I attended a memorable session on the power of Twitter and how the technology can be used to build community. I admit that I am still a bit of a newbie in the Twittersphere and I definitely find monitoring those I follow more than a challenge, but I am beginning to understand the power of the tweet and am committed to figuring it out.
The early-morning session was titled “Pound for#: Twitter Hashtags Foster Powerful Professional Development and Fuel Literacy Initiatives” and featured five presenters from around the United States, each eager and excited to talk about how they use Twitter. The context for their talk was that in the struggling U.S. economy, many educators have to find alternative ways to stay connected professionally since attending conferences is an expense many institutions no longer fund.
One takeaway from the session was the idea of filtering the vast amount of content available on Twitter by using hashtags and a piece of free software called TweetChat (http://tweetchat.com/). (In case you aren’t sure, a Twitter hashtag is the hashtag symbol, #, followed by a key word or phrase that connects a tweet to other tweets of the same topic. Clicking on a hashtagged word, for example, allows one to see related tweets in one place as well as follow an ongoing conversation.) By filtering content by a topic, say Civil War or writing center, you are able to follow the conversation and tweets of a much more limited focus in a “room” within the TweetChat interface. Any tweet you offer will automatically add the hashtag for the topic thus connecting your tweet with others who monitor the topic hashtag.
There are other ways to follow topics and stay connected. My favorite is TweetDeck (http://www.tweetdeck.com/), which allows one to monitor multiple Twitter (and other social media) accounts all in one place. In addition, one can follow specific hashtags in separate columns. For example, during my working hours, I use TweetDeck to monitor my Twitter feed (@kurtisclements), the KUWC’s Twitter feed (@KUWC) as well as monitor the hashtags #writingcenter, #technology & #education, and #podcasting. Being able to view each account or topic in a separate column allows me to manage the content more conveniently than a single column feed or jumping from one account to the next.
Another takeaway from this session was the idea of having real-time Twitter meetings, which take place at the same time and day and at regular intervals–weekly, monthly, bi-monthly. Imagine a barrage of tweets coming at you, one right after the other, filling your screen with no more than 140-character bursts of sometimes cryptic comments like Good luck & have fun in the Windy City @kurtisclements, @PickleInk via @NCTE. Have a great presentation tomorrow! #writingcentersrock #ncte
Granted, it takes a little time to get used to the lingo, but once you understand that “@” followed by a name or organization is a remark made to a specific person and a “#” followed by a topic phrase is making the tweet available to those who follow that hashtag, then you are better able to understand the messages. Make sense?
Attending a live Twitter meeting is like zooming through space with stars flying at you from every direction. It’s crazy. But it’s also fun. I sat in on the weekly #engchat meeting earlier in the week and was amazed at what I saw happening–a steady stream of conversation that was both overwhelming and mesmorizing. As a newbie, I hadn’t a clue how to get a tweet in, but before long it was clear that what one did was enter the fray at will by referencing a previous tweet, like this: I agree @literary1. Twain was a genius! Love #marktwain. And Shazam! I was on board. The cool thing about the meeting is you connect with a handful of those in attendance, interact with them, and, in the process, learn about resources and initiatives and professional development opportunities related to your shared interest. Plus, you can follow those folks (should you wish) on Twitter and learn about the people and hashtags they follow and before you know it more potentially great information is coming your way. Just like that.
For a long time I just didn’t get Twitter, at least in terms of how to make use of it in my working life, but over time Twitter’s power has become clearer in my mind and this NCTE session offered new ways to use the application.