Social Media
a primer

Effective knowledge sharing underpins the success of Changing Lives. Online communities offer a simple and effective way of sharing and communicating knowledge and information.

Social networking

What is social networking?

Social networking is where an individual or group of people uses one or more web-based tools, such as FaceBook, Twitter, Blogger, a community of practice (CoP), or social bookmarking tools such as Delicious or Diigo, to share their knowledge. They are much easier to use than they are to explain, so why not give them a try!


What is a community?

A community, or community of practice, is a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. They can exist online or in real life. For example, in the online world they may take the form of shared spaces or social networks, and in real life operate in physical spaces such as offices or factories. The purpose of a community is to help members share opinions, experiences, resources and knowledge with each other, usually with the objective of improving practice.

Benefits of communities

  • Encourage the development and sharing of ideas, knowledge and expertise.
  • Support the sharing of documents, video, audio and other media.
  • Support faster problem-solving through collaboration.
  • Reduce the number of documents sent by email.
  • Reduce the need to file documents and keep track of versions.
  • May boost personal confidence and encourage the creation of a professional identity.
  • Keep people up-to-date with current practice and new initiatives
  • Encourage peer support and lifelong learning.

If you upload graphical materials such photographs, cartoons, newspaper clippings, video or music that you did not create yourself, you must ensure that you have the owner's permission, and that you cite the source. See the section on copyright for more details.

Creating a community

There are many web-based services that you can use to set up a community. However, the key to a successful community is more about the active participation of members rather than the technology used to set it up.

Example services that could be used include:

  • Ning- a commercial web service that is very easy to set up, use and maintain. It features some advertising but this can be removed by upgrading to a premium service. Ning communities are sometimes set up for short projects, such as conferences.
  • Social Services Knowledge Scotland (SSKS) - offers a Community Builder Toolkit) that comprises a blog, discussion forum, wiki and resource library. (
  • The Improvement and Development Agency (IdeA) for local government provides a platform that supports collaboration across local government and the public sector. There is no charge to set up a community to support local government improvement in England, Scotland or Wales, whether the community aims to benefit an individual authority or a number of authorities. Other public sector bodies may have to pay if there is no local government involvement. (The Knowledge Hub)

Tips for communicating effectively

  • Consider your audience - use tone and language appropriate to the people for whom you are writing.
  • Be professional - remember that you are an ambassador for your organisation.
  • Use plain English.
  • Use short sentences (15 to 20 words).
  • Use lists or bullet points to split up information.
  • Break long passages of text into paragraphs.
  • Consider using as images and video instead of text. If you upload graphical materials such as photographs, cartoons, newspaper clippings, video or music that you did not create yourself, you must ensure that you have the owner's permission, and that you cite the source. See the section on copyright for more details.
  • Check your spelling and grammar.
  • Maintain an online presence - post messages and respond.
  • Remember that online comments are permanently available.
  • Be aware of and make use of privacy settings where necessary.

Moderating a community

What is a moderator?

It is a good idea for communities to nominate a moderator or facilitator to connect community members by identifying the needs of the group, encourage participation, initiate discussions, and keep activities and discussions engaging and interesting.

Moderating a community of practice is not about telling people what to do, or controlling what happens on the community, but about encouraging members to get involved, and sustaining involvement, as well as ensuring best practice.

Tips for moderators

  • Always assume the good intentions of participants.
  • Make rules and expectations consistent, explicit and clear.
  • Build trust by doing what you say you will do. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Use irony and humour with care, as it does not always come across online, as you might have intended. You can always use emoticons to clarify!
  • Think before you hit the 'post' button.
  • Encourage members to create personal profiles and upload photos of themselves - helps build relationships.
  • Use small group activities to build relationships and 'get acquainted'.
  • Welcome first-time participants by name.
  • Use open-ended questions to encourage participation.
  • Stimulate input with positive private emails to participants.
  • Send an email to participants who appear to have dropped out. This should take the form of a gentle reminder or query rather than a demand for a response.
  • Let others know if you will be offline for extended periods.
  • Encourage others to help host and facilitate the group.
  • Ask members for feedback - What is working for them? What is not? What is missing?

Online facilitation guide, IdeA -

Moderating social media, MediaTrust -

All Things in Moderation website, Gilly Salmon -


Gilly Salmon e-tivities -

BLU Lesson 1: How do you make people share, David Gurteen -

Blogging and microblogging

What is a blog?

A blog is an online diary containing your thoughts and ideas or commentary on current events. Usually, readers may add comments, which means they are ideal for knowledge sharing, reflection, and debate. Communities often spring up around blogs. Although usually written by individuals, blogs are sometimes run by a group.

Contributing to online communities by blogging is a good and informal way of engaging with colleagues or partners, and also allows employees to express their own personality.

Blogging guidelines

Good practice in the electronic communication is no different to good practice in other forms of communication such as writing letters or emails or representing the company at meetings and conferences.

  • Write in your own 'voice' and try not to be too formal
  • Take care that what you write:
    • - Does not bring your organisation company into disrepute.
    • - Is not defamatory or libelous.
    • - Does not divulge sensitive, confidential or personal information.
    • - Does not infringe copyright.
  • Remember that what you write may remain public for a long time.
  • Include links to other blogs or sites mentioned in your posting.
  • Don't use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, etc., and show proper consideration for others' privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory - such as politics and religion.
  • Debate rather than argue. Be the first to correct your own mistakes, and don't alter previous posts without indicating that you have done so, except for minor grammatical or spelling errors.
  • If you are unsure, it's never a bad idea to ask for a second opinion.


Microblogging is a form of blogging. Microblogs are used for short posts or for the 'what am I doing right now' type of information. Twitter is a good example of a microblogging tool - it allows you to post messages up to 140 characters long. Microblogs are often used to quickly and simply promote an event, product or resource, or to express an opinion. Posts can incorporate web links and even images.

Blogging, MediaTrust -

Cardiff University Information Services: Communicating online blogs -

What is a blog?, IdeA -

How to use Twitter for Social Learning, Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies -

Twitter: a quick start guide for people in and around government -

Your Guide to Micro-Blogging and Twitter, Public Broadcasting Service -


Blogs in Plain English, Commoncraft -

Twitter in Plain English, CommonCraft -

Some hints for keeping legal

All original work ( music, articles, essays, photographs, user manuals, PowerPoint presentations, etc. ) has a creator, or author, and that person or organisation automatically owns copyright. Copyright gives authors certain rights to control the use of their creations, including making copies and issuing or communicating copies to the public. Its purpose is to prevent others making a profit at the expense of the author.

Copyright in works created by employees in the course of their employment is owned by the employer.

It important to respect copyright and in general you should not reproduce copyright material without the owner's permission. On the other hand, for some publications it can be difficult to determine who owns copyright and, in the case of large organisations, who is empowered to grant permission.

A useful rule of thumb is to think about whether your action is likely to harm the business or commercial interests of the copyright holder. Reproducing a journal article, for example, is likely to harm the publisher who derives revenue from selling subscriptions. Newspaper publishers also expect to get paid for the use of cuttings from their newspapers.

However, there may be circumstances where a copyright holder is likely to be 'pleased or indifferent' about the re-use of their materials. A campaigning group, for example, may wish that their message reaches as many people as possible.

Some tips:

  • On websites check the check the 'terms and conditions'.
  • In publications, check for any statements allowing or prohibiting reproduction.
  • Always cite the source of anything you use.

Copyright fact sheets, The UK Copyright Service - -

Intellectual Property and Copyright in the Digital Environment, University of Cambridge -