which empower young people and encourage general safe online behavior.

So, if you’re exploring the use of Social Network Sites to engage young people, whether in positive activities or participation opportunities – or if you’ve got experience of e-safety or Social Network Site applications please do take a look at the ‘Safe and Effective SNS for young people’ working paper and share your reflections, questions and feedback.

Exploring further
This first public draft of the paper is hopefully just a starting point of a deeper exploration on building positive SNS applications. In particular:

  • The ISP/Plings project will be seeking to operationalise some of the learning in this paper, so it’s proposals, and the feedback and comments on it should have an opportunitity to be explored in practice over the first half of next year…
  • I’ll be leading an exploration of using applications for youth participation as part of the Local Government Information Unit Action Learning Set on SNS and Youth Participation. (N.B. Application deadline extended until 9th Jan 2009 in case you wanted to come along… but have not yet had chance to register…)
  • If there is enough interest – then I’d love to host a seminar on SNS applications and youth engagement early in 2009 – exploring both this paper, and emerging practice from the field. If you would be interested in taking part do drop me a line (tim at practicalparticipation dot org dot uk) or leave a comment on this blog post.
  • All comments and feedback on the paper are most welcome. Again, e-mail or comment below…

Social media options: Facebook groups for an online election dialogue

[Summary: shared learning/pointers from explorations of facebook groups as a platform for dialogue]

Picture by SmallKid Design - copyright NYAIn response to a number of questions I've had recently about how Social Networking sites could be used for youth participation and engaging young people in local democratic dialogue, I've been exploring a range of different options. To capture my learning, I though I would try and write up my explorations in the form of a number of strategic 'recipes'.

The scenario I have in mind is a local Youth Parliament election, or the election of a Children's Champion – where, over a limited time period, candidates need to respond to questions from possible electors, and where there is an opportunity to foster wider dialogue about issues and challenges for change in the local area.

Yesterday I wrote up a quick exploration I'd put together of the distinction between Facebook pages and Facebook groups as tools for engagement, and so here I'm exploring a possible strategy for hosting online election dialogue using Facebook pages.

Suggestions for other possible strategies are most welcome in the comments below, and where relevant I'll look to work them up into similar 'recipes'.

Strategy #1: Host the discussion on a Facebook group

A Facebook group provides a discussion space and space for sharing media and links, which Facebook members can join and contribute to. It is only available to Facebook members – but has the benefit of taking the discussion broadly to the space where many young people are already spending time and interacting.

Create Facebook Group 1) Create a Facebook group

Be clear in the description of your group about why the group has been created, whether you plan to moderate the discussion and the groups 'best before date' (i.e. when the decisions that discussions relate to are going to be taken).

When you create a group you have a lot of control over how it looks and works. Group Options

You can choose to only switch on the features you think you will need, such as the discussion board and wall.

The discussion board allows for 'threaded' discussions where you can post questions, and encourage others to offer answers.

The wall is a quick space for group members to leave comments.

If you are sharing photos, videos and links in the group you can set those so that only group administrators can add them. If you do limit posting like this, make sure you provide a note in the group description to let people know they can e-mail you with media they think could be useful to the group (for example, they may caught a good video interview with one of the candidates on their mobile phone that could be posted to the group as a useful video).

2) Add media to the Facebook group

Photos, videos and links can all make a group a more dynamic space. A short one minute video interview with each candidate in the election can provide great stimulus for discussion.

3) Promote your group

Group Access Options

You can set your group to be Invite Only (closed or secret) or to be Open to anyone. Unless you already have all the people you would want to be members as Facebook friends, Open should be your default choice here.

Your group will have a unique web address that looks something like this:

http://facebook.com/group.php?gid=9985424851

You can share that link via websites and e-mail, and Facebook members will be able to access your group and join in the discussions.

When a Facebook member joins your group, depending on their privacy settings, people on their 'friends list' may come to read about it via the list of updates on their homepage.

If you don't have an active 'friends list' on Facebook, you may want to encourage some of the group you are working to to invite their friends to the group to kick start the membership and dialogue.

4) Keeping discussions active

When someone posts a message on a Facebook discussion board, they will only find out if someone has replied by returning to that discussion thread to check later on (unless someone replies directly to their comment, when in some cases they may get e-mail notification). This means that to keep discussion flowing in a Facebook group, you need to be an active facilitator.

