By Tiffany Hasker
Illustration by Emily Carew Woodard
Twitter can be overwhelming. So remember: Steady stream, dip in and dip out. You can’t catch all the drips, nor should you try to.
Twitter is the most intimidating of all the popular social media channels. Looking at it for the first time is like trying to decipher a foreign language. But once you learn its unique language of “tweets” and “hashtags,” the Twitter universe expands exponentially, and so will your comfort with it.
Twitter is where people go to find out about things that are happening or of interest right now.
Getting your feet wet
Twitter is not a traditional social network. It’s not the same as Facebook, a community, or a place where everyone says something. Picture a constantly flowing stream of water. “Tweets” are the stream. As a user, you dip your toe in and out of the ongoing stream of tweets. You can’t expect to take it all in. Simply read a few tweets, contribute some of your own if you like, and then step out.
Most of the communication taking place on Twitter is public and viewable to everyone. Twitter gives us the opportunity to be the town crier for a few minutes. Sure, you could “protect” your tweets from public view, but that’s the not the point of Twitter. If you want to share information privately (or as privately as the Internet allows), you’re better off using Facebook. If you have information you want to share broadly, Twitter is the place.
Ways to dive in
Follow interesting people — Following users who share your interests is a great place to start. You’ll soon get the hang of dipping your toe in and out of the stream of tweets and benefit from the experience.
Start a conversation — Ask a question, comment on the news, reply to someone else’s tweet.
Provide information — Answer a question. Share an interesting article. “Live tweet” from a meeting or event. Take time to share your favorite resources by providing links to them, and be prepared to receive a steady stream of resources from others.
Visit chat groups — Chat groups are formed around a specific topic of interest, defined by a specific hashtag. To join the group, you simply type the hashtag into the search box, and follow the posts and contribute to the conversation by posting a tweet followed by the hashtag.
Benefits for educators
Professional development opportunities abound on Twitter because it is a place to build connections. Educators are using Twitter as part of their expanded Personal Learning Networks, or PLNs.
Can’t find one that interests you? Start your own hashtag to collaborate with colleagues and like-minded educators. You can have students create their own hashtag for a group research project, and share information through the common stream designated by their hashtag.