Start Up: Twitter

“Start Up”

You’ve heard about it. You’ve read about it, seen it in action once or twice. Maybe you’ve even made it to the sign-up page, but you hesitated at the thought of signing up for yet another thing you might only try twice. This is the first in a series of “Startup” posts, written to give you a reason to give a specific technology a try. The idea is to describe a way that technology can be immediately useful to you. Ready?

Twitter

Yes, you should be using Twitter. You may already be on Facebook, but Twitter is a different kind of social media site. Twitter makes it easy to make connections you can really use:

  1. It’s easy to participate in conferences/events you can’t attend in person
  2. Easy to interact with peers you don’t know yet
  3. Easy to keep up with trends and news

1. It’s easy to participate in conferences/events you can’t attend in person

When the 2011 Internet Librarian Conference took place last month, I had no chance of getting out to Monterey, California to attend. But I had heard that some sessions would be available live via streaming video. The conference’s main page included a stream of comments on Twitter using the tag #IL2011. Enter that as a search on Twitter and any tweet that includes this tag will appear.

As Lee Rainie from the Pew Center began to speak (you can watch his talk and view his slides here), viewers from around the country wrote tweets about the session. Some viewers’ tweets took the form of outline notes, recording main ideas or quotations. Others commented on the session, adding their own perspectives. Others added links to research that Rainie cited or to examples of his ideas or findings or even counter-examples.

Twitter users refer to this as a backchannel conversation. It can be challenging to keep up with the main speaker and the backchannel at the same time, but it can also provide some of the additional information that often comes with attending an event in person.

2. Easy to interact with peers you don’t know yet

“Attending” events on Twitter is also a great way to meet peers. For a start, conference speakers often share their Twitter name. They are easy to immediately follow, especially if their session hit home with you. The backchannel is also a great source for people to follow. Look for people to follow who share helpful comments or questions or links. Be generous; follow lots of people.

Following is a good start, but it’s important to interact as well. A conference is a great setting for this because you’re with a group of people who are hearing new ideas at the same time. Even though you each bring your own background and ideas, you can respond together. Ask questions by replying to someone’s tweet. Read their profiles and, if available, look at their blogs and websites. And from the other end, when you’re searching the web for information, look for a Twitter account to follow.

3. Easy to keep up with trends and news

After the conference or event is over, people will pretty quickly stop using its hashtag (#IL2011, for example). While that conversation dies down, the people you follow will keep on posting. These may be personal posts about that day’s challenges, or it might be a new development in the library world, or it may share news about an upcoming conference that you could attend online. Keeping up with this news is easiest if you log on to Twitter frequently. The brevity of tweets, by their nature, makes it easy to quickly catch up with what’s been posted since you last checked.

Continue to cultivate the list of people that you follow, and you will have built your own agency of citizen journalists. You can join in the conversation, too. Do your own reporting, share your favorite sources or newest strategy, and you’ll find people following you too.

If this has you curious about engaging with Twitter, I would encourage you to start by finding an event that will use a Twitter hashtag. In my experience, it’s much easier to get started by going to a place that has lots of activity around a message you can hear, at the same time everyone else is hearing it. Being engaged in that initial conversation is exciting in itself, and it gets you to start trying to use Twitter within a context that’s useful right away.

So ask around about conferences. Visit the websites of organizations you belong to or organizations you know to hold events. Create a Twitter account. Find a backchannel. Start up.

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