Skip main navigation

The need for professional digital networks

Watch Dr Lisa Harris, Nic Fair & Sarah Hewitt discuss the need for professional digital networks & the importance of digital literacies in this.
LISA HARRIS: This week, we’re going to be looking at how social media can be used professionally. And this is in terms of finding a job or a charity, for example, that wants to raise money on a very limited marketing budget. We’re going to be looking at things like paying it forward and the importance of digital literacies. And I’m joined here by a couple of PhD students from the Web Science Programme. We have Sarah and Nic. And we’re just going to, in this video, introduce some of the concepts that we’re going to be covering in the course this week. So I’d like to start off with you, Nic. What is the importance of a professional network?
NIC FAIR: Well, one of the ways in which the web has changed society and the way we operate is that we’re now much more connected to each other and to information than we ever have been before. And this means that we now live in a network society, where we learn, work, and live as networked individuals.
SARAH HEWITT: Yes, through our lives we make connections. Some of those connections will be strong, some of them will be weak. But we need to call on those connections to help us when we need to get something done.
NIC FAIR: Yeah, that’s right. Effectively, we sit at the centre of a complex network of relationships between online and offline people, between different devices, different software, and lots of different information sources. As a result, it’s very important that we know how to grow, manage, and activate our networks effectively. If we want to maximise our potential, our networks really matter.
SARAH HEWITT: Yeah. We use our social networks in all sorts of different and very positive ways. We find our jobs through them, we brand ourselves and our companies through them. And, of course, if we’ve got a company, we attract our customers using social networks.
NIC FAIR: We also do other things like raise money for charity or warn people about natural disasters or promote social justice, all through our digital networks.
LISA HARRIS: Well, that’s a really good summary. And I guess what you’re really suggesting then is about the importance of paying it forward. What does that actually mean?
NIC FAIR: Well, developing a digital footprint which demonstrates our skills and helps us to build the appropriate networks in the best way, it’s not something that’s easy to achieve. We can’t just do it overnight. So the successful author, Chris Brogan, talks about this idea of paying it forward. And by that he means, really, that we have to give to our network before we can receive back from it. So the long-term benefit of this type of network comes from focusing on the value that we bring to it before we can extract value from it.
LISA HARRIS: So what you’re saying then, really, is that there’s quite a lot of work involved. But the benefits can be often unexpected and in very different ways.
NIC FAIR: Absolutely, yeah.
LISA HARRIS: OK. Thank you very much.
NIC FAIR: You’re welcome.

In this short video, Dr Lisa Harris and PhD students Nic Fair and Sarah Hewitt discuss the need for professional digital networks and the importance of digital literacy skills in doing this well.

Our Personal Learning Networks

Social media have made us more connected to each other, and to information, than ever before. We have become ‘Networked Individuals’ living, working and learning in a ‘Networked Society’.

Throughout our lives we continuously make connections to people, organisations and information sources, some of which we maintain and others we don’t. When we need to accomplish a task we often call on those connections, be they strong or weak, to help us.

Living in a networked society means that those connections are no longer just in the physical world, but also in the digital space – we have connections not just to people or organisations, but to devices, software and web pages. In short, we sit at the centre of a complex network of on and offline relationships – our Personal Learning Network. It is therefore vital that we are able to ‘Grow’, ‘Manage’ and ‘Activate’ our networks effectively if we want to maximise our potential in both our personal and professional lives. Our networks matter – a lot!

What do we mean by a ‘Digital Footprint’?

We use our social networks in all sorts of different, positive ways. Through them we:

  • reach out to and share with others
  • find jobs
  • brand ourselves or our companies
  • raise money for charity
  • attract customers
  • promote social justice or human rights
  • warn about disasters or dramatic events
  • form concerned, supportive communities

All by making the best use of our digital networks.

We need to be proactive in building and managing our digital presence. Active participation in online networks not only boosts our reputation, it gives us new digital skills in communication, information management, and multimedia creativity. It requires a long term strategy firstly to discover a ‘voice’, then develop a digital ‘footprint’ which demonstrates our skills and then to build an appropriate network to support it.

It also includes more proactive activities such as blogging. This can develop new skills in sharing, innovation, creativity and reflective thinking. Powerful blogs on issues such as gender, race, women’s rights, or free speech, when done effectively, help to establish the reputations of the bloggers on the wider stage, for example #BlackLivesMatter and #EverydaySexism.

This also holds true for vloggers (video bloggers) and YouTubers who, through providing high-value content, can build up many hundreds or thousands of followers and create an international reputation for themselves. For example, data from this BBC article about Tubular Labs from October 2015 suggests that there are 147 UK vloggers with over a million followers . These reputations can then turn into job or career opportunities in some cases and show the value of ‘paying it forward’ – or giving before you receive (there’s more on this in the next Step).

What are digital literacies?

Digital literacies are ALL the skills we need to take full advantage of the digital world. IT proficiency is just the starting point – we do need to know how to use a computer, navigate the Web, use software packages, operate a smartphone or tablet, use apps … and so on. But we also need:

  • Browsing to know how to effectively search for information, media, products or jobs….and then how to filter and store the results.
  • Discerning critical reading skills and the ability to evaluate the reliability of online information.
  • Presenting to use editing, media-capture, communication and presentation tools.
  • Collaborating to collaborate and help others online and know how to participate effectively in online communities.
  • Networking the ability to grow, manage and activate our networks effectively and reflect on our development or progress.
  • Safeguarding to know how to present an appropriate online image and stay safe while doing so.
  • Creating the ability to remix or repurpose digital material, or create and upload original material – such as by blogging or vlogging.
  • Copyrighting to understand and respect the intellectual property rights of one’s and others’ creative work

Digital literacies diagram

In summary, building our personal and professional learning networks, and developing a reputation as a trusted source, takes a lot of work but can reap future benefits in many positive or unexpected ways.

This article is from the free online

The Power of Social Media

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education