Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Power of Twitter

I was forced to join Twitter in May 2012 to attend a conference sponsored by South Dakota EPSCoR called Science: Becoming the Messenger, funded by NSF.  I was very skeptical about Twitter and slightly annoyed that I HAD to join.  Now I feel that it was one of the best things that I have done for my professional life. 

I have only tweeted 757 times in 22 months, slightly more than once a day.  My tweets definitely are sent in spurts, when I have time to spend on Twitter and read others’ tweets.  I am currently following 401 people, including friends, family, and educators.  The last group is the largest and contains a variety of individuals, most of who are interested in mathematics, education, technology or some combination of those.  I am up to 178 followers, which isn’t a lot in comparison to others, but the number is increasing weekly.  I want to discuss a couple of great experiences that I have had because of Twitter and then I will offer some advice. 

In my Math Education Technology course, I assigned the students a project in which they were to create something ‘artsy’ with the online graphing calculator, Desmos.  They had a couple of weeks to complete this project and were told that the projects would be ‘judged’ by the department faculty.  They wanted to know if there was some prize and I told them the day that they had them completed that the highest vote getter would receive a $20 Subway card and the second highest a $10 Subway card.  So, they did not know that there was a prize until after they had completed the assignment.

I was so impressed with their work that I felt like I needed to go beyond the department to showcase their projects.  I created a Google form, with links to their creations, and posted the link on Twitter, asking for my followers to vote.  This tweet helped me realize the power of Twitter.  In less than 24 hours, my tweet had: 

  • 5 retweets, including one from the Desmos Twitter account 
  •  A reply tweet from Desmos, stating they “loved the graphs!” 
  • Reached over 4500 Twitter accounts according to TweetReach

Twitter is a great way to connect with other professionals with similar interests.  I have been following Fawn Nguyen on Twitter for over a year.  She is a middle school math teacher in California who has a passion for teaching problem solving and speaks at conferences across the country.  When I found out (on Twitter) that she was going to be a featured speaker at the SD science and math teachers’ conference, I was so excited.  I sent her a couple of direct tweets, trying to prepare her for the cold winter of SD.  We had a few exchanges and when I went to her first session at the conference, I introduced myself.  She gave me a hug—as if we were old friends.  Twitter helps you build your professional learning network (PLN), a group of colleagues that share work-related ideas through digital media to improve oneself as a professional.  My PLN gives me the latest information and ideas on mathematics, education, and technology, which I can then share with my followers.

Here are five reasons why I suggest that you join Twitter.
1.  Connect with other professionals with similar interests.
2.  Learn the latest information in your interest area very quickly.
3.  Share YOUR great ideas with other professionals.
4.  Make an impact on a lot of people in 140 characters or less.
5.  Participate in a Twitter chat, a weekly meeting on Twitter dedicated to a specific group or interest area.

Here are some suggestions that you should consider when you join. 

  • Choose a Twitter handle that is professional as it makes it easier for people to find you and it is good professional etiquette. 
  • Decide your privacy settings.  If you “Protect your Tweets,” then you have to approve every person that wants to view your tweets.  This isn’t really a good option if you want to connect with professionals and want people with similar interests to follow you. 
  • Choose your words wisely.  This is good practice but also necessary because of the 140 character limit. 
  • Try to include links and pictures as they attract more interest.  To help with the character limit with links, use bitly to shorten your links.  Bitly is a url shortening service that is free. 
  • Connect your Twitter account to Facebook.  If you want to use both Twitter and Facebook to post information about your professional interests, you can connect the two accounts so information that is posted on Twitter is automatically posted to Facebook. 
  • Use a free social media management system, such as Hootsuite, Buffer, or TweetDeck. These systems allow you to manage all social media accounts and posts to those accounts under one account on the system.  They also allow you to shorten links to meet the 140 character limit. 
  • Get over Twitter guilt.  If you don’t log on for hours or days, you are going to miss a lot of tweets sent by people that you follow.  You will not be able to catch up on them so you need to just let them go—if it is really important, it is likely that someone else will retweet it.