Building a Professional Network and Influencing People—Online An educational audiologist in a remote area turns to social media for professional connections and guidance. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   December 01, 2017
Building a Professional Network and Influencing People—Online
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content editor/producer for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Telepractice & Computer-Based Approaches / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   December 01, 2017
Building a Professional Network and Influencing People—Online
The ASHA Leader, December 2017, Vol. 22, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22122017.28
The ASHA Leader, December 2017, Vol. 22, 28-29. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22122017.28
Name: Caleb J. McNiece, AuD, CCC-A
Title: Educational Audiologist, Mid-Shore Special Education Consortium
Hometown: Easton, Maryland
An outgoing person, Caleb McNiece enjoyed a wide network of support from mentors and peers as he worked to earn his clinical doctorate in audiology at the University of Memphis. But after graduating in 2014 and going to work for the Mid-Shore Special Education Consortium in Maryland—on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay—he found himself much more isolated.
He’s the lone educational audiologist covering four counties—not four schools, mind you, but four school districts. Fortunately for McNiece, his personal social skills translated into professional social media skills.
McNiece works with one teacher for the deaf to serve around 70 clients from birth to age 21 (the consortium also runs an early intervention program). This number is fewer students than a single district in some urban counties. He’s two hours away from Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.—but the Chesapeake Bay creates a literal and figurative barrier between McNiece’s rural surroundings and most metropolitan areas.
As the only educational audiologist for a handful of counties that collectively cover an area almost the size of Delaware, McNiece felt he needed a way to make professional connections quickly and broadly.

The Chesapeake Bay creates a literal and figurative barrier between McNiece’s rural surroundings and most metropolitan areas.

Building virtual networks
Social media offered McNiece a solution. He’s connected virtually with his more than 1,000 Twitter followers and 1,500 Facebook friends—a number that grows into the tens of thousands when you include the people he follows and groups he joined.
His first step to building this active social media network was to search for everyone with audiologist listed in their profile. Then he started typing in audiology-related hashtags to find useful postings and accounts—#audpeeps, #audiology, #hearingloss and many more—to see which ones yielded good results. He scoured dozens of accounts and started following those actively posting relevant information and responding to others’ questions or comments.
Once he found a few hundred audiologists and audiology organizations to follow, McNiece began retweeting their posts and sharing his own thoughts. He started as—and remains—a self-described active social media poster. He tweets and retweets articles about his profession. He comments on news and advocacy updates from professional associations. And he poses questions about challenging or baffling situations at work.
“Some people prefer just to read everything and they also learn a lot, but I benefit from being more active,” McNiece says. “Discussions go deeper and I also gain some recognition among peers, because they see me seeking professional development.”
McNiece makes sure to stay professional in his posts. His mantra for using good judgment—and staying civil—involves remembering ethics guidelines and, of course, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) regulations for safeguarding students’ privacy. Emotions can run high and a discussion can easily turn into a rant, so he tries to wait a while before jumping into the fray. But jump into it he usually does.
In the three years since he began using Twitter for professional development and networking, McNiece has posted around 44,000 tweets.

McNiece connects virtually with his more than 1,000 Twitter followers and 1,500 Facebook friends.

Making deeper connections
In the past year, McNiece noticed a change in the flow of professional content on social media. More groups were forming on Facebook and colleagues joined them in droves. Some of these groups grew to thousands of members who share key details on new studies, conferences or other relevant news. He credits the growth to Facebook’s ability to host longer posts and allow easy searching of old content. Also, compared with Twitter, more people already use Facebook personally.
McNiece also turns to work-setting specific online communities. These sites provide particular information on issues he needs to troubleshoot or ideas he wants to pose to his peers. The Educational Audiology Association, for example, has a listserv that McNiece uses often. McNiece is also an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 9, Hearing and Hearing Disorders in Childhood. Like all SIGs, SIG 9 hosts an online community specific to the group’s mission.
Sharing success stories with such a specialized virtual network generates greater appreciation and understanding about the magnitude of a student’s achievement, McNiece says.
“The narrow focus of these Facebook groups and association communities allows me to tap into a collective of other people experiencing similar situations in another state or part of the country,” he says. “They also lead to creating friendships and peer mentorships.”
A recent example of McNiece problem-solving through professional crowdsourcing involves some FM receivers that kept getting lost. Three students with the same model cochlear implant collectively lost five receivers within a few months. McNiece felt guilty every time he had to go back to the special education coordinator and ask for funds to replace another receiver—these things aren’t cheap.
“I posted a message on the EAA [Educational Audiology Association] listserv and instantly got multiple answers saying the manufacturer released a little silicone cover to help resolve this problem,” McNiece says. “So this was an example where I thought I was the only one having this issue, but it turns out I wasn’t, and an easy solution was out there.”
Using social media effectively takes effort, McNiece admits. He spends a lot of time searching for the right resources to help him do his job better or develop professionally. He also follows seemingly tenuous threads to build substantial contacts—a friend of a friend of a friend might be just the right fit for a particular type of insight.
McNiece never blindly accepts social media advice, however. He researches the validity of suggestions and cautions others to do the same. Fortunately, he can stay online to find evidence to back up a tip. Nearly all professional journals, studies and ASHA’s evidence maps can be searched digitally.
“When you pick people’s brains, consider that this worked for them, but your situation is probably different, so look at the literature and make sure it aligns with their advice,” McNiece says. “But having that evidence base along with someone’s personal experience can really clarify and benefit you in a particular situation.”
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December 2017
Volume 22, Issue 12