Continuing in my experimental vein, I'm taking every opportunity to compare and contrast different approaches. Conveniently, two main agendas (Positive Activities and Choices/Pathways/Connexions) provide me with a very neat pair of comparators. Whenever I'm uncertain about how to approach a task, I can take one route on one page, and the other on the other, and learn by doing.
So, the two pages get slightly different approaches, on the advertising, the character of the posts, the numbers and character of the links. Spreading out further, the different groups and projects are all pursuing their own contact style and behaviours, according to their needs. At first this caused me some anxiety. As members of an advanced bureaucracy, stepping outside consistent procedure is panic-provoking. As people who work with people who are young, and often vulnerable in other ways, we are naturally concerned that our actions are consistent, kind and safe.
However, as practice developed, I began to feel that this very multiplicity of approach may be crucial to successfully using social networking in a youthwork context. Where workers made up their own approach, in collaboration with the young people they were working with, groups flourished and grew. Where workers asked to be shown how to use it, then followed instructions, their enthusiasm quickly waned and online groups began to fade.
I've come up with a few reasons why this might be:
- The fluid nature of social networking environment requires flexibility.
Social Networking is a dynamic, constantly evolving environment. To respond best and most creatively users must be open to exploration, experimentation and change.
- Social networking is a naturally subversive act which resists rules and authority.
From the informal communication register to the multiple oportunities for time-wasting, deception and mischief-making, Social Networking is sub-rosa, sneaky, circumvential and generally an area of experimentation, boundary testing and play. This makes it a rich environment for youth work, but one best engaged with informally, collaboratively, and on the young people's own terms.
- Successful usage requires proper submersion in the Social Networking environment.
Following rules and tapping through checkboxes doesn't communicate the true appeal of the online environment. Not that workers should spend their whole time watching youtube videos, talking rubbish and playing pointless web games! But some exploration and experimentation is crucial. A phrase I use is "be guided by your offline practice", and here I would quote the climbing wall. Go up and down the wall yourself. You'll be a better worker for it.