Every semester I have multiple students who are new to Twitter. Often these student buy into the commonly circulating, yet only moderately justifiable criticism, that Twitter is a tool for those who have too much time and who wish to communicate the excruciatingly banal details of their day to day lives. This critique is often phrased along the line of “I don’t care what you/your cat had for breakfast.” Sometimes they are right. If used in certain ways, Twitter can be excruciatingly banal. The thing about Twitter is that you can’t really use monolithic categories to describe it. There is no “Twitter.” It is more like there are TwitterS.
The difference lies in finding the right people to follow. You need to connect with the people who are talking about the things you care about.
I was going to write a basic guide, but I think that Sue Waters’ post, “A Twitteraholics guide to tweets, hashtags, and all things twitter” does much of what I had in mind. I see no need to reinvent the wheel, so please, if you are new to Twitter, check out Waters’ guide! Really! Do it! It will save you valuable time in learning to navigate the murky waters of Twitter. Then come back here, because I have more to say on the topic.
Presumably you’ve read Waters’ guide and are back here. There are a few things I’d like to add, specifically aimed at EMAC students using Twitter for school:
- Have a public account. I am completely sympathetic to privacy concerns and I think Waters does a nice job of covering the issues. Please do respect the privacy of others. However, as EMAC students, you should be working on building a public profile. If you have privacy concerns, I recommend that you start another account that you use strictly for school/professional purposes.
- Follow your instructors. We share cool information. Sometimes this information is unrelated to the class.
- I tend to share extra links, videos, etc. that I don’t want to send via email. You will miss out on these if you aren’t following me.
- Follow your classmates. They also share interesting information.
- Check to see if your instructor allows tweeting during class.
- I do. However, I ask that you make a concerted effort to keep things on topic with class discussion and that you use the class hashtag to mark your tweets.
- You should know that you will never earn the highest marks for participation if you don’t speak up in class from time to time. You cannot get by on Twitter alone, so don’t be overdependent on it.
- Follow the authors whose work you are reading.
- Give yourself permission to not read everything. Once you follow a certain number of people, it becomes nearly impossible. Conversely, don’t expect that all of your followers will see all of your tweets.
- Don’t tweet that you are bored during class. I don’t care if it is my class or someone else’s. I concede that it is possible that you are in the most mind-numbingly boring class of all time. It is still unprofessional and whoever reads it is most likely going to interpret it as a reflection on you rather than on the class or instructor.
I disagree with Waters on one point, and that is this:
“Most twitters don’t mind hashtags when used for specific things such as conferences, events, groups but can get annoyed with excessive use of silly hashtags like #thingsthatannoyme”
I would suggest that in addition to aiding searches, the hashtag is a new rhetorical mode that employs a certain kind of shorthand within the constraints of 140 characters. So, I say, hashtag away. It does become a bit awkward if you have too many within one tweet, but the only way you will figure it out is through trial and error.
And that is really the best way to experience Twitter. Get out there and do it and you will get the hang of it. If you are an instructor or student who uses Twitter in the classroom, please feel free to chime in.
Oh, and one last thing. I thought you might want to know that I had honey nut cheerios with skim milk for breakfast. Follow me at http://twitter.com/#!/purplekimchi
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