If you’ve been to an academic conference lately, you may have been exhorted to “tweet” about the experience via Twitter. For those new to the environment, Twitter is a micro-blogging and social networking service that enables users to post short bits of information about themselves or their contexts and to read what other users are posting.
Limited to 140 characters, Twitter posts, referred to as “tweets,” may be intended to broadcast what a user is thinking or doing at a given point in time. Alternatively, tweets may be sent in response to another user’s post, or used to underscore interesting observations, link resources and ideas, share a personal musing or pose a question to others in the community.
For many users, the beauty of Twitter lies in its intentional simplicity. To get started, one need only create a simple profile, begin posting tweets, and collect “followers” or start “following” others. Tweets can be sent from a variety of different devices including mobile phones, instant messaging or SMS text applications, and can similarly be received from any Internet-enabled device. Unlike email, tweets have an ambient quality; one can choose to pay as much or as little attention to them as one likes. Twitter feeds can be integrated into blogs, wikis or web pages, and the system provides RSS feeds, which enable news aggregators to subscribe to a stream of postings.
In contrast to one-to-one forms of communication like text messaging and instant messaging, Twitter posts, unless made private, can be viewed in real-time by anyone monitoring the public stream or timeline. While it’s possible to view the public timeline of tweets, because the flow of information in Twitter is so heavy, users tend to filter their view of tweets by following other users in the system or by employing “hash tags” to filter based on a topic. To keep track of what another user is tweeting about, one simply locates the user’s Twitter profile and clicks “follow” to begin viewing the user’s tweets. The notion of connecting with others by following their twitter stream gives Twitter the feel of a quasi-social-network.
In most cases, a Twitter profile is owned by an individual. Increasingly however, organizations, commercial and non-profit entities are using Twitter to broadcast information about events, ideas, products or initiatives. Having many Twitter followers is seen as a way of propagating one’s ideas or reputation and can have the effect of building one’s social capital among colleagues. One example is the Tufts University Twitter profile, maintained by Georgy Cohen, Managing Editor of Web Communications. Cohen, who initiated the @TuftsUniversity account over a year ago, says she has used it effectively to build and curate an online community of Tufts students, prospective students and alumni. She points to the dual application of Twitter as both a broadcast mechanism and a two-way channel of communication and notes that Twitter has proven most effective at monitoring what’s become known as the back-channel, online conversation about a topic or speaker. By monitoring various Tufts-related conversations in Twitter, she is better able to respond to or inform others on campus about public perceptions of the university that are forming in the online world.
The next time you’re wondering what students think about your class, whether your colleagues have read your latest publication, or what an audience thought about your talk, consider setting up a Twitter stream to find out. In addition to a growing number of faculty and staff using Twitter, other Tufts-related representation includes: TuftsAdmissions, TuftsDining, TuftsMedia, TuftsFilmSeries, Tuftsphoto, Tuftsvet, TuskatTufts, TCUSenate and Tuftsbubs. For a more comprehensive list of Twitter accounts related to Tufts, search for the @TuftsUniversity profile and begin following it today.
Twitter users employ hashtags, words or phrases preceded by a #, as a way of grouping posts together by topic, type or association. This can be a useful way of communicating with others who are attending the same conference, doing research in your area, taking the same class, etc. Typing in #Tufts in your tweet, for instance, marks it as Tufts-related. Typing the same hashtag in your search allows you to see the stream of tweets posted about Tufts University.
Lists allow one to group related Twitter profiles for friends, family members, colleagues or organizations that one is following and to see an aggregated stream of content from them.
To send a private or directed message to a user in the system, type the letter D followed by username. (e.g. D hreeves when is Tufts on spring break?)
To publicly reply to another users’ tweet, use the @ sign followed by the username; this states that the attached tweets are a reply to a specific user’s post.
Retweeting has become an integral part of the Twitter experience and is used to share interesting tweets from the people one is following. Retweets can be used to give credit to someone’s original idea, to share best practices, resource links, etc or to connect people in your network. To retweet, simply type RT@username and paste the original tweet from the user. (e.g. RT@hreeves: Tufts is on spring break March 22-26th.)
For more tips on using Twitter text commands, see the Twitter Help Resources page.
Hannah Reeves, Scholarly Communications Team Member, Instructional Design and Technology Specialist, UIT Academic Technology