While there are still significant research questions to be answered about the usefulness of Twitter for “tweaching”, there is no denying that the microblogging tool has come to the forefront in other arenas that are interwoven with academia. Let’s face it, if you watch one of the major news networks on television or you read digital press, you cannot escape hearing the word or seeing the little blue social media icon. Twitter usage has increased significantly since its inception in 2006. In 2007, Twitter had 5,000 tweets a day. In 2010, the average number of tweets sent per day reached 50 million. Today, Twitter boasts 140 million as the average number of tweets per day. Someone is obviously is using Twitter. But should you?
A good number of people with whom I interact believe that using Twitter is a waste of their time. They tell me they are not interested in the minutia of people’s daily lives. Frankly, I am not either. When I first started using Twitter, I was curious about the social media tool so I signed up for an account. Once I had my account set up, I quickly discovered that if I was going to learn anything more about the tool, I would need to follow other users. When you follow a user, you receive their tweets. Some users protect their tweets, others make them public for anyone to see. Tweets are what we call those 140 character messages that users publish to the Twittersphere.
To make the most of your own experience with Twitter, you need to diversify who you follow. As a general rule, I tell colleagues to follow users who make up their own personal learning network:
Colleagues in your discipline
Once you start following others, they will start following you, and then the dialogue can begin. You can use Twitter to survey colleagues because it is a great crowdsourcing tool, or you can use it to share resources. Like other social media tools, Twitter is a two way street. If you share resources and initiate dialogues, the gestures will eventually be reciprocated. And what happens if you follow someone and then decide their posts are of no use to you? You stop following them. It’s that simple.
How Do I Get Started on Twitter?
So, you might be wondering, are any of my colleagues on Twitter? Perhaps they are. You can do a search for them on Twitter when you sign up for an account. If your colleagues are not on Twitter yet, you can invite them to sign up for an account. Twitter even makes suggestions to users with a Who to Follow section. However, to really learn the ropes, you need to make sure you follow people who understand the tool. If you have at least one colleague on Twitter or someone in your discipline whom you can follow, take a look at the list of people and organizations that person follows. Chances there are at least a few other people from your discipline on your colleague’s list. Follow them! If you don’t know anyone who is on Twitter follow Digital Pedagog: @digitalpedagog.
Use an Aggregator or the Twitter App on Your Mobile Phone
The easiest and most time-efficient way to keep up with tweets is to download the Twitter application on your mobile phone or use a Twitter aggregator on your computer. Using an aggregator will prevent you from having to go to the Twitter web site every time you want to read tweets. A few possible aggregators to try are:
Download one of the aggregators and try it out. If you don’t like the way it works, uninstall it, and try another. I have tried out a few different Twitter and social media aggregators and I always gravitate back to Twirl. I prefer not to be looking at multiple social media feeds simultaneously, so Twirl has worked out splendidly for me.
The Art of Tweeting
It goes without saying, writing a tweet in 140 characters takes a big of practice. How can you communicate it all in such an abbreviated format? Well, for one, URLs can be shortened by Twitter so that they don’t eat up all of the characters. Twitter will shorten the URLs for you and if you use a Twitter aggregator like the ones I mention above, those applications have an option for shortening the web address you want to include in your tweet.
Having fewer characters to work with does not mean quality must or should be sacrificed. The University of Wisconsin-Stout has also gone so far as to create a Twitter rubric which instructors can use for assessing students’ use of Twitter for instructional assignments. Although this tool was intended for instructors to use while correcting assignments that involve tweeting, the criteria included in the rubric illustrate the most important areas that need to be addressed when we compose tweets for the public:
Content-Make sure your content is relevant and interesting for the group of people following you. You can be quickly un-followed if your content is uninteresting or irrelevant.
Frequency-Quality, not quantity. Don’t overdo it. Posting too frequently is another quick way to lose followers.
Hyperlinks-Make sure the URL you have included is working and accessible to the public and it is not on an internal web site. Turn shorten URLs so that you have more space for other characters.
Mechanics-Take pride in your tweet content and compose your message carefully. Don’t tweet a URL without providing a description of the resource you are sharing.
Comments & Contribution –If you would like to share someone else’s tweet with your network (This is called retweeting), use the retweet option so that your colleague’s contribution to the Twittersphere is acknowledged.
Still Have Questions?
Twitter’s web site has an extensive Twitter Help Center that can answer your questions. There is also a great introduction to Twitter on YouTube called Twitter in Plain English by the Common Craft. Finally, you can also follow Digital Pedagog @digitalpedagog on Twitter and we would be happy to answer your questions.
Happy tweeting from @palomitica29!
Twitter Use Statistics Show Stunning Growth by Katherine Smith, March 14th, 2011: Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/14/twitter-user-statistics_n_835581.html
Twitter Blog, #numbers, March 14th, 2011, Retrieved from http://blog.twitter.com/2011/03/numbers.html
Twitter Rubric by Karen Franker (2010) University of Wisconsin-Stout, Retrieved from http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/profdev/rubrics/Twitter_Rubric.html
Image Credits: Created by Sneh Roy, http://www.littleboxofideas.com