Twitter is not for the birds.
Educators have recently debated the merits of Twitter. Our goal is to demonstrate the power of Twitter as a research and networking tool that can be used both outside and inside the classroom. From an educator’s perspective, we will examine five key Twitter power user strategies including building a personal learning network, developing your personal brand, researching industries and companies, orienting students to your discipline, and globalizing your classroom.
We begin by reviewing some cultural artifacts of Twitter, or the Twitterverse as it is often described. The Twitter user’s bio is critical. Be sure to fill out your bio completely as this is valuable real estate with 160 characters that are available. Identify yourself as an academician, list your discipline, and other key areas that signify your personal brand. Add a profile photo to give your Twitter presence a personality. Customize your Twitter background with a unique image. Be sure to add a link to your LinkedIn profile or even a personal website you have developed. Think of this bio as your personal business card for Twitter. Now you are ready to begin building your personal learning network (PLN).
Building a Personal Learning Network
The first step in building a PLN is to establish S.M.A.R.T. system of goals. This acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Here are some questions to consider. What is your intention for setting up a PLN? How many new contacts do you wish to add? Are you more comfortable collaborating with a smaller group, or do you wish to cast a wide net as a way to crowdsource research and knowledge transfer within your discipline? Based on the estimated size of your PLN, how much time are you willing to invest in developing it? Many Twitter users will log in for 30 minutes a day over a week and feel that is sufficient. Given your academic and personal schedule, is this plan realistic? Further, it is important to consider your timeframe. Building professional relationships takes time in the Twitterverse. Establish a timeframe for building your PLN and you will find your efforts online will be more fruitful. After you have identified your goals, connect with your departmental colleagues. Consider expanding the search to include other professional contacts within the academic setting such as textbook publishers, software vendors, and other support organizations. On your Twitter home screen, there is a button that states “Find People You Know”. Twitter can scan your contacts through Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, and MS Outlook, and connect you with your contacts that have Twitter accounts.
Social listening is the next phase. Marketers frequently use Twitter to study consumer attitudes towards businesses, salient issues, and environmental factors impacting today’s consumer. Given the high volume of noise on Twitter, it is important to identify and tune into industry influencers. Twitter newcomers often ask how to find influencers. Start by following professional academic associations such as @ACBSPAccredited on Twitter. As you follow these organizations, you will begin to see topics emerge that are relevant to your organization.
Consider following trade associations within your discipline such as the American Marketing Association, American Advertising Federation, or the Direct Marketing Association. We suggest identifying local business networks such as your local Chamber of Commerce and local trade associations for networking. While observing the postings for these accounts, look for Twitter interaction from other community members. It is likely that these individuals will possess some degree of influence and could serve as a new point of contact within your PLN.
LinkedIn has cultivated a list of key business influencers through its massive database. According to LinkedIn.com, the social media giant has invited over 500 business and industry leaders to publish on the platform (2015). These individuals often share key industry developments, new technologies on the horizon, and future business challenges. Examine the LinkedIn profiles for such individuals and follow them on Twitter.
As you expand the base of individuals that you follow, your Twitter homepage or timeline will begin to grow exponentially. Within Twitter, there is a feature called “lists” to help manage the timeline. Many power users will set up lists of twitter people they follow. For instance, you may set up a list of Dayton tweeters or Cincinnati tweeters. Perhaps you decide to organize your twitter list by discipline such as of marketing educators or supply chain management educators.
Other productivity tools include Hootsuite and Tweetdeck. Both programs offer free and paid versions. Hootsuite provides a dashboard which allows you to combine the management of your primary social media accounts. You can integrate Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and WordPress into one dashboard. You can preschedule posts across different social media platforms. Tweetdeck aids you with participating in Twitter chats through its use of columns.
Figure 2 – Tweetdeck dashboard for Professor Chrissann Ruehle
The final stage in developing your PLN is participation in a Twitter chat. During a Twitter chat, multiple users log into Twitter at a designated time and use an established hashtag to discuss various topics in their discipline. There is typically a facilitator that establishes the flow of questions throughout the Twitter chat. Most Tweet chats last for about an hour and typically cover 8-10 questions. The facilitator poses a question and participants respond to the question by sharing knowledge and resources. Some Twitter chats can have over 400 participants and the Twitter feed can become challenging to navigate. Tweetdeck helps the user to organize all the tweets associated with a Tweetchat in one column to make it more manageable.
