Personal Economics of Social Media

The Viral Professional Development that injenuity has been writing about and the EduPunk flare-up (EDUCATION IS SERIOUS BUSINESS YOU CAN’T PUT PUNK IN THERE!) got me thinking about social media both in the context of a learning tool, but also in the context of a business tool.

We all love free stuff, and I think my “viral professional network” includes some of the most creative, collaborative, and giving colleagues I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, but at the end of the day we all have to make a living, and in these economic times, I want to know if living the networked professional life actually yields a better paycheck.

I’m already convinced that it leads to a much, much more fulfilling career, but as I start to feel the real pinch of all these increased prices, I also find myself forced to think in practical economic terms. I know money doesn’t buy happiness, but happiness doesn’t buy kitty food, either. 🙂

Social media, for me, is time intensive. Blogging, browsing, trying things out, keeping in touch with the network and trying to figure out how to do that when the network grows bigger than I’ve ever experienced before.. As I said on twitter the other day, some days it feels like the social media manages ME instead of the other way around.

And that time comes at a cost.

Formal Learning vs Informal Learning

While I was musing about this, I ran across Intellagirl’s recent slideshow about the differences between formal education in an institution and informal learning through social media. Check this out:

Her analysis really jives with my personal, lived experience of both completing a degree and being very active in social media in the last couple years. I got my degree after 7 years and finally had that stamp of approval, but at the same time, the work I’ve done in my online communities of interest has in many ways been far more important to my personal learning than my formal education experience.

I do feel a greater sense of accomplishment for my online work than for any of the tests or exams I took and scored well on, and through my online experiences I’ve become part of a wider professional community that seems far more relevant to me than, say, other UC alumni.

Social Contract with Social Media?

But then Intellagirl goes on to talk about the sort of social contract we make (Promise, Tools, Bargain) and that’s where I got hung up, because the bargain we make with formal education isn’t just credentials/reputation, it’s also dollar signs in a directly transferable sense. Get the right degree from the right institution and you’ll make more money, guaranteed. Get a degree from any institution and you’ll have a better shot at making more money than you’d make otherwise. That’s also implied in the social contract, leading to the stories I mentioned last week about so many completely un- or under- prepared students entering college.

So, I guess my question is, how does the informal learning through social media translate to better economic conditions, particularly when so many are working in companies or institutions that are completely ignorant of the social web phenomena? It isn’t as if you’re going to get higher marks on your evaluation because you twitter (though if you’re doing it right, you WILL do better at your job because of twitter). That is to say, the time spent on social media, for most people, is personal time, and even though it also benefits the workplace, or the institution, that benefit is not accounted for or rewarded explicitly, and often is actively blocked or sanctioned on work time.

Given this, and even though social media promises all sorts of wonderful learning opportunities, how can we ask our students, or our faculty, (or even ourselves) to keep up the time intensive pace of it all when they’re busy trying to raise a family or work a job that doesn’t have them at a computer all day? It seems that even though the formal educational model is rigid and top down and appears to be counter to what I’d consider a very valid and important form of learning, it’s the mode that pays the bills, and as long as that’s the case, that’s what people will do because they have to.

I don’t know. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to so closely align my personal passions with my professional career, including social media, but when I’m up there in front of a room full of people who do not work at a computer all day, I want to make a compelling argument that convinces them to try it when they get home. It’s not just the educational or personal impact I’m wondering about, but also the economic impact of social media, and how that plays into the “education crisis” analysis.

If anyone has any thoughts, I’m all ears.

Speaking of Economics.. Metanomics!

Last bit, I’m delighted to say that I’ll be working with the folks at Metanomics as the Education Correspondent for the new season. Hosted by Cornell Prof. Robert Bloomfield, Metanomics is a weekly webTV program focusing on economics and policy in the “metaverse” of online worlds. I’ve been a fan since I caught some of their first episodes last season, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to cover education in virtual worlds and Second Life for the show. I’ve never been a webTV journalist before, so I expect to be learning some new technical skills in that arena (all from my social network!), and brainstorming about some good angles to cover.

If you want to have a look at my debut, see me make a classic newbie mistake by WRITING the script instead of TALKING the script. 🙂

Ah well, live and learn!

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  1. I guess it really depends on your field of work. For example, a lot of people told me I would go nowhere getting my MEd online. However, my career field is eLearning, so it makes sense. I can definitely say social media has had a positive economic impact on me. I used it in my job interview and was hired to be a director, even though I had no previous experience as a director. I’ve also been invited to do more presentations, some for money, some not. I think you really have to work on branding yourself, the way you and Sarah have. The two of you are the people I always refer others to when I’m talking about success in social media. If you’re not seeing the rewards, you should be. You work harder than anyone I know!

