Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Twitter (or, I can do it, so can you)

Last week I was in a meeting when the topic of Twitter came up and I found myself getting a little defensive. Not because I felt like I was getting pressure to use Twitter, but because I felt like I needed to defend Twitter, and it was an odd role to find myself in. It was odd, maybe even a little uncomfortable, for a few reasons:
  1. I’m not “connected”. I don’t have a smart phone and I definitely don’t want my car to connect to my facebook page.
  2. This is the first time I’ve really been ahead of my colleagues in technology usage. Example: my students created my facebook page several years ago and it was at least 6 months before I logged in and did anything with it.
  3. I’ve spent the last year coming up with reasons not to use Twitter.
But there I was, trying to explain, specifically, the professional benefits of Twitter to some people who clearly believe that Twitter is a social tool only to be used socially. How did I end up there? Well, in November of 2009, my husband got a smart phone. It was fun, but I didn’t think it was really any more useful than a traditional phone. Then the storm hit. Literally. We lost water, power, and heat in a snowstorm and the only thing that kept us sane over the next 5 days was the regular Twitter updates from the power company regarding their progress in restoring utilities. “Hmmmm”, I thought, “maybe this Twitter thing isn’t so bad”.

From Rosaura Ochoa (license)
In April 2010, I went to a conference in San Francisco where attendees could sign up to receive announcements through Twitter about schedule changes, weather updates, and travel issues. I thought that sounded kind of helpful, but since I didn’t have a smart phone, I didn’t bother to sign up. Looking back, I should have. Other conference attendees were having conversations throughout, and even after the conference, that I missed out on because I hadn't really thought about the fact that I could use Twitter without a smart phone.

Then in Fall 2010 I learned about the SA Blog and its weekly chat. It sounded exactly like something I would love-a weekly chat with other student affairs professionals on a variety of topics (#sachat). The only problem was that the chat was on Twitter and I wasn’t. “Maybe it’s time” I said, and created a Twitter account. I’ll admit I probably agonized a little too long about my user name (Should it be professional? Fun? Silly? Simple?) and my profile (Should I have one at all? What should it say? How much should I share?), but it was easy and the next day I logged in to participate in the chat. It was great! SA professionals from all over the country, talking about one agreed-upon topic for an hour on Thursday. I learned so much from that one chat that I blocked my calendar for 1pm EST every Thursday and every week I look forward to connecting to other professionals through #sachat and other conversations about student affairs, advising, community colleges, and other relevant topics. I even got connected as a mentor to a new student affairs professional through Twitter. If you’re willing to give it a try, and I hope you are, follow the steps below to learn the basics and get started.


Like so many things in technology, there’s some lingo you should know:

Tweet = a message sent through Twitter. Think of it as an instant message (remember those?) or facebook status update limited to 140 characters but not necessarily sent to any one person.

@ = a person/organization. If someone wants to send me a tweet, they send it to @cstevenstaylor. An easy way to remember this is that an email addresses uses “@” in it too.

# = a topic (pronounced “hashtag”). Any user can include these in a tweet. When I tweet about an advising experience and include #acadv in the tweet, anyone searching for "#acadv" or "academic advising" will find what I said.  Don't worry-they're not mysterious (although I thought they were when I started); you can find them just by looking around. I found #SAgrow (student affairs mentoring), #SAgrad (student affairs graduate students) and #SAtech (student affairs technology), just by noticing them in others’ tweets and clicking on them to see what they were about.

Follow = exactly what it sounds like. When you follow someone on Twitter, anything they tweet automatically shows up on your page.

Create your account

As I mentioned before, it’s easy!
  1. Go to Twitter and click on the big orange Sign Up! button on the right.
  2. Enter your information, create a user name, and create your account! I’d recommend creating a user name similar to the user name you might create for a personal email address to be used during a job search.  Choose something that identifies you in a simple, professional way (I don’t want to see anyone choose hot_advisor24!)

Set up your profile

If you’re using Twitter to connect with colleagues like I do, you’re going to want to include something in your Bio so people can learn a little about you and upload a picture. Your bio doesn’t have to be detailed, but using keywords like “academic advisor”, “student affairs”, or including your institution name in your profile will help people decide if they want to connect with you. I went a little goofy with mine-it was late at night-but do whatever you feel comfortable with. You’ll want to upload a picture too. You can upload a picture of you, your favorite sports team, your alma mater logo, whatever, but if you don’t, Twitter will default to a picture of an egg.

Start engaging!

That’s really what this is all about right? So here’s what you need to know:

To follow a person:
  1. Open Twitter in a new window and log in. You’ll see your “home” page, which probably looks pretty empty right now.
  2. Click on “Who to follow” in the top menu bar
  3. Type NACADA in the search box, click search.
  4. Click the green plus sign “follow” button next to NACADA. Now, every time NACADA tweets, you’ll see it right away.
Want more practice following people? Trying following the members of the conference committee who are on Twitter.

To follow a conversation:
  1. Go back to your Twitter home page.
  2. Click on the “search” box in the top menu bar.
  3. Type #NACADAR2 and click the little magnifying glass to search
  4. Now you’ll see all the tweets that have been sent that related to NACADA Region 2, regardless of who sent them.
  5. Click “Save search” to find this conversation again easily.
Want more practice following conversations? Try searching for #acadv, #sachat, or #highered. Any searches you save will be quickly available from the “searches” tab under the “What’s Happening” box on your home page.

Now the exciting part-tweeting! This is fun:
  1. Go back to your Twitter home page
  2. Type “Hi #nacadaR2, I’m on Twitter now #acadv”, and as soon as you click “tweet”, you’ll have introduced yourself to everyone else who reads tweets related to NACADA Region 2 and advising, and we’ll say hi back!
Twitter management
Twitter.com works best as a way to keep up with people you’re following (anything that starts with @) but keeping up with lots of topics (anything that begins with #) can be tricky. As a result, there are many people who prefer to use options that allow you to follow both people and topics at a glance. You can download Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, which notify you every time there’s an update from the people or hashtags you’re following. I can’t download anything at work, so I use Seesmic, which is entirely web-based and lets me keep each topic I’m following separate and easy to follow.

Now what?

So, now you’re on Twitter, and before you know it, you’ll be an old pro. Congratulations! However, if I could leave you with one thought, it would be this: Twitter is what you make of it. If you don’t actively participate in # conversations, you won’t benefit from all the great information other colleagues are putting out into the Twitterverse. Check it a few times a day, and try to find at least one interesting thing to respond to or share through Twitter, and you’ll be amazed at the response you get and what you’ll learn.

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