Diving into Twitter

twitter profileWith my interest in social learning, you might be surprised to hear that just last week I created a Twitter account. While I see great value in social media, I can be very cautious and I plan out my goals for different social media before I engage. But I believe that if you want to get the most out of a tool, you need to do some planning before you dive in.

Before Signing Up

I first decided to jump on the Twitter band wagon a month ago, after being inspired by a book I was reading, The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner and  a TED Talk called The Art of Asking given by Amanda Palmer.

When I start using a new media, I plan out my goals and consider how using this new tool will fit in with my life. i want to make sure I have that about the why, how and when of the new tool so that I can get value out of it and not get caught in the sea of what can be. Once the decision was made, I determined my goals for Twitter:

  • To create and use an account for professional purposes
  • To focus on collecting information from other professionals in the field

There are certainly other valid goals such as connecting and communicating with employees within your own organization, or developing connections with people who share a hobby, or to keep abreast with friends and family, but I decided to focus on the goals above. In the future i would love to be using Twitter with learners to activate prior knowledge before a training session and extending learning and the Q & A period after training sessions.

Then I considered my time and when I would add this to my life. I decided that I could find a few periods in my day to look at Twitter and, that as I ran across things of value I wanted to share, I could take a moment to do so.

Finally I did some research to get tips and pointers from others on their Twitter experience. Tips about who to follow and how to get followers, ways to compose your tweet, and when to jump into a conversation. (I will share my tips at the end of this post)

Getting Started

After planning, I signed up for Twitter. I admit that I had brainstormed a lot of different possible ID’s. I wanted it to be something that would give people an idea of who I was in relation to my Twitter goals. I wanted someone to be able to see it and know something about me. If I was well-known in the field, I might have chosen my name, but instead I went with a nod to my profession, @LearningDsigner. I followed that up by creating my profile, describing myself based on my Twitter goals and using unique photos for my profile page.

Next, I started looking for people to follow. I wanted to follow people that were going to tweet on topics I was interested in and possibly local people that I might connect with in person at some point. I looked for people by:

  • I went through the people I am connected to on LinkedIn that are in the learning and development field to see if they were active on Twitter
  • I looked for authors of books, articles and blogs that I have really enjoyed
  • I looked for professional organizations that produce resources I respect and use
  • And after I followed some of these people, I looked to see who they were following

Next I started to read what came through my Twitter feed. If there were links that looked interesting, I checked them out. I picked a few that were interesting and retweeted them. If someone’s tweet raised questions or I had an idea or answer to a question they raised, I answered it. They key is to write something valuable or interesting and not write for the sake of writing. As I quickly found out,  I start to tune out people who tweet constantly. I suspect that if I do that, then others probably respond the same way, so clogging up people’s twitter feed is not my plan of approach.

As I respond or write new tweets to share resources, I hash tag keywords. I find myself searching hash tags to learn more about topics and find additional people who I may want to follow.

Within days of starting Twitter, I decided to start checking out Twitter and social media clients to find a way to better organize my activity so that I focus on the most valuable information. I started with HootSuite. One of the nice things about HootSuite is that you can organize information from several social media sources and create tabs based of topics of interest. It also allows you to schedule posts to the different media as well. I haven’t spent enough time with it to fall in love and I will probably investigate others, but it has been a good place to start.

What I Have Learned

Through out this week, I have found the time to look at Twitter. I find that one great time for me is during my after lunch walk each day. Since I don’t walk on busy streets, I can scroll down my Twitter feed easily as I walk and with a few flicks of my finger I can retweet or respond to someone else’s tweet.

I have also taken advantage of hash tags to find new conversations on topics of interest. As I do this, I pay attention to people who seem to be key in those conversations and follow them. I know that if I later find they are not the right person, I can unfollow them. Also, there are some regular conversations by different groups that are scheduled for certain times. The messages in the conversation all include a specific hash tag designation. I ran across one after the fact, but have put it on my calendar for next week so I can participate.

Twitter has made valuable resources available to me. Of course I could probably find a lot of the same information online if I searched for it, but by selecting people I respect to follow, I see a collection of what they found valuable, so my information is vetted. I also can easily and quickly interact with the person who shared it and sometimes who authored it.

