An interesting theme arose for me in a recent e-mail conversation with my ETC Journal colleague Claude Almansi. She said Twitter is “so simple to use: all you need is to have an idea of what you want to achieve by using it, and be able to effectively communicate in 140 characters.” This got me thinking about effective communication and how hard it is to achieve. This challenge, coupled with Twitter’s ambiguous purpose, makes it easy to see why so many are confused about what Twitter can do. This column defines basic Twitter terms and address some strategies you can implement to communicate more effectively the relatively amorphous Twitter environment.


RT – ReTweet. To share a Tweet you found interesting, use the ReTweet function. This is like crediting the original writer for sharing the information.

DM – Direct Message. This is a private message between two people. Some businesses and organizations set Twitter up to automatically DM people when they follow an account. To many Twitter natives, this is considered impersonal and irritating. Use a DM when making plans or when writing something that only affects you and one other person. This saves your common followers from a timeline cluttered with things they find irrelevant.

a red and a green bird tweeting

@ – A Twitter reply. Place @ in front of the username of the person you are writing to. For example: “@etcjournal Thank you for the article! It helped answer my questions!” In this case, @etcjournal would see your reply and know that you enjoyed one of the articles we posted. The followers you have in common with @etcjournal would also see this reply.

# – Hash tag, used for earmarking Twitter search terms. For example, if I wanted to make ETCJournal searchable on Twitter and encourage other people to do so as well, I might say something like “I just read an article on blended teaching and learning in #ETCJournal. It was very helpful!” Then, to search, one would visit and enter #ETCJournal to see all tweets that incorporate that hash tag. Hash tags are especially useful for facilitating conference back channel conversations and identifying themes in your tweets. Note, however, that hash tags are not stored forever and when used too liberally can become clutter.

Lists – A relatively new Twitter feature, lists allow you to organize those you follow into lists based on a theme. For example, adding ed tech colleagues to an “educational_technology” list would allow you to filter out and view what they are saying, obscuring tweets from users not on that list. This tool is helpful for users who follow several hundred individuals to manage what they see and when. To create lists and see who lists you, visit and click Listed (to see who lists you) or New List to begin creating lists of your own.

Back-channel – At conferences, there will often be a “back-channel” of users sharing ideas and thoughts on the conference in real time using Twitter or other social networking sites. This is useful for following others at the same conference who, perhaps, attend different sessions.

TweetUp – An in-person meeting of Twitter users. TweetUps are common at conferences and in larger cities, and an excellent means for building your network and meeting new people with interests or locations in common.

Basic Strategies

Be social. Find people who have similar interests as you, and interact with them. ReTweet the resources they post that you find interesting, and open a dialogue using @ replies and DMs. Often, when people are deciding whether or not to follow you back, they will look at your Twitter page and ascertain whether you interact with those in your followers list. If your account is all one-way, with you merely pushing information outward, they will choose not to reciprocate the follow or view your account as SPAM.

Be approachable. If people are making assertions that you do not agree with, try sending them a DM with your perspective, as opposed to an @ reply. Try to be open to ideas that differ from your own. This was one of the hardest hurdles for me to overcome in my Twitter use.

Attend local and conference TweetUps. Especially at conference, TweetUps can prove to be a valuable resource and a lot of fun. If you are attending a conference, ask the conference staff if they know of a scheduled TweetUp. If there isn’t one, schedule one yourself, using the conference hash tag. Conferences like Educause, SLOAN-C and Purdue’s Teaching and Learning with Technology conference all schedule TweetUps as part of the proceedings to give Twitter users participating in the conference back-channel a chance to meet in person and share what they have learned.

Further Reading

10 Ways You Can Use Twitter Lists

7 Things You Should Know About Twitter

10 Twitter Tips for Higher Education

3 Responses

  1. Thanks, Jessica. About Tweetups and hashtags: yesterday, James Love (director of Knowledge Ecology International) sent the Access to Knowledge mailing list a message from WIPO in Geneva (CH), where he and other human rights activists are attending the 19th session of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. The message simply read:

    People here are using #sccr19 as the twitter hash tag for the WIPO meeting of SCCR 19.

    And indeed, #sccr19 gives a great account in real time of what is happening in this session, and also of what is being written about it. Because it is the tip of a strategy agreed upon by people involved. But if organizers of an event just write on their site that participants who have never met or corresponded before that they should use a given hashtag in their tweets, the result is very likely to be disappointing. Especially if the hashtag only makes sense to the organizers.

    Another advantage of agreeing upon a twitter strategy, in particular for hashtags, is that you ensure that a core group will watch what is being tweeted with the chosen hashtag. Should someone use a given hashtag to post silly or obscene jokes, in order to disrupt the flow of information, the people who created it could easily and quickly a) expose the filibusteering attempt; b) choose another hashtag, and tell interested people about it.

  2. Jessica,
    Thanks for ths post. I still have no desire to tweet, but at least now I understand a little better what all the twittering is about!

  3. Lynn,

    I opened a twitter account in 2006, because I was member of Noi Media, a project that aimed at encouraging educators in the Italian-language part of Switzerland to use Web 2.0 tools, so we tried a heap of them to be able to present them in Italian. Back then, twitter reminded me of a passage in Montaigne’s Essays):

    … I have seen a gentleman who only communicated his life by the workings of his belly: you might see on his premises a show of a row of basins of seven or eight days’ standing; it was his study, his discourse

    (Montaigne’s Essays, translated by Charles Cotton, III, 9: “Of Vanity”.).
    So when we did a workshop on web-based collaboration tools for vocational school teachers in 2007, we did not present twitter: actually, by then, I had cleanly forgotten about my twitter account. I only understood its potential usefulness when I saw human rights advocates use it.

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