Many current and emerging leaders make use of new social networking tools to extend their professional sphere but fail to go deep enough to realize substantial value.
Nowadays, it seems obligatory to sign on with these professional relationship-building services. Invitations flow back and forth from our email to our contact lists, and we feel somehow more connected.
But without additional effort, our PDAs are the only ones growing closer.
What is most often missing from this deluge of connectedness is common intention and a level of relationship that transforms a net of tenuous affiliations into a conscious
community of practice.
In short, there has to be a reason to network.
Examples of what is possible by going deeper include the communities that have formed around sites like YouthNoise.org and Teachers Without Borders.
YouthNoise helps to facilitate connection and action between young leaders around issues like education funding and reform.
Rather than just connecting youth to socialize, the site builds their capacity to realize social change.
Successful youth-led programs are showcased for potential replication or expansion. Young people also learn about and help each other with issues such as personal health
and nutrition, or frame action plans around improving environmental sustainability.
Teachers Without Borders provides professional development resources and connects these teachers through a web-based collaborative platform.
The potential is enormous precisely because teachers – globally – have common interests.
At 59 million, teachers constitute the largest professional group in the world.
But especially in developing regions, most teachers work in comparative isolation and without access to professional development or a peer network. They need each other.
On the Teachers Without Borders platform, teachers can create and share curriculum, take and make courses, create private or public groups to conduct activities, and
share what works best for them in the classroom.
A full Certificate of Teaching Mastery course is available on- and offline, with the added dimension of full peer support and encouragement.
All of this helps them become more effective teachers and improve student success.
What is common with these two organizations is they were designed to create a community around a shared intention, leading to interactions that are far richer than sharing a contacts database.
An action you can take is to audit your recent social networking touch-points, and look for places where there may be opportunities to lead a group into more substantive and satisfying interactions.
This may include peer mentoring, affiliation around a specific professional challenge in your field, or forming a group to discuss business ethics and for mutual accountability.
Passive social networking has minimal value; why bother?
It’s your choice. Skate across the surface of this resource like a water bug, or dive deeper, and make a splash.
Peter Tavernise is a senior manager with Cisco corporate affairs and senior program officer with Cisco Foundation in San Jose, Calif.. He is a 1999-2001 William C. Friday Fellow of the Wildacres Leadership Initiative in Durham, N.C.