Tips

So here are some tips for Twitter:

  • Set goals before you start, know how you want to use it
  • Spend some time setting up your profile, this is your first impression to people in the community
  • Follow people who are leaders in topics that you are interested.
  • Use hash tags to find information and people you want and use them to index your tweets
  • Retweet something that you find valuable. If it is of value, retweeting will help others find it
  • Ask and answer questions. Join in on conversations and engage.
  • Share resources that you find valuable and if you think it is valuable to a certain person, direct it towards them by including @TheirUserID in the tweet
  • If you include links, use a link shortening tool

Do you have additional tips to share or Twitter client suggestions? Please feel free to share them in the comments.

Blog or Newsletter, that is the Question

Blog or NewsletterAt my company, we send out a monthly publication designed for all employees that answers a common issue that has been coming into the help desk. Occasionally this is also used to promote some new bit of information or process to encourage people to use a new tool. Currently this is sent out as an email attachment and is then linked to our Intranet. Last week I was talking to a colleague about creating a similar publication for managers at a certain level, not for general consumption and I brought up the question of blog or newsletter…

Maybe you have asked yourself the same question or you have a similar situation in your company. In either case, a blog or newsletter, the information can be delivered, but the question is which will be more effective and offer the best return on investment.

Let’s look at a few factors that can help us determine that:

  • Audience
  • Resources
  • Content

Audience

To determine the best delivery method, one of the things you need to consider is audience.Ask yourself some questions about your audience…or better yet, ask them:

  • How are they currently accessing information?
  • Is the audience computer savvy and they can easily tap into a blog or do they need that piece of paper in front of them?
  • Are they on the go a lot and needing to see information quickly accessed through a smart phone or tablet or are they in their office regularly accessing files?
  • Are they interested in just receiving and digesting information or do they want to interact with it and other employees that are interested in the same topic?

Starting from what is currently a part of the audiences regular routine or type of tools they usually access makes it easier for them to adopt a new tool. It doesn’t have to be they methods they currently use in their work life, but this could be what they do in their personal life as well. If you are going to use something outside of their experience, it is important to identify some advocates; people who will not only adopt the new tool, but those who will promote it to others.

A blog has the potential to be a great learning tool that is rich with content and comments that spark discussion and collective learning, but this is only true if it is read and interacted with.

My company does not currently use blogs and this would be a new tool for us. It would be important for us to understand how many of our intended audience uses blogs on a regular basis and identify some advocates for this method. It is also important for us to understand the level and type of interaction people might want with the information. Our audience would be used to the idea of a newsletter that is delivered to their email and posted on the Intranet. Regardless of the direction we choose, we should talk to our audience and examine the effectiveness of the current tool. Does it in fact reduce help desk calls on the topics presented? Do people click on the link on the Intranet? Is the document being accessed?

 

Resources

In addition to examining the intended audience, it is important to consider the resources available to you. Sometimes resources lend themselves to one solution over another, these include time, talent, and material resources. The table below looks at some of these:

Newsletter
  • Write and publish newsletter and then a break until next cycle begins
  • More formal so time is spent editing to ensure high quality writing
  • Word processor and basic publishing tools are needed
  • Can be delivered physically, electronically or posted where it can be accessed
Blog
  • Single topic posts are written in a concise, informal style
  • Regular moderation of comments needed
  • Blog site includes writing and editing tools
  • Published digitally, link can be shared through email or social media tools, and can be accessed where it is posted

In our situation we have a very targeted audience. We only want a certain level of audience to receive the information. This is easy for us to accomplish through email and we have a sign-in area of our Intranet these employees. If we were to use a blog, it would need to be private and require user log-in. This can be accomplished through many commercial blogging tools or this capability may reside in a Learning Management System (LMS). Since our LMS does not have this capability, we would need to create a private blog.

Content

The intended content can also lend itself better to one medium over another. If the content will include many topics at one time, it may fit better into a newsletter style publication. Newsletters also tend to have a more formal style and for certain contexts this is important. Blogs are best when each post is focused on one topic. This focused style makes blog posts easily searchable and content more easily accessed at a later date, particularly if the post is well categorized and tagged with appropriate keywords.

The nature of blogs is social and the ability for readers to comment offers:

  • Readers can ask and answer questions
  • Readers from across the company can interact and develop connections
  • Readers can link to additional resources

In our situation the content is answers to frequently asked questions and problems. We have been presenting the information statically but since often there is a basic solution but specific circumstances require a slightly different approach, a blog would offer our employees the chance to ask questions about specific applications and situations.

What about for you? Blog or newsletter?

If you are interested in using social media as training tools, I recommend checking out “The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media” by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner