Twitter for Professional Use – Part 1: Getting Started

By Melissa A. Venable

[Note: ETCJ’s Twitter editor, Jessica Knott, has been working with Melissa to develop this series. See Part 2: Channeling the Streams, Part 3: Curating the Chaos, and Part 4: Participating in a Live Event. -Editor]

This post is the first in a series designed to familiarize you with the art and science of Twitter. In part 1, you’ll learn more about how to get your Twitter account set-up and find other accounts you might want to follow.

As an instructional designer, my interest in social media, in general, and Twitter, more specifically, is to encourage new and effective ways to interact and share information online. For instructors, that interaction could be with students, with other instructors, and with various sources of information. So, that’s the perspective I’ll take with this series – Twitter for professional use. (You may want to consider a separate account for use with friends and family. Read more about multiple accounts in “Academics and Colleges Split Their Personalities for Social Media” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

What Is Twitter?

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging tool that features 140-character messages known as “tweets.” The focus is on communication – exchanging ideas and resources, providing updates, following events, and engaging in conversation. Twitter has gained some popularity in higher education as a way to connect with and build learning communities, track trends, and disseminate information.

Whether you use Twitter to communicate with your class, or as a source for news, there is a lot to be gained in the process. But it can also be overwhelming to get started. Fortunately, there are tools available to help you manage your use of Twitter and focus your efforts for the best use of your time.

Get Set Up

Your Handle: Every account has a unique username or handle, and you get to choose what yours will be. The trick is finding a handle that clearly identifies you but isn’t already in use. I recommend using your real name or some variation. Here are a few educator examples:

  • @courosa – Alec Couros is a professor of educational technology and media at University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Look for information about social media and open education.
  • @jackiegerstein – Jackie Gerstein is and online instructor with multiple universities sharing resources and insights on teaching and educational technology.
  • @JudithELS – Judith Christian-Carter is an instructional designer and eLearning specialist from England. She covers a range of topics related to online learning and social media.

You can also use something more descriptive in nature, especially if you also have a related website like @eLearningTalk. One thing to keep in mind is the length of your handle – with a 140-character limit, if someone mentions you or shares one of your tweets (more on that below), your username will count toward the total number of characters.

Your Profile: This is what others will see when they want to find out more about you on Twitter. Your bio can be up to 160 characters, so think: What do you want people to know about you? What keywords describe you, your work, and the topics you are most likely to address? Explore some of the different ways people have written their Twitter bios and look for ideas. Write something you are comfortable with and, remember, you can edit at any time.

Your Avatar: You can, and should, add an image to your account. This image, or avatar, will appear with your tweets and help other Twitter users get to know you. Many people use a picture of themselves, but a wide variety of options are possible including logos and cartoon-type avatars. If you are already using an image on another social media account, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, many social media sites recommend consistency, using the same image in multiple places to help build recognition.

When possible, add your website or link to another social networking profile to your Twitter bio. This extends the information available about you and your work and interests.

Click to zoom in.

Begin with the Basics

Tweeting: The messages you send out via Twitter are “tweets,” and there are several different kinds. Your tweets will appear on your profile page as well as in a timeline of tweets for the accounts that are following you. Each message is limited to 140 characters.

Retweets: “RTs” are tweets that are shared. If you see a tweet from someone you follow that you want to share with your followers, you retweet it. When people who follow you want to share one of your tweets with their followers, they can retweet it as well. Remember that tweets are public, and consider each message as a reflection on you. You never know what might be shared! I’ve seen the advice to not tweet anything you wouldn’t want on a billboard, and it’s a good guide to keep in mind with social media in general.

Replies: This is another message function that allows other Twitter users to reply to one of your tweets and start a conversation. Replies place the recipient’s handle at the beginning of the message so that only those who are following both accounts – of sender and recipient – will see the message. It is completely possible to “listen” to a conversation between two other people if you are following both of their accounts. For example:

Direct Message: This is a more private option that allows you to send a tweet message to just one person. Direct messages or “DMs” don’t appear publicly, but the logistics of sending a direct message and a reply are similar and sometimes get mixed up so it’s a good policy not to send anything you wouldn’t mind others seeing, just in case.

Deleting Tweets: It is possible to delete tweets you’ve already sent. This is a feature of each tweet, but it takes time to remove something that has already been posted. According to Twitter Support, “deleted updates sometimes hang out in Twitter search. They will clear with time.” Also, deleting a Tweet doesn’t mean that no one has seen it. People using Twitter tools such as HootSuite, Seesmic or TweetDeck may continue to see the tweet in their reader even after it has been deleted.

Twitter Rules: While the Twitterverse may seem chaotic and a bit of a free-for-all at times, there are a few official rules to maintain a safe and legal environment for all of us to interact and exchange ideas and resources.

Help?!: The Twitter Help Center is a great place to start. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, troubleshooting tips, and a glossary to help decode common Twitter terms. Don’t forget to ask your Twitter network for assistance! This group stands ready to answer questions and give advice on all things Twitter.

Find Your Crowd

Once you have your profile set up, you will be ready to start “following” other people on Twitter. No matter what you are interested in, chances are there are people tweeting about it.

Who[m] to Follow: The main Twitter menu bar includes the “Who to Follow” option. This feature provides four ways to search for other accounts: 1) follow suggestions generated by Twitter, 2) browse by interest categories, 3) find friends through your contacts in other services, such as email, and 4) search by name or topic.

Twitter Directories: These tools allow you to search for users by category and keyword to find the subjects you want to engage with and the people and organizations you want to follow. WeFollowTwellow and FollowerWonk are just a few directory tools available. Think of these sites as a kind of yellow pages for Twitter accounts, cataloging hundreds of thousands of Twitter users.

People, Places, and Things: As you begin to follow accounts, expand your search to include organizations, schools, businesses, and publications. All of these groups, in addition to individuals, are represented among the millions of active Twitter accounts. Accounts like those from @EDUCAUSE, @FacultyFocus, and @MERLOTorg provide constant updates about current trends and upcoming events.

Share Your Exploration!

If you are new to Twitter, let us know how these tips and techniques are working as we move through this series. Are you an experienced Tweep? Please consider sharing your favorite management tools and techniques with us here, in the comments for this article. Your lessons learned and recommendations will be valuable additions to those just getting started.

Next up: Part 2 – Channeling the Streams. And don’t forget to follow @ETCjournal!

3 Responses

  1. My head is swimming with all of the new technology applications that I need to be able to do well. I am on G+ and that is good, but I wish you were there too. Your explanations are great,. Lately I feel like everyone is putting things on videos. The reason your post works so well is that I can review it. Maybe I have the too many video symptoms from taking a boot camp course with Moodle. I guess my learning style is not necessarily to learn by video. In this case , the way you did it You incorporated several screen shots? I think . I could go back and check them out. This week, Moodle Boot Camp, Vimeo, and I am still learning to do Picasa, and have just finished a Smilebox. No wonder I am tired.
    There was clarity in your lesson,

    • Hi Bonnie – Thanks for your comment on this post. I am glad to hear there was clarity here as I prepare Part 2: Channeling the Streams. Also good to hear that you are experimenting with different tools and open to exploring new systems. I, too, get overwhelmed with the pace at which new things seem to emerge and become popular. Let’s connect via Twitter and Google+. Looking forward to the continued conversation. – Melissa

  2. […] I’d written! If you need a more basic introduction to Twitter, read part I in the series:  Twitter for Professional Use — Part 1:  Getting Started. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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