Can someone help me understand the aggression of ed. tech companies on the EDUCAUSE vendor floor and their passivity in the blogosphere and social media environment?
Why is it that I could not walk from one end of the vendor floor to another without being assaulted by offers to sit in on a presentation, have a deep conversation about a product or service and the future of education, or receive some SWAG - yet we continue to have very few examples of people who work for ed. tech companies authentically and actively engaging in online debates and conversations?
My brain does not respond well to come-ons on the vendor floor. I don't want to have a conversation with someone I don't know. I don't want to sit for a presentation that may take more time then I have, and may not contain the information that I need. I don't want any crap to lug home on the airplane. But what I do want is to have conversations with people I already know. Conversations with people I've met through their blog, or on twitter, or who have responded to my blog. I like these conversations because I know and like these people. I understand what their background is and where their passions lie. They have explained what their company is all about and why they get up early each morning and stay late at night to play a part in building their company. I have engaged with these people, and I want them to succeed.
Why is it the ed. tech. companies are so willing to spend all those dollars to rent a big booth in a prime location, then transport, house and feed so many employees to staff the conference booth, all the while absorb all the work not being done at the home office - and at the same time fail to carve out time, incentives, or policies to get these same people in to the online conversation?
Some recommendations to ed. tech. companies to extend the vendor floor:
1. Relationships: Recognize that face-to-face conversations, whether at conferences on the vendor floor or during campus visits or webinars, will be much more productive if a relationship has already been established. Schools don't get to know companies, people who work for schools get to know people who work for companies. The blogosphere and the social media space are essential opportunities to begin and grow these relationships.
2. Leadership: The leadership and management of ed. tech. companies must make it a priority to set-up incentives, policy, and time for all members of your organization to participate in the online discussion.
Incentives: The leadership and key managers need to set the tone by either starting a blog themselves or actively participating in the comments of existing blogs. This can also include tweeting posts you find particularly relevant. Participating in the social media conversation around the goals of the companies product/services should be promoted as an important aspect of building a professional career within the field and the company. Anyone working for and ed. tech. company should be able to find opportunities to engage in conversations and debates, to make arguments based on evidence, and to demonstrate strong levels of social intelligence in order to build relationships.
Policy: Develop a written policy for participation in online conversations around education and technology. This policy should be as progressive and liberal as possible, encouraging members of your organization to feel empowered to represent your company, make critical comments about your companies policy (but not the people), and develop arguments for where they think we should all go in the future. Make sure your people know that they will make mistakes and say things that will piss people off, but that is okay as long their is a willingness to learn from these mistakes. Offer training opportunities for effective online communication, advocacy and relationship building. Make sure that everyone in the organization is equally empowered to have a voice online.
Time: The biggest reason I here that people who work work for ed. tech. companies don't start blogs, or contribute actively to existing blogs, is a shortage of time. Participating in the online conversation should be budgeted into regular work - it should not be seen as an extra. If a company is going to reward people for participating (incentives), and develop clear policy and training for effective participation in online conversations then it is necessary to provide people the time. Just as time is scheduled on the vendor floor time can also be scheduled and allotted for the social media floor.
3. Authenticity: Finally, it is critical that participation in the social media conversation around educational technology be authentic. This requires a willingness for companies to move beyond the rhetoric that "our people make the difference" to actually empowering your people with the training, autonomy, authority, incentives and time to actively participate. If your companies core values are shared by your staff then their will be no reason to worry about editing or approving their voices. Make sure that you provide a place on your companies sites that link to your people's blogs and profiles. Create easy channels for follow-up conversations. Giving everyone in your company a place in the online conversation, one that is supported and honored, will be your best sales, retention and recruitment tool. The danger if you do not engage in these activities is that colleges and universities (and other customers) will bypass the for-profit culture and decide to invest their resources and time in community driven, open-source projects.
Seems like their is a great business waiting to be born to help companies and their employees participate effectively in the read/write Web. Another site I'd love to see is one that tracked, like Google Analytics, all the participation of ed. tech. employees and all the conversation around ed. tech. issues in one place. Does anyone know of any business or site currently doing this?
Can anyone point to examples of companies in the ed. tech. space that understand the upside of empowering their employees to participate in the conversation?
Any ideas about why ed. tech. companies and their employees seem slow to join the conversation? Does this diagnoses of the current state of affairs ring true to you?