Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Social media: Learning, conversational platforms

Environmental Forum weekly column published in The Equity, Shawville, Québec


Last week’s column (discussing a YouTube video on industrial farming in China) interested many readers. Now I’m continuing the social media theme –introducing the Ottawa Field Naturalist Club and their Facebook page as an example of how Facebook can attract members, inform the public (regardless of membership), and promote learning plus deep conversation about the environment.
I know many of you are interested not only in birds, but other wildlife and habitats we enjoy, locally. I also know my readers are fascinated in pursuing conversations about the environment, wildlife, politics… and other issues. I am also introducing OFNC as an example of social media at its best.

A note on social media

Facebook is only one “platform” of social media. Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest are more examples of some other arenas which allow people from all over the world to share interests, ideas, and techniques (gardening, art, etc.). And, to debate ideas, too. In other words, Facebook, Twitter, and these other platforms go way beyond the mere “sharing” of “information” such as someone “posting” (typing in a message) to say they’ve had a cup of coffee. Who cares? Not me. (Happily, that sort of trivia seems to be declining. Good.) However, show me a sharing universe where I can learn, contribute (i.e. share) ideas, announce events – and I am “all over it” – that is, keenly interested. Now, we can’t be all hung up on “being correct or right” about our contributions to Facebook and other platforms. None of us can know everything – this goes without saying, and yet some people are constipated by a need to “be right about everything.” Throw that thought away! Instead, hover around, see and read what’s happening in Facebook, and then? Jump into the discussion. Again, this is why Facebook is called “social media” – because when we enter Facebook, we are participating in a real conversation. Think of Facebook as having a “chat” with people. Contribute courteously. Be willing to adapt and to keep an open mind – just as we do with conversation among friends, family, colleagues. If you, like me, are “born curious,” then social media is compelling.

Webpage vs. Facebook

Think of a website as being a primarily static introduction to a person or organization. However, websites can and do link visitors to other organizations or people, via a list of website or other social media addresses. In this way, a website serves as a portal (door) to other ideas, people and events. Facebook is different because it is a social media platform which encourages active discussion. People post comments, photographs, ask questions – and others answer questions, make other comments (including debating an idea). People may include a link to a website, YouTube video, or other platform. This is why people like me enjoy Facebook. It promotes worthwhile, sometimes deep discussion. I think Facebook permits democratic sharing of sometimes “radical” ideas (ideas that are “outside the box”) which traditional media all too often fail to represent. As well, because the audience is literally anyone with an internet connection, social media “conversations” can be among a world-wide audience. The reach is phenomenal. Read: social media is powerful. This is why politicians everywhere are falling over themselves to have Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, including blogs. It’s not only to “be cool” and contemporary; it is to be relevant in today’s world. All of which segues neatly into an example of a local National Capital Region, volunteer-driven organization that’s using their webpage and Facebook very well.

Ottawa Field Naturalist Club

I’ve been a member of this, the oldest natural history club in Canada, for years. Founded in 1879, the OFNC’s objectives are: “to promote the appreciation, preservation, and conservation of Canada’s natural heritage; to encourage investigation, publish the results of research in all fields of natural history, and diffuse the information as widely as possible; and to support and cooperate with organizations engaged in preserving, maintaining or restoring environments of high quality for living things.” The club’s website ( announces coming events. Sometimes, non-members can join these, but understandably, members have first pick. If you enjoy learning about salamanders, lichens, owls – or understanding different habitats in our area, such as alvars – consider joining. The club’s Facebook page fascinates me because it not only presents reminders about meetings, it serves as a discussion board, in a manner which truly demonstrates the best aspects of social media.

OFNC & Facebook

Do you think people should feed wild birds? Whether you are pro or con, this issue is being actively debated on OFNC’s Facebook page. Are you interested in planting a wildlife garden (learning about plants which attract butterflies or birds)? What about emerald ash borer beetles, and discovering how the pest is advancing into the National Capital Region – and threatening Pontiac ash trees? What about the plight of monarch butterflies, whose populations this year are reportedly at a record low in Mexico? All these issues and more are being introduced, discussed – and yes, courteously debated.

Pontiac websites, Facebook, blogs

Many Pontiacers use social media. Visit these Pontiac sites: Blog: Action Pontiac). Website (and Facebook) Pontiac Artists’ Association ( Event: EcoExpo Pontiac). Shawville Portal. Don’t see your social media page represented here? Go to The Equity’s Facebook page. “Like” this Facebook page, add your comments to this social media platform… Start your Pontiac discussion!

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