Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Twitter Isn't Another Announcement System: It's SOCIAL MEDIA!

When I talk with other educators and administrators, I still encounter quite a bit of skepticism about the educational and professional potential of this social media device. Usually, that skepticism centers around the belief regarding its ability to have any kind of impact on an educator professionally. Many wonder, “How can anything enlightening or educational come from posting 140 character messages during the course of the day?” It turns out, a great deal can come from connecting professionally with other educators through Twitter.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to get a school administrator to do with Twitter is move and grow beyond just using it as another messaging system along with the Web page and phone messaging system. But using Twitter for this use alone completely discounts the greatest impact it can have on them personally and professionally. Such uses leave the “social” out and turns Twitter into just a medium for communication. Which is fine if that is your intention, but I am no longer sure you are engaging in social media use.

Twitter’s networking potential is enormous. There are few other Web tools that can literally connect a user with others around the globe. Educators who have Twitter accounts sitting idle, are not engaging in the power of this simple but powerful networking tool. They are not engaging is a social use of Twitter. In a sense, you might say they really are not using social media at all.

But what can a new Twitter user do to engage this social media tool in earnest? There have been quite of few posts across the blogosphere that dealt with this advice. I have posted a few times on this topic myself. With almost 3 years of Tweeting, what advice would I offer new administrators and educators engaging in the use of Twitter for the first time or trying to take a Twitter account out of idle? Well, perhaps here’s some Twitter advice from my latest experiences in Tweeting that might make that happen.
  • Pay attention to the content of what  you share through Twitter. As I’ve grown and become what I hope is a more seasoned Tweeter, I have cut back on the quantity of what I’m tweeting when I share resources. I have tried to share more articles and resources that I find interesting and I think others will find interesting. I try to share interesting quotes from books or articles I’m reading. These days I pay closer attention to the content of what I’m Tweeting.
  • Realize that there is nothing wrong with posting thoughtful and provocative Tweets. Obviously you need to protect yourself professionally and not post something that reflects negatively on your organization, but provocative tweets engage others in a Tweeting exchanges that can be informative. It helps to make sure your Twitter account does not in any way connect you to your employer or the school where you work. When I Tweet as the 21stprincipal, I am not Tweeting in my capacity as principal of a school. I have tried to make sure the 21stprincipal is a separate personality. I might refer to things happening on the job, or some of the successes I have experienced in my job, but what I say as 21stprincipal is my own personal and professional opinions and ideas and not those of the organization for which I work. It still means I must exercise caution.
  • Don’t use Twitter to share what you’re eating for lunch, or what you’re watching on TV. Well, truth is, sometimes that’s OK, but if that is the entire substance of your Tweets, then I doubt many will find your Tweeting engaging. Try to Tweet to share professionally and thoughtfully.
  • Try to master the art of saying a great deal with 140 characters. As a former English teacher who loves words, this is perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about Twitter. Trying to find a way to say the most with the least words and in a powerful way is both fun and challenging. Yet, that is what you need to do with Twitter. Expressing your thoughts or opinions with only 140 characters takes a great deal of thought. Trying to convey tone through a Tweet can be equally challenging. There have been many times a Tweet that I thought was humorous was taken seriously by others. I failed to convey the tone of the Tweet to readers and had to clarify with other tweets. Still, there is an author’s joy inside when the Tweet I’ve composed captures my sentiments entirely on a topic, idea, or issue.
In the end, I suppose Twitter could simply be a way for one to share out that they are having a hot dog at the City Diner, or sitting in front of the TV watching a movie. And, I’m also sure it can be an effective announcement system for events at the school. Still, I think those uses actually leave the “social” out of the media description of Twitter. To be social with Twitter, you’ve got to engage people socially, and you can’t do that with bland Tweets about what you had for lunch or about the dance your school is having Friday night.

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