[Note: ETCJ's Twitter editor, Jessica Knott, has been working with Melissa to develop this series. See Part 1: Getting Started, Part 2: Channeling the Streams, and Part 3: Curating the Chaos. -Editor]
This final installment in this series offers guidance on using your Twitter account to join live conversations and monitor ongoing professional events. After setting up and learning to manage your account, a good next step is to join active groups and discussions that use hashtags to set their conversations apart from the rest.
What Is a Hashtag?
Adding the “#” symbol to series of letters and numbers creates what is known as a hashtag. These are searchable in the Twitter system and can function as filters to create a list of tweets that include the hashtag. By inserting a hashtag into a tweet, you add your message to the conversation, joining all the others who have chosen to add that same hashtag as well.
Anyone can create a hashtag and start a conversation. Like tags and keywords, they help you sort through the seemingly endless flow of information to identify related topics of interest. Use Twitter search to find recent tweets related to #edtech, #highered, or #election2012 as examples. Notice that searching by keyword (highered) or hashtag (#highered) allows you to see all of the messages with the hashtag, including those from accounts you don’t follow.
Join a Live Conversation
Twitter chats are real-time text chat conversations in which participants tweet their questions and responses. Chats go beyond just using the hashtag to participating at scheduled times. Anyone can join in by simply adding the chat’s specific hashtag to tweets during the session. There are several established chats focusing on education topics, such as #lrnchat and #edchat.
The Twitter Chat Schedule is an open Google Doc with over 700 chats currently listed. There are other calendars as well, like one from Inside Higher Ed that tracks higher education chats and events taking place with and through Twitter. This site also maintains a Twitter Directory for Higher Education, which includes a long list of popular hashtags.
To view the tweets in a live chat, you can create a separate stream in your dashboard management system (e.g., TweetDeck), use a Twitter chat tool (e.g., TweetChat, TwitterFall), or conduct a search within Twitter. For more information about how to participate in a Twitter chat, Lisa Barone documented guidelines for preparation, participation, and following-up.
Follow a Backchannel
Conferences and professional associations are implementing social media strategies to enhance networking and promotion of special events, including conferences. By establishing a unique hashtag for the event, attendees and those “listening in” from a distance can connect with each other and share information about the conference – creating an unofficial backchannel of communication. This kind of activity allows presenters and attendees at the face-to-face venues to continue the conversations taking place in the sessions and even extend them to those not able to attend. By following a conference hashtag, you can monitor and join these informal discussions.
The DevLearn 2012 conference, coordinated by The eLearning Guild, was held earlier this month featuring an active backchannel using #DevLearn. This event even had an official “Backchannel Curator,” David Kelly, who helped to organize all of the resources shared throughout the conference. Another example is EDUCAUSE 2012, taking place this month in Denver, CO, but also fostering an active backchannel via Twitter using the #EDU12 hashtag.
Explore and Make it Your Own
Over the course of this series dedicated to Twitter for Professional Use, many avenues have been presented to encourage professional networking and development activities as well as the sharing of educational resources. How might Twitter best serve your professional needs?
For those who are new to Twitter: What are your biggest concerns about getting started?
For those who have been using Twitter for a while: What makes it a useful tool for you?
Share your recommendations and lessons learned with your colleagues and consider ways in which Twitter might serve a useful purpose in your professional work.
(Note: the author moderates a weekly Twitter chat focused on issues related to online learning – #IOLchat. Join an upcoming session and share your perspective.)