Twittering on…

This post was originally posted on Madhouse of ideas, a non-profit project collecting stories, experiences and reflections about Twitter and sharing them with people around the world.  Madhouse of Ideas are convinced that twitter is a wonderful tool for sharing, collaborating and learning – if you feel that way, why not share your Twitter story with them too.

Click here to go to the original post on the Madhouse of Ideas website.

I keep being asked about Twitter and its benefits.  People mostly say things like ‘oh I tried that but I didn’t get it’‘why would you want everyone to know your business’ or ‘how do you get in on conversations’.   To be honest, explaining Twitter, how it works, and the point of it to somebody is quite challenging.  So I thought I’d write something to reflect on my year and a bit of tweeting, what I’ve got out of it, why I keep trying to convert people, and why I’m such a big fan.

Twitter is an excellent place to find relevant and useful information.  In a postgraduate workshop on networking recently, the two main reasons given for why we network were keeping (in touch and up to date) and sharing (information and knowledge).  Once you follow the profiles of people, groups, businesses, and organisations that interest you, the information starts to stream in.  Initially, this is how I got hooked on Twitter – as a researcher I want to keep up to date on many different issues and topics.  Over a year later, this is still one of the main benefits for me – the Twitter profiles I follow provide me with information that I don’t come across through other communication channels such as mail lists, Facebook, RSS feeds and so on.  On Twitter, there is a very healthy culture of sharing, one which I feel part of and in turn, compelled to share my information, knowledge and things that may be of interest to my followers too.

I’ve recently begun to use Twitter for other purposes too.  I am currently working on a research project exploring the key trends and future directions of the media and digital sectors in and around Manchester, UK.  We are using Twitter to find out all sorts of information about what’s going on in the region, who is who in the media and digital sectors, and also to connect with people outside of the university who have experience and knowledge in this field.  We are also carrying out some workshops and Twitter has been a great place to invite people along (I should say LinkedIn has been very useful for this too).

I also tweet for @PsyPAG – an organisation providing advice and support for psychology postgraduates in the UK.  There is a team of us who manage the Twitter account, which is great as we have a wider range of topics and different areas of psychology covered.  This year, our annual conference was promoted and discussed openly online (#psypag2011) via Twitter both by delegates at the conference and those keeping up to date from afar.  By the time the conference came around, some of us had made our initial introductions online already, and after the conference, Twitter makes it easy to keep in touch.

I would definitely say that Twitter has strengthened some of the relationships I have with people I know already in ‘real life’too.  I have also connected with people who I would never have met from all over the globe.  The great thing about Twitter is that it is open and the barriers are down – you can follow pretty much anybody you want (except for those who have set their profile to private).  This is unlike other social networking sites I use such as Facebook and LinkedIn.  LinkedIn asks you how you know the person which I find really inhibiting for networking purposes – isn’t the point of these sites to get to know people you don’t already know as well?  LinkedIn has, more recently, introduced a follow button (wonder where they got that from!).

Like groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter is a place for groups and communities of people with shared interests to get together.  Quite early on in my Twitter journey, a good friend pointed me in the direction of #phdchat.  #phdchat is a community of people who use the hashtag #phdchat (a hashtag is used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet) to chat with one another.  Every Wednesday evening there is a scheduled meet on Twitter, where a poll throughout the previous week sets the topic for the evening.  Anybody wanting in on the discussions just needs to include the hashtag #phdchat and others will see it.  One of the #phdchat sessions on academic writing really inspired me to write (as much as possible) in plain English so that it is more accessible to more people.

On another note, I am currently helping a local housing association to use social media to connect with their residents.  They are already using Twitter, although it seems their Twitter activity is attracting more follows from similar associations and groups, as opposed to those they want to communicate with the most – their residents.  We had some discussions around Twitter not being as inclusive and for everyone as say Facebook.  Therefore Twitter may not be the ‘be all and end all’ for connecting with people – different social networks and other ways of communicating can be used in combination or can work better.  And sometimes you just can’t beat a good old poster!

That said, I suppose Twitter is my favourite and most useful network at the moment – we’ll see how Google+ turns out!  I feel having a good online presence makes me more approachable and I hope it encourages people to contact me.  But I do remember starting out on Twitter and agonising over what to post on there.  Is this ok? Is that ok? Will people be interested in what I’ve got to say?  Should I write about that?  Because Twitter’s so public, I initially felt uncomfortable with it.  But the more you use it, the more you get out of it, and the better you feel about it.   I read a book recently called the Tao of Twitter by @markwschaeffer, which really got me thinking about why I’m using Twitter and what I can do to get the most out of it.  In the book, Mark talks about how blogs and Twitter go hand in hand.  I have to agree, even more so after going to a writing workshop today ran by @francesbell and @Ilenedawn.  I often get ‘writer’s block’ and it was only today that I realised Twitter and blogging can really help you come unstuck.  Twitter encourages you to write as you only have to fill 140 characters, and if you blog and tweet, there’s more writing there.  Writing is learning and learning happens on Twitter for sure.  I’m definitely going to up my game and start tweeting and blogging about my postgraduate research more – come on Twitter, help me get my PhD done!



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