Last week I was walking a colleague through Twitter and thought now may be a good time to pen a post with some tips for new users. In particular I want to encourage new users in the education sector to build their profile on Twitter and explore its potential as a personal learning network.
- I can check in any time and browse items that have been tweeted by people I have decided to follow
- It’s not full of banal updates about people’s personal life, as on Facebook
- If I don’t check it for ages I don’t get in trouble and there is no obligation to ‘catch up’ (unlike email)
- I have found the most amazing connections from around the world that I otherwise would not have – it is a real networking platform
In just a couple of weeks from now our Queensland English and literacy teaching associations are co-hosting our annual national conference. We have set up a Twitter handle (@EngLit2013) and declared a hashtag (#BNW13) for the event. With luck this medium will take off during the event and lots of teachers will experiment with using Twitter, perhaps for the first time.
This post, therefore, is written with school teachers and English/literacy educators in mind, as well as my colleagues at university.
If you have joined Twitter but still don’t really know what to do with it, this post is for you!
1. Hatch your egg
Many people I talk to feel nervous about writing their first tweet and following lots of people. So let’s not start there!
The first thing I like to get people doing with Twitter is making their profile page inviting to potential followers.
When you first create a profile on Twitter you will be given the default egg image as your picture. But you are not an egg! You aren’t even a chicken! You are a person!
It’s very important to update your profile picture, or ‘hatch you egg’, to show others that you are active online. By adding an avatar that better represents you, the service will also start to seem more interesting to you.
2. Add a bio
I rarely follow anyone who doesn’t have a bio, and many others have the same rule. Why? Not because I’m a Twitter-snob, but because without a bio it’s hard to tell who you freakin are!
Some people are reluctant to add a bio, worried that it will reveal too much about them, breach their privacy, or make them identifiable to their employer.
My tips for educators that are worried about such things are:
- Don’t feel pressured to name your workplace. Terms like ‘maths teacher’ or ‘science educator’ give us enough information to go on.
- Avoid declaring your religious or political affiliations, unless you are very comfortable doing so.
- Get in the habit of only saying things online that you would proudly stand by if your employer saw it.
- Don’t include your location if you have concerns about privacy or safety. You can always add this in later, once you are comfortable.
If in doubt, just browse a few other profiles until you get a feel for the kind of things people write. Many people are happy sharing that they are a husband, wife, parent of three, dog-lover etc. Writing such things is OK and entirely within the genre of a ‘professional’ bio. It’s all up to you and what you want to signal about yourself and your passions/priorities to others.
3. Follow about 15 people
I’ve heard a lot of recommendations about the ideal number of people to follow to get connections happening on Twitter. I suggest you will need to follow at least 50 people to see real ‘action’ on your feed…but following that many people is very overwhelming to most new users!
If you don’t follow enough people though, it will be difficult to see the point of Twitter.
So if you are a teacher trying to get the hang of microblogging I advise following about 15 other profiles straight away. This will give you enough material to read when you check Twitter that you are bound to find interesting things and start to see ‘the point’.
Here is a selection of profiles that I often recommend to English teachers new to Twitter:
- @edutopia (kick-ass education resources)
- @heyjudeonline (teacher-librarian)
- @BiancaH80 (English teacher)
- @Darcy1968 (Deputy Principal)
- @englishteachers (AATE – professional association)
If you are happy to follow celebrities there is also @MargaretAtwood, @stephenfry and @rickygervais. Sometimes they tweet A LOT though, so if that gets too intense, always feel free to UNFOLLOW people – we don’t take it personally on Twitter!
4. Write a tweet!
This is actually the easiest part.
You can choose to say something, ask a question, or share a link with others.
What you must keep in mind though is that Twitter is NOT Facebook. There are no ‘likes’ (though tweets can be re-tweeted or added to a favourites list) and many times you will say things that get no reply or comment. Not single one. Don’t be sad about this!
Be confident in the knowledge that people may be reading your tweets, but not replying. You will do this to them too – it’s OK.
Also be confident that even if no-one notices your tweet, that what you wrote was still worth saying. You might even come back to your own tweets every now and then to rediscover links or information you have shared. Your Twitter feed is as much for you as it is for others.
If you want lots of people to see your tweet you can include what is called a hashtag in your post – popular ones include #edchat and #edtech. There are also subject-specific hashtags, such as the #ozengchat tag for Australian English teachers to use for chatting.
5. That’s enough for now…go and get a coffee :)
Once you’ve added a profile picture and a bio, followed some people and posted a tweet, you are well on your way to being an effective microblogger.
Tweeting directly to people by including their handle (e.g. @kmcg2375) in your post and including hashtags can increase the number of replies you get, but you will find this out as you go.
One final thought for those of you who are wary of joining ‘yet another’ social media service…not all social networks are the same.
Give Twitter a decent try, checking in at least once a week for a month, you’ll see what I mean :)