Hi, my name is Chris and I’m…I’m a Twitter addict.
So, yes, I’m a Twitter addict. Just a moment ago I cursed loudly (LOUDLY!) at Twhirl as it pitifully looked at me and told me that Twitter wasn’t talking to it right now because Twitter was so damned busy. So yeah, I need need NEED Twitter even though it has let me down a lot lately. The platform still has work to do in order to scale in a feature-rich way. It can be very frustrating at times.
However, in my work as an educator, researcher and consultant, I find that there are a lot of potential uses for Twitter, for professionals and for activist/nonprofit organizations. Let me tell you about two important and easy uses for Twitter: Building a Community of Practice and Building Your Personal Information Network (PIN).
Building a Community of Practice
I tend to use Twitter as a continual, low-level informational tool to keep up with what’s going on with people of interest to me. Some are close friends, some are professional acquaintances, some are people I’ve never met. It lets me take a look at what they’re thinking about, and sometimes people will post (using TinyURL) links to things they are reading or have written. For me, the end result is that it creates an ad hoc community of practice around my personal issues of interest, keeping me informed on a more-or-less continual fashion as to what’s going on and who’s doing it.
In terms of community building, Twitter is great because the transaction costs per interaction are so much lower than blogging, forum participation or even email. Twitter can be run on your desktop or laptop, or you can use your phone if you’re more mobile (but you need to have Unlimited Text Messaging if you follow a lot of people). Community arises naturally out of using the tool, and you can participate as much or as little as you like. Twitter is being used by activists in places like Thailand and Egypt to coordinate Flashmob-type action.
By linking up with people in my vicinity doing social media work, I’ve learned a lot about new social media platforms, tips on how to use them effectively, and have been able to find solutions to small problems. In the process, it’s also allowed be to expand my personal network and begin to build friendships that would have never happened otherwise. Twitter has helped me to get better at what I do while meeting more people who do related work. In short, it has helped me to build a community of practice.
Building Your Personal Information Network
One great way to use Twitter is to build a Personal Information Network (PIN). Take a look at the Twitter pages of people you are interested in and see who they are following. So, for example, if you go to my Twitter page, you can hover over the mini-icons of people I am following, click on them to go to their Twitter page, see who they are following, and by repeating this process, find plenty of people thinking about issues you are interested in. Each tweet is only 140 characters long, so messages are short and to the point (which is why you need TinyURL to post links).
This differs from Building a Community of Practice in that you are following people in order to gain information on a variety of topics, not necessarily because you are trying to enter a network or community or trying to build a personal relationship with them. These will often be the people on your Twitter “following” list (people whose Tweets you read) and not on your “followers” (people read your Tweets) list. for example, I follow Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction to keep up with what’s going on with their comics work, Xeni Jardin to follow her journalism and work on Boing Boing, Sustainablog to keep up with news on sustainability and global climate change, Barack Obama to follow the campaign, etc.
I don’t expect these people to follow me, but I follow them to engage in what Futurists refer to as the scanning process. Follow as many or as few people as you like to do this. I try to add more and more of these type of people all the time. You must beware of throwing your “signal-to-noise” ratio out of whack when doing so. For example, I recently dropped one such person from my Following list because she was starting to Tweet WAY too much, with too little value. She was introducing too much noise, overwhelming the signal of the information coming in. So i dropped her. You’ll have to experiment with this to find the right balance. Journalists are beginning to follow people on Twitter in order to get the jump on breaking stories. You can do the same with your PIN.
In my next post on Twitter, I’ll talk about ways in which organizations could think about using Twitter to enhance their work. For example, one interesting application for activist organizations might be a page on their website site which functions as a collection page for the RSS feeds of their membership/community members, presenting a rolling feed of what everyone is up to. Or, imagine a Downtown Lexington activist group at a city council meeting in which strategic updates flow between phone-equipped activists in real time during a meeting, allowing adjustment of strategy, passing of information and relevant data to improve efficacy of speaking during hearings. There are many possibilities for enhancing activism using tools like Twitter.
In the meantime, I’d love for you to leave a comment or email me with the ways YOU use Twitter in your personal or work lives.