Developing Your Personal Brand
As you expand your Twitter PLN, consider hosting your own Twitter chat. You may wish to focus your own Twitter chat on an area related to your discipline. This is a valuable approach to position yourself as an expert in your field. If you are concerned about hosting one yourself, consider serving as a guest host for an already established Twitter chat. This is a great way to learn about the complexities of hosting with a regular group of participants. Twitter chat parties tend to routinely participate and will often help promote chats they find to be valuable. Content curation is an integral part of maintaining your Twitter presence. Content curation is the sharing of valuable information through the use of Retweets (RT’s) and Modified Tweets (MT’s). An MT is an RT that has been paraphrased. Twitter users often share interesting articles, infographics, stories, blog posts, academic studies and white papers with their followers as part of a content curation strategy. Here are a few valuable tips that are keys to successful content curation. First, it is critical that you read, not skim, the full article that you wish to share. Tweeters sometimes make the mistake of merely reviewing the headline and sharing it with their PLN. Headlines can be deceiving. This is an easy way to lose credibility with your followers. Also, it is important to give credit to the original author when sharing information.
The Twitterverse is observant and will publicly call out individuals that fail to acknowledge correct authorship. Another aspect of personal branding is generating your own quality content for distribution. Many influencers will develop their own branded website. They will publish interesting projects, studies they have conducted, professional presentations, and papers they have written on the site. The personal website can serve as a career development portfolio. Many website platforms such as WordPress allow users to add a widget or program that pulls in their real-time Twitter feed. This is an opportunity to brand yourself as having an active social media voice. In addition, individuals can publicize content they have developed through Twitter.
Researching Industries and Companies
Twitter is a remarkable channel for researching industries and companies. You can perform a simple search for the name of a company or an industry keyword in the search bar at the top of the screen. You can search for people, photos, videos or news postings. There is an advanced feature that allows you to sort by hashtags and combinations of keywords. The advanced feature allows you to collect information on industry trends, environmental factors impacting your discipline, and issues facing specific companies.
This is an efficient way to research case studies and current events for use in the classroom. In addition, you can search for the Twitter accounts of specific companies and monitor their postings. Companies will often publicize job postings, events, new product launches, press releases, quarterly financial results, white papers and case studies on Twitter. Professors can also show students how companies like JetBlue (@JetBlue), Nike (@NikeSupport) and Whole Foods Markets (@Whole Foods) are driving customer service to Twitter and doing an excellent job managing customer relationships there.
Orienting Students to Your Discipline
Twitter is a great venue to help orient students to your discipline. We often show students how to search for companies and industry information on Twitter using the basic and advanced search features. We invite students to follow us on Twitter so they can see our content curation strategy. This helps them to learn about recognizing and identifying high-quality content for sharing. We share discipline specific publications they can follow on Twitter. In digital marketing, we encourage them to follow Hubspot, Social Media Today, Social Media Examiner, AdWeek, Advertising Age, Mashable and Forbes to orient them to the industry terminology and current events.
We also discuss digital marketing industry awards and introduce them to the associated Twitter accounts. Examples include The Shorty Awards, the Webby Awards, and the Mashies (Best in Digital Marketing). Students learn about the award winning campaigns and develop a deeper understanding of the digital marketing field.
Globalizing Your Classroom
Twitter has a strong global presence which is emphasized in our digital marketing courses. We discussed the impact of globalization on business; particularly the fall of the Berlin Wall and its dramatic impact on the world economy. During the Spring semester, Germany was celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. During class, we logged into Twitter and studied tweets about the celebration. The Berliners were celebrating by posting white balloons where the wall previously existed. Attendees posted even photographs to Twitter. This powerful message certainly brought this important event close to home for the students. Twitter has the capability to bring real-time responses to current events into your classroom. D. Hazeltine (personal communication, November 23, 2014) stated 8,000 illuminated balloons celebrate 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall destruction.
Moreover, many educators have joined the Mystery Skype movement. Skype has a program that allows educators to post a profile of their class and search for opportunities to collaborate with other educators around the world. The collaboration includes Skype sessions in the classroom between classes or working collaboratively on projects and assignments. Many educators use Twitter as a platform to make those connections. They post an announcement on Twitter that they are seeking other educators for this program. A Mystery Skype session is an intriguing collaboration opportunity for college students; especially if they do not have the resources to travel abroad.
Twitter has significant potential to transform the scholarship of teaching and learning. Professors can use this platform to advance their research and learning. They can also use the tool inside the classroom to orient students to their discipline and bring real-time current events to the students. Twitter enables educators with an innovative research channel and potentially yields deeper student engagement. Consider joining Twitter and just tweet.
If you would like to learn more about Twitter and other social media tools like Periscope, LinkedIn, and Infographics listen to the podcast recording of our session, “Preparing Students for the New Digital Economy,” from ACBSP Conference 2015 at acbsp.org/listen. Follow and tweet us at @ChrissannRuehle or @ProfBro