July 14, 2015

4 Reasons for a PLN and 13 Steps to Building One

plnWhen a colleague tells you s/he heard about a writing competition from someone in her PLN, do you first wonder what she’s talking about–not the contest but the three-letter acronym? Or maybe you think, ‘Of course [Amanda] has a PLN. She’s a geek.’ You might even understand the purpose of a PLN–to provide writers with a collaborative learning environment–but think you don’t need one, or the two yearly conferences you attend is all you can handle.

What is a PLN

According to D. Johnson, a PLN is:
“a self-created set of experts, colleagues, and resources…that meet one’s daily learning needs.”

More simply, it’s:

…an extended group of knowledgeable people you reach out to for answers, and trust to guide your learning.

These individuals can be anywhere in the world, but are always carefully selected by you for their expertise in your subject area. It doesn’t mean they have all the answers. It means that when you have questions, you trust them to inform your thinking, guide your research, and provide answers and directions scaffolded from their personal experience. You may never meet them in person, though you likely collaborate through Google Hangouts, Skypes, or pre-arranged TweetUps.

Why build a PLN

A lot of people think they’ll work on their PLN ‘when they have time’, oblivious to the fact that a healthy PLN is more important than a coffee from Starbuck’s, the finals on the Voice, or that 8th hour of sleep. Here’s why:

  • It helps you grow professionally. Having people who understand how you think, have your back in emergencies, and serve as a virtual knowledge base will help you to handle difficult agents, lose faith in your new novel’s marketing plan, or need a proven method of kicking off your self-pubbed book. Your PLN will share their experiences, suggest alternatives to a blog post announcement, and more. If they don’t know how, they’ll have a friend who does.
  • It forces you out of your comfort zone. The engine of a PLN is social media. You reach out through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, forums, and discussion boards. These are the same tools used by agents and publishers. If you get proofs of upcoming novels, they often delineate the marketing plan. This always includes ‘national electronic media, online promotion, social media promotion’, and more (this list is from the back of Mike Madden’s drone thriller, Blue Warrior).
  • Maybe the most important reason is this: A PLN keeps your finger on the pulse of your avocation. Through virtual colleagues, you know what’s important in their corner of writing world–their informed opinion on particular agents, suggestions on solving a plot problem, and other questions you didn’t even know to ask until your PLN brought it up.
  • The bigger question is: Why WOULDN’T you have a PLN?

How to build a PLN

Now that you’re convinced you need a PLN, how do you build one? It takes more than joining Google +’s 29,000-strong Writer’s Discussion Community or showing up for Twitter’s #selfpubbed TweetUp. Here are twelve ideas:

  • have a professional blog. Post to it regularly. refer to it in your social media. Encourage people to visit and respond to your posts
  • reach out to others in your field who have professional blogs. Read theirs, comment, and invite them to read yours. If you’re just starting, commit to five a day.
  • in online communications, give credit to others for their help. Send your readers to colleagues’ posts who have interesting information on a topic. You’ll see me do that often in my blogs, though I haven’t always done so. Someone had to point it out to me. Now, it seems obvious.
  • always answer questions and acknowledge comments that show up on your social media accounts. You can get auto-notification that someone has interacted with your tweets, posts, or articles. Reach out to them. Make them feel welcome and valued in your virtual world.
  • focus your PLN on your avocation. Don’t mix up hobbies and family with your professional Twitter streams and FB pages. Put those in a separate account. Keep your professional social media pure. That way, people who visit will not have to wade through your kid’s soccer game and the unseasonably warm weather in Florida to find out the problems with first person POV.
  • Having said that (to keep your PLN pure to your theme), do add personal touches here and there. Let people know you as a human being, not only a resource, but not enough to distract from the purpose of your site.
  • Stay away from politics. There’s no way not to annoy half your audience on any given topic. Save those discussions for your non-professional streams.
  • Do stuff online. Attend virtual conferences. Join TweetUps. Take an online class. Invite friends to meet you there. When you’re done, share your thoughts about them on Twitter, your blog, or any other social media.
  • Join a professional group. Seek out their forums and discussion boards. Participate. Meet other educators like yourself.
  • use #hashtags like #amwriting or #amediting to find other professionals like yourself.
  • when you join a social network–Facebook, LinkedIn, a teacherly Ning, or another–complete your profile of background, professional status, interests, and accomplishments. This is a good way to find others with your specific interests.
  • when you develop a core of like-minded individuals, be a good friend to them. Answer when they have questions or need help. Share resources whenever you can. Pay it forward–don’t expect anything in return for your collaboration except that you’re helping a colleague.
  • commit to your PLN. That means time. Don’t visit virtual colleagues only when you have a few extra minutes or need help. Is that the kind of friend you’d like? Who only has time for you when it’s convenient? Subscribe to the feeds; read them; offer suggestions when appropriate.

Let’s all start building our PLN right now. My Twitter handle is @worddreams. My blog is WordDreams. Reach out. Subscribe. I’m always around. Or if you prefer, leave your Twitter handle and/or blog in the comments below. I’ll come find you. My readers will find you. Let’s see what we can do for each other.

More on writing:

5 Must-have tools for Writers Conferences

3 Desk Organizers You Need

7 Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.