A colleague who knows that Twitter is my favorite social space stuck her head in my room the other day with a complaint. “Bill, Twitter’s not working for me. No one ever replies to any of my questions. What’s the point of posting if no one is ever listening?”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Anyone who has taken the digital leap into the Twitterstream has felt lost and unloved at some point in their early work to use the short messaging service as a learning tool. Having heard that Twitter makes it possible to instantly connect with really bright people, new users expect more than Twitter gives in the first few months — and that simple truth leads to a wasteland of discarded accounts.
To convince similarly frustrated peers to give Twitter another chance, I always offer three bits of advice:
1. Spend your early time on Twitter following important educational hashtags: One of the things that teachers new to Twitter often misunderstand is that following individuals isn’t the only — or even the best — way to access useful information in the service. Instead, consider using Twitter’s search tool to follow conversations organized around hashtags.
Educators have embraced hashtags — unique identifiers that start with the # sign — as a way to efficiently share information with each other. Elementary school teachers add #elemchat, principals add #cpchat and math teachers add #mathchat to the ends of their messages to make the content they are sharing easy for everyone to find. Searching for the hashtags related to your field — a process facilitated by retired teacher librarian Jerry Blumengarten, who maintains an exhaustive list of educational hashtags on his website — can instantly connect you with a constantly refreshed list of new ideas worth exploring.
Following the hash-tagged resources that are filtered and sorted by other teachers will make the early time that you spend in Twitter worthwhile — and if the early time that you spend in Twitter is worthwhile, you’ll be more likely to continue tinkering with the service.
2. Persuade colleagues to join Twitter with you: The loneliest moments that I spent in Twitter were the first few weeks after signing up when I had eight followers and hadn’t ever heard of educational hashtags. Every post that I made — whether I was asking questions, sharing resources or looking for help with a specific challenge — seemed like a complete waste of time because no one ever responded. “How is this a social media service?” I’d think, “if no one is even seeing anything that I write.”
The mistake that I’d made was joining Twitter alone and hoping that people would magically find — and then start networking with — me.
I probably should have known better, right?
After all, that’s not how networking happens in real life. New people aren’t lined up at my front door every morning waiting to answer my questions or to lend a helping hand. In fact, when I need a helping hand, I almost always turn first to the people that I already have close relationships with.
If you want your Twitter network to feel vibrant and alive from Day One, you should persuade some of your closest professional colleagues to join the service with you. Doing so guarantees that someone really WILL be listening when you post early questions or share early resources — and every time they respond to a message that you’ve sent, you’ll learn a little more about the social potential of Twitter.
3. Remember that you build relationships in Twitter one good deed at a time: The final reminder that I give to Twitter rookies is that building meaningful relationships with people that you’ve never met before depends on the same kinds of core behaviors that you use to build relationships in real life.
Want a responsive network that offers you just-in-time support and quick answers to important questions? Then start by being responsive and offering quick answers to other people’s important questions! Spend time each day and/or week sifting through the streams of messages being shared by people that you are following and find ways to lend a hand.
Most importantly, be patient. Don’t automatically assume that the strangers you are reaching out to are going to embrace you immediately. Not only is Twitter an asynchronous service — which means you never really know when anyone is actually online — the people you are interacting with are making choices about how to best spend their time and allocate their attention, too.
That means that they may not HAVE time to respond to your message — and until you become a digital colleague who proves time-and-again to give as much as you take in digital relationships, they may not be ready to MAKE the time to help you out.
Long story short: Using Twitter to build a digital network that you can lean on takes concerted effort, y’all — but using Twitter to build a digital network that you can lean on is also well worth your time. I’m a more efficient learner than ever before simply because I really am connected to an always-on stream of ideas, information and individuals that I can learn from.
Following educational hashtags, joining Twitter with close colleagues and building relationships one tweet at a time are three steps that you can take to make your early time in Twitter seem more meaningful and worthwhile.
Like many accomplished educators, Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) wears a ton of professional hats. He’s a National Board Certified Teacher, Solution Tree author and presenter, an accomplished blogger and a senior fellow in the Teacher Leaders Network. He checks all of those titles at the door each morning, though, when he walks into his classroom.