  2. First off, you’re brilliant as always. Second, I think the point I was making regarding the promise of institutionalized learning is more related to what we promise they’ll learn rather than how they can cash it in. My concern is that so long as institutionalized education leaves social media out (or offers it in some contrived way) that we aren’t preparing students for the methods of learning they’ll be most expected to perform when they’re done with their degree.
    Agree? disagree?

  3. Jen: Are you kidding, I cannot even keep up with you these days. 🙂

    Intellagirl: Definitely agree that institutional education is doing a disservice to students if they don’t teach them how to use social media, but maybe question the word “expected” in the sense that, but for IT related fields, it doesn’t seem that management/administrators even know those options exist, or what they do know, they block. But certainly as those barriers come down, I think you’re right on the money. In fact, I think it goes beyond what they’re “expected” to do and should translate into what they WANT to do. I can’t imagine NOT wanting up to date info, ready access to professionals in my field, 24/7 tech support, etc. etc.

    I probably completely misread some of your slides, that’s one of the dangers of SlideShare. Seeing the talking points isn’t the same as hearing the talk. 🙂 When I read the Promise/Tools/Bargain sequence, the polisci part of my brain jumped straight to social contracts as the context. 🙂

  4. Sneblen Dagger (Scott Kahler)

    As a student, I have even had points taken off of graded assignments because it did not fit a traditional form. She asked for creativity. Instead of a boring lecture or a skit, I decided to make a machinima movie . All of my classmates were excited when I asked them. I dug around for hours looking for a DVD burner so I could properly present it in class. I worked for hours setting it up. Because I was also learning how to shoot it.

    I am not complaining. Honestly, it was not a lot of points. However, I did want to illustrate some reactions toward the new and novel.

  5. social media as such does not exist: you must differentiate between e.g. blogging, twittering, flickering, facebooking .. all afford a different kind of involvement and have a different “return on investment”

    e.g. twitter allows to keep up to date with many communities in a very efficient way .. no way to this in a “traditional” way.

    so my point would rather be: some social media are not mainly “consuming precious time” but rather allow very efficient communication (… and communication is education 🙂

  6. Sneblen: That sounds very unfortunate, considering how much work goes into making a machinima piece! Do you think the instructor understood how much work went into creating it?

    Igori: That’s a very good point, “social media” is a very broad term and means lots of different things, with different tools and functions (and time investments!).. 🙂

  7. […] posted a few days ago about the Personal Economics of Social Media, and highlighted Intellagirl’s slideshow, How Social Media is Pushing Higher Ed into Identity […]

  8. Fleep, it’s great that you wrote this, and I hope you will keep up the great questioning, even though now you are FIC 2.5 and sucked into Metanomics.

    There *isn’t* any way to make money from social media time and therefore you need to severely limit it. The old academic “publish or perish” still holds true, and publishing on Twitter or Friendfeed or your blog just doesn’t count.

    More and more people are discovering that there isn’t any economics to social media just like there isn’t any “economics of the telephone”. It’s something you use, if you have something to say. By itself, it doesn’t get you paid. You have to say something to someone else that will pay off.

    So many people have been going around playing with these tools and interviewing themselves interviewing the tools that they forget that they are just running in circles. They aren’t using them for much yet, and may never use them. If you don’t have something that pays out already before you start, it’s hard to squeeze much more out of it just in itself. It does not pay.

    The social media gurus who run medicine shows and go around to all the camp meetings squeeze more than most of us but they can’t really make a living, either.

    I don’t know Intellagirl’s story, but she has hustled herself, worked very hard, gotten a book published, gotten on all the right conference panels, and probably has made this work. I don’t think she did that in a vacuum. She likely has a teaching job and/or a husband supporting her social media guru gigs — it is very hard for most people to make them do more than merely add fun-ness to their drab work lives.

  9. Intellagirl’s PowerPoint is ridiculous. It’s facile and reductive like all PowerPoints are, and that dumbs down thinking.

    Your club or your gang or you posse cannot get you paid, and that’s all social media networks are. They add some colour and density to lives that might be more shallow, but more often than not they make people who might be more dense become more shallow with gadzillions of strangers.

  10. Slide no. 16 sums it all up! University gives you money; social media only sucks up time! The time never turns into money!