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Monday, March 9, 2015

How to Fix Social Media GIS Groups

How many geospatial communities or groups have you joined? Are you a member of Geo Geeks on Google Plus? Or GIS Group on LinkedIn? Do you see the same posts in each group (sometimes with the "sorry for cross posting" notice)? Do you visit these groups regularly? Is it a satisfying or frustrating experience?
By Der Hupe under CC-BY-ND-2.0

I've found most of the GIS and geospatial groups I've visited or joined in need of improvement. Reddit/GIS and GIS.Stackexchange, by contrast, are the exceptions. Why? I think it's because they focus on questions and answers, provoking actual discussions. 

So what's going on in the Google Plus, LinkedIn and Facebook Groups that makes them so unsatifying? Mostly it's the "promotion" posts. Instead of posing authentic questions, a great many posts are about new press releases or articles or events. Here's an example. I'm on the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) Facebook group. Jill Jenkins regularly posts generic education articles there. The latest one is titled "The Importance of Teaching Values in School Part IV of V."

Miller Tackles the Cans Of Spam

Jeremy Miller, president of a brand building agency and author of the book Sticky Branding, describes most social media groups as "cans of spam." He runs a LinkedIn Group called Sticky Branding with about 40,000 members.

He discussed his moderation techniques for the wildly successful group on a recent podcast with Kevin Anselmo(Plug: Anselmo does a twice monthly podcast about communications aimed at people in education. I never miss it.) I think those who manage or plan to launch social media groups can learn from Miller. Here are the actions I think might help some of the GIS groups:
  1. Moderate heavily - Miller moves all the promotion posts (links to articles, blog posts, event announcements, off-topic posts, etc.) to the promotions tab to keep the focus on conversation (questions and answers) In some groups, this may mean disallowing the posts; each platform is different.
  2. Create a Safe Space - Miller enlists colleagues and friends to keep the momentum up and the environment safe and inviting. His analogy: no one dances at the high school dance until the pack of "cool kids" does. He makes sure the cool kids are always dancing so the rest of us can join in.
  3. Keep it Going - Groups require commitment. Miller notes he has been known to require his colleagues to post  one question and one response per day as part of their job responsibilities.
Other Platforms of Note

Miller made a few other comments of interest:
  1. These days Miller suggested, he'd be more likely to focus on e-mail for his marketing efforts. I see more "tiny letter" e-mail newsletters appearing in my inbox. I read James Fee's and Audrey Watters'. E-mail list serves are still around  too. The few I frequent are relatively focused and "clean": Esri's Higher Ed and Geo for All.
  2. Miller noted the value of Instagram, because like Twitter, the conversations are short and focused. I find Twitter very valuable specifically because I can follow only individuals I choose (currently just over 100 people). I use hashtag searches to get broader input. I feel quite confident I'm not "missing" much.