A conundrum: One of my favorite, and least favorite, things about social tools is that they can evolve so quickly. Back when I wrote Social Media for Trainers, now slated for an update, tools like Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat didn’t even exist. Keeping up is a fun and sometimes daunting challenge. The good thing: Along with the evolution come those folks who see past a tool’s usual use and find an interesting, different twist to take, often one that can inspire our own learning pursuits. Here are some examples.


Check out the TSA’s Instagram account for often-amusing photo updates of items people try to bring onto planes, with commentary about whether they’re allowed. (Yes: Hamburgers, knitting needles, raw eggs, and unopened cans of grated cheese. No: Spear guns and “Satan’s pizza cutter,” shown in Figure 1.)

Figure 1: “Satan’s pizza cutter”

You can even tweet a photo to @askTSA to see if it’s OK to bring an item on board. Consider something like this for a yes-you-can, no-you-can’t approach for things like safety, ergonomics, or other regulatory content. Note that TSA’s approach means some material is organization-generated and some user-provided, which helps ease the pressure of finding fresh content.

Note, too, the playful, customer-friendly tone behind the account. It’s not just a bunch of dry dos-and-don’ts but is entertaining to follow. I pay attention when it shows up in my feed. This frequent delivery of small bites helps to reinforce prior learning and keep ideas nearer the surface of a worker’s awareness long after the memory of an hour-long tutorial has faded.

Conveying lots of information in different ways

Understanding copyright law, particularly in the age of the Internet, is a challenge. See Brown University instructional designer Naomi Pariseault’s Pinterest board “Copyright or Copywrong?” (Figure 2). She’s used the board to curate information in lots of different forms from which the learner can choose: slide decks, PDF-formatted text files, flow charts, checklists, and more, all offered in a visually appealing way. You could do this with a list of text links, but this is much more interesting and more likely to invite some exploration.

Figure 2: Section of Naomi Pariseault’s “Copyright or Copywrong?” Pinterest board

I like to use Pinterest boards to replace conference handouts. Often, organizers want those a month or more in advance, when I’m dealing with technologies that sometimes make changes overnight. A Pinterest board lets me have a changeable interface that I can update even after the event. I just set up a board and put the link into a handout, then give out the link to conference attendees to direct people to the Pinterest board. Like Naomi, I can offer references and other supporting information in a way that encourages more exploration than I could by just giving out a copy of my slide deck. See this handout from my session on positive deviance.

“It’s on the website…”

Ever have people asking questions about things they’d know if they only looked at the website, or the product documentation, or the company’s Instagram account, or the syllabus? A few years back, Peugeot Panama ran a fun puzzle game: They posted photos of new cars with some parts missing. Contestants were told to set up their own Pinterest boards and assemble complete car images. Some photos were the ones the company provided on Pinterest. But to find the rest, people had to search for them on the company website and Facebook page.


Any photo-based tool can offer great opportunities for things like workplace and campus tours and site visits. Here’s a Pinterest board I made when we were expecting a lot of traffic in my workplace, an approach copied by several hospitals for their visitors and by schools for their substitute teachers. Eyewear company Warby Parker hosted an Instagram-based photo walk: Participants, as they went from point A to the party at point B, posted photos with the designated hashtag. How could you use that approach with, say, new hires, people who work in remote locations or work out in the field, or people who are making visits to other locations? What about tours with a specific goal? Back to safety, how about something like “Post a photo of all the fire extinguishers and defibrillators in the building, with a note about where they are”? (While we’re on the subject, check out Heineken’s Instagram-based scavenger hunt, “Crack The US Open.” Why Instagram? It’s the platform customers use the most at live events. Know your audience.)

Dance with who brung you

Jane’s first rule of social tools is: Do what you can with what you have, and fight to get what you really want. There are lots of options for photo-based tools, including soliciting images, making your own collages, and putting them into SharePoint blog posts if you have to. If you work in a hospital, you’ll need rules about the people you can—or can’t—post photos of. Or you may have to go with some text-only LinkedIn-based approach. Figure it out.

Leading a horse to water

In my experience, the bigger challenge is not with getting a place to try out ideas but in getting workers to help contribute content. Often it’s that I’m trying to get them to both contribute material and use a new tool at the same time. One thing I’ve found that works really well is starting in a place that’s non-threatening or not perceived as yet another work task. Instead of starting out with a straight-up training topic, look around for a work-related event—employee appreciation day, a workplace wellness activity, a charity kickoff, a holiday staff party, a project launch—and build an activity around that. Maybe you could do a Pinterest board of a worker’s baby, or pet pictures, or video clips of a favorite dance move. I once asked people to submit an image of a favorite holiday food, decoration, or memory of a gathering along with a comment about what it meant to them—and they loved it. And the next time I wanted to use Pinterest for a work activity, I didn’t have to arm-wrestle about it. Everyone had seen the tool, and had fun using it, and already had accounts. There was no ramp-up or “selling” time. Look for opportunities to get people interested in trying a tool, even if it’s just “post a picture of your workspace” with a custom Snapchat filter.

Look past the usual

People love to take, edit, and share images. Look past the usual uses of a tool—shopping, selfies, home décor—to find ways of supporting workplace learning and relationship building.