It was a message on Twitter from one of our administrators:
@schinker ok now what?
He had signed up for a Twitter account because he wants to connect to the community. He realizes that there’s a conversation happening online, using (but not about) social media tools. How is education changing? How are schools adapting to meet new challenges and increased demands with fewer resources? He wants to engage in the “big picture” questions that often get lost in the immediacy of managing a school district. So he plugged in. But he hasn’t yet tuned in.
How do you build a personal learning network from scratch? For me, it started with blogging and podcasts. It took years to build and curate my network. Much of that work happened before Twitter even existed. But he doesn’t have that kind of time. So, here are my tips for getting started with Twitter:
Find some people to follow
Twitter is pretty boring if you’re not following anyone. The hardest part of peeling an orange is getting it started. The same is true for Twitter. If you start with a few really good people to follow, it gets much easier to find more. If you already know someone on Twitter, see who they are following. If you’re interested in education and technology, you can even start with the list of people I follow. Add a few of them. Don’t overdo it.
Twitter is not personal. If I’m not getting value from someone’s tweets, I stop following them. Some people are really smart, have wonderful ideas, but are annoying on Twitter. There are some fairly well known speakers in my field that I don’t follow, because they’re frequently doing workshops and “showing Twitter off” to a group of teachers. “Tell me where you are and why you use Twitter.” I don’t have time for that. Others have great ideas, and their tweets are valuable to me. But they’re so prolific that they overwhelm my Twitter stream. So they get unfollowed.
For the people I find really valuable, I take a look at who they’re following. If I have a lot of respect for someone on Twitter, I’ll start following some of the people they follow. It’s kind of like a recommendation system. I follow easily. If I find, after a few days, that the new person isn’t meeting my needs, they get unfollowed pretty quickly.
You have to manage your follow list to produce the volume you want. Follow too many people, and it can be overwhelming. Follow too few, and it’s boring.
Don’t follow back
All good teachers are lifelong learners, and most would say that they learn a lot from their students. But most teachers are not going to have their professional development needs met by following their students on Twitter. Some people find the things I post on Twitter to be useful, entertaining, or somehow helpful (I know; I don’t understand why either). That’s great. I’m glad they’re getting some use out of the things I’m posting. But that does NOT mean that I will find the things THEY are posting to be valuable.
On Facebook, if you’re my friend then I’m automatically also your friend. On Twitter, it doesn’t work like that. The link is not reciprocal. I might follow you, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow me. No hard feelings. It’s not personal. Don’t feel bad about not following people back. And don’t feel offended when people don’t follow you back.
Stay away from celebrities
There are lots of celebrities on Twitter. They have thousands of followers. Most of their accounts are manged by their publicists or their agents or someone who is working to craft their brand. That’s noise. There are a few celebrities that I follow because I’m entertained by them and I’m pretty sure it’s really them. Drew Carey is one. Craig Ferguson is hilarious but rarely school-appropriate. But these are distractions. Use sparingly.
This social media thing is a two-way street. It works because people have things to share, and they use tools like Twitter to share them. When we learn something new, we typically want to share it. Maybe you saw something on TV, or you were listening to the radio and a news story caught your ear. Or you were having a conversation with a colleague who pointed out something you hadn’t noticed before. Or you may have been on a web site and you saw an interesting study or blog post or discussion or news item. You want to share that with people. So use Twitter to do it.
If people find the stuff you have to say to be valuable, they’ll follow you. Congratulations. You’re published. And you’re helping people. You’re teaching. You’re giving back. You’re part of the conversation.
Don’t drink the fire hose
Do you have cable TV? How much do you pay for that? How many channels do you get? Let’s say you pay $75 per month, and you get 150 channels. You’re paying a lot of money to have access to that programming. Do you watch it all? Of course not. Do you even watch one of the 150 channels all the time? Probably not. Do you read every word on every page of that newspaper or magazine? Not unless it’s an awesome publication like Wired. Don’t feel like you have to read everything in your stream. Pay attention to it when you have time. When you don’t, skip it. You don’t spend hours in your car in the driveway listening to the radio so you don’t miss anything. You’re going to miss some things. Let them go.
If you’re overwhelmed, consider a tool like Paper.li. Sign up for a free account, and it’ll look at your Twitter stream and collect all of the links from everyone you follow. Then, it’ll divide them into categories and format them like a newspaper. Every day, it’ll re-generate itself based on the new stuff that people tweet. Plus, you can share your personal newspaper. What to see mine? It’s right here.
Twitter is a great tool for sharing information and connecting with a community. Once you get started, it can be a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your field. What other advice do you have for new Twitter users?
Image credit: TPorter2006 on Flickr.