I have been encouraging teachers, students, and others to join Twitter and build their personal learning networks (PLNs) ever since I delved into this great social networking site last fall. Investing the time in Twitter has paid off in a number of wonderful ways. If it weren’t for Twitter, Ruggero Domenichini from New Zealand would not have taught my seventh grade Technology and Information Literacy class about his Web 2.0 tool, YouTellYou; Mark Moran, founder and CEO of findingDulcinea, wouldn’t have taught my students and other teachers about his unbelievable online resource; our junior high students would not have participated in the award-winning GreetingsFromTheWorld wiki; and I wouldn’t be as excited to go to ISTE 2010 in Denver (June 27–30) to see all of the amazing people I have come to know through their tweets.
Once you start using Twitter, you’ll start reaping benefits such as these. For those who have opened up an account and dabbled a bit but still don’t see the point, I’d like to offer a few other tools and tips that can improve your Twitter experience.
Use a Twitter Organizer
Add a Twitter organizer or manager to your desktop such as TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) or HootSuite (http://hootsuite.com). I prefer TweetDeck because I find it easier to use. Both of these tools organize your Twitter stream into columns, such as All Friends, Mentions, Direct Messages, or any special lists or searches you follow. You can open as many columns as you want, and you can delete them at any time. I often have several columns open for my favorite lists.
Twitter users create discussion forums using a hashtag (#) followed by the topic. This allows you to search all of the tweets containing that hashtag, even if you aren’t following the person who sent the tweet. For example, when I compose a tweet and include my school’s hashtag, anyone searching for #vanmeter will see this tweet. It is a great way to share and connect within a certain group and to connect with others interested in the same things you are.
I have met a lot of my Twitter friends by searching for hashtags such as #followfriday (giving shout-outs to fellow Twitter friends on Friday), #followalibrarian, and #edchat (see L&L, May 2010, “Exchange Ideas on Edchat,” page 33).
You can also create and follow personalized lists of people through your Twitter account. These lists might be your own PLN, a list of all of the Twitter users within your school, or all the authors you follow on Twitter. You can also follow other users’ lists by adding them to your TweetDeck or Twitter page.
If you are new to TweetDeck, you might not have noticed how easily you can send replies, retweets, and direct messages simply by hovering over someone’s profile picture. Click the retweet button next to a tweet that you like, and the message automatically appears in the update box. You can also send replies and direct messages this way.
Another advantage of using an organizer, as opposed to the actual Twitter site, is the increased functionality. You can compose updates, add a column, send a picture, shorten your tweet to 140 characters using TweetShrink, and translate a tweet from a foreign language. These organizational applications also allow you to manage Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace all from one place. You can even send an update from multiple places at once.
Manage Tweets with a Bookmarklet
In the past when I would find a great resource to share, I would send out an e-mail. If my recipients wanted to share the information, they would, in turn, forward the e-mail. Now when I find a resource to share, I use the bookmark-let Hootlet, a tool within HootSuite, and send a tweet. Merely drag Hootlet to your bookmark bar or your favorites list, and it will allow you to easily send tweets to any of the accounts (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) you have linked to your HootSuite account.
Say, for example, that I find an online elementary book site that I would like to share with my Twitter friends. When I am at that site, I click on Hootlet in my bookmark bar. It brings down a box with a tweet already created. It also shows the different accounts I have tagged within my HootSuite. I can send the tweet out like that, add to it, or edit it before I send it to my followers. I can add a hashtag or even mention another user within this tweet.
Once you start tweeting on a daily basis, it’s good to take stock of what you are tweeting. I love using the formula that Angela Maiers posted on her blog Putting Learner and Learning First. In the post “Twitter Engagement Formula,” she writes, “70% of Twitter time should be spent sharing other voices, opinions, and tools; 20% of tweets should be directly responding, connecting, collaborating, and co-
creating with Twitter colleagues; and 10% is chit-chatting trivial details about your life as a human being.”
Don’t assume that this Twitter business made sense to me at first. I gathered some strong resources about Twitter, added several key friends I found by networking through Twitter and other social networking tools, and jumped right in! I love how this tool has helped me build my PLN and make connections with others all over the world.
Putting Learner and Learning First, “My Twitter Engagement Formula”: www.angelamaiers.com/2008/09/my-twitter-enga.html
Shannon Miller’s Diigo list of Twitter resources: www.diigo.com/list/shannonmiller/twitter-resources
Block: To deny a follower access to your tweets. This is not the same as unfollowing, which will only take their tweets out of your Twitterstream.
Direct message: A private tweet only one person can read, much like an e-mail. To message one of your followers (you must also follow him or her), type D and then the person’s handle at the beginning of your tweet, or use the Direct Message button on your twapplication. You still have only 140 characters.
Follow: To add a tweeter to your list of Twitter “friends” so that their tweets will be included in your Twitterstream.
Hashtag (#): Discussion stream aggregating tweets on a given topic. Include this symbol along with a tag (e.g., #ISTE10) in your tweet to have it aggregated with other tweets on that topic. Search for established hashtags to see the ongoing discussions on those topics.
List: Twitter function that allows you to compile your favorite tweeters by topic (e.g., ed tech tweeters) to share them with others. Your lists are viewable to anyone who follows you, and others may add you to their lists without asking your permission.
Lurk: To read tweets from your PLN without participating in the discussion or sending out your own tweets.
Microblog: To blog in short bursts, such as the 140-character updates that Twitter limits you to.
Mistweet: To accidentally send a tweet to the wrong person or through the wrong Twitter account.
Reply (also @reply): Tweet in response to others’ tweets by putting @ before their Twitter handle at the beginning of your tweet.
Retweet (RT): To repeat someone else’s tweet to all of your followers. You do this by putting “RT” at the beginning of others’ tweets or by using the Retweet button on the Twitter page or your twapplication.
Twaffic: Traffic on Twitter.
Twapplications: Applications (such as TweetDeck or HootSuite) to make it easier to use Twitter.
Tweeple: Twitter users. See twit and tweeter.
Tweeps: Your PLN posse of friends who follow you on multiple social networks, including Twitter.
Tweet: Message sent via Twitter.
Tweeter: Twitter user. See twit and tweeple.
Twit: Twitter user. See tweeple and tweeter.
Twittersphere: The entire community of all Twitter users.
Twittectomy: The act of unfollowing and/or blocking a follower.
Twitterati: A-list tweeters with thousands of followers.
Twitterstream: The continual, chronological stream of tweets from the tweeple you follow.
Twitticisms: Witty tweets.
Twittiquette: The etiquette of the Twittersphere. Includes such rules as thanking those who retweet your tweets and retweeting others’ tweets rather than passing off the resources they tweet as your own discoveries.
Unfollow: To stop following a person so that their tweets no longer show up in your Twitterstream.
Learning & Leading with Technology, vol. 37, no. 8 © 2010, ISTE ® (International Society for Technology in Education), <www.iste.org.> All rights reserved.