Message membersThis can mean:

  • Making sure candidates are replying to questions in a timely way.
  • Making sure discussion topics do not get left with no replies. Even if you just post a message to point out that the questions asked have been answered in another discussion thread.
  • Using the 'Message All Members' feature to (selectively) let group members know about 'hot topics' of discussion that they may be interested in.
  • Sending direct messages to individuals who asked a very relevant question which received a reply – but where you suspect the individual who asked the question has not checked back to see the reply.

5) Rounding up

After the dialogue has taken place make sure you offer feedback to the group. You can use the 'Message All Members' feature to let group members know the results of the election, and you can edit the group to make sure this information is displayed on the 'Recent News' page.

Once the elections are over, you need to decide whether you will purpose the group and keep it running for other discussions, whether you will shut it down (change it into a closed or secret group, or even delete it), or whether you will leave it open, but will post a clear message in the Recent News and Group Description to explain whether or not you will still be checking up on new messages and discussions.

Facebook groups vs. Facebook pages


I’ve been working on series of strategy options for engaging young people in local democracy activities through Facebook. The two key platforms for engagement that support some level of dialogue appear to be Facebook pages, and Facebook groups. So I though I’d try and get a sense of when you would choose one over the other.

If you were looking to host a discussion between young people and local councillors on Facebook – which would you use?

Below are the notes I’ve drafted on the topic so far…

Pages of Groups?

Groups or Pages?

Both ‘Facebook pages’ and ‘Facebook groups’ offer a way of promoting activities and of hosting a discussion between different Facebook users. Both can have a discussion wall, and discussion forum. Both offer ways of Facebook members affiliating with them, with that affiliation optionally displayed to a members ‘friends’ (creating a viral marketing effect). They are, however, subtly different:

Groups

You can create a Facebook group for just about anything. They can be used as serious discussion forums, virtual petitions where membership indicates support for a cause, a space for sharing photos and videos or a way of subscribing to get messages from an organisation (amongst other things).

As the creator of a group you gain control over which features of the group are enabled, and whether it is visible to all members of Facebook, or is closed and visible only to invited Facebook members. Facebook groups are never visible to non Facebook users.

Users of Facebook can ‘join’ your group and then post messages on the ‘wall’ or in the ‘discussion forum’ (which allows for threaded discussions). As the group owner you can send a message to all your group members – this will appear in their Facebook inbox. You can also invite group members to events created through the Facebook event system (which allows RSVP guest lists etc.).

Pros

  • Facebook users are familiar with groups
  • You can send messages to group members
  • They are marginally easier to set up and manage than pages

Cons

  • Groups are only visible to Facebook members
  • Groups cannot have extra applications added to them
  • You generally have to visit a group regularly and to use the messaging feature to keep discussions flowing.

Pages

You can create a ‘Facebook Page’ for any entity such as a club, youth council, youth project etc. Unlike groups which have ‘members’, and which are only visible to logged in Facebook users, most of a ‘Facebook Page’ can be visible on the wider internet to those without a Facebook account, and have ‘fans’.

You can send updates to fans, but these will only be displayed on the side of a users homepage when they log-in, rather than appearing in their inbox. This means they are likely to get less attention that messages sent to group members.

You can add some ‘applications’ to pages, similar to the way you can add applications to your Facebook profile. For example, you could add an RSS application to your page that would pull in the headlines from your blog, or from another discussion board, to display on your Facebook page.

Here is an example page created for Practical Participation.

Pros

  • Can be visible on the wider internet to non-Facebook members (although only Facebook members can interact with them)
  • You can add applications
  • Facebook presents you with visitor statistics to let you know how many visitors you pages are getting.

Cons

  • ‘Updates’ sent to those who decide to be a ‘fan’ of your page are lower key than messages to group ‘members’.
  • Facebook users are less familiar with pages than they are with groups.
  • Visitors still need to be a member of Facebook if they want to join in discussions on your page message board.

When would you choose one over the other?

If you were looking to host a discussion between young people and local councillors on Facebook – which would you use?

There are many factors that could decide between pages and groups. However, in this case my leanings would lead me to choose:

  • Pages if I wanted a long-term public record of the dialogue, and wanted to engage young people via Facebook over the longer term
  • Groups if I wanted to quickly host a discussion with those already on facebook, but without building a presence on Facebook right now.

What would your choice be?