Social Media and Learning: Part 2

Inside Learning Technologies Magazine, November 2008

Part 2 Micro-blogging services

Jane Hart is a Social Media & Learning Consultant who works with organisations to help them understand how new social media tools can be used for learning and performance support. Here she looks at how new social media tools can be used within learning and development.

This is the second of a three part article that looks at how key social media tools can be used for learning, development and performance support. Social media tools support social interactions and connections with people, collaboration and sharing and the creation of user-generated content, and are helping to build a new phase of (e-)learning – often referred to as E-Learning 2.0 or Social Learning.

In the first part of this article I discussed three types of social media tools: social bookmarking, social file sharing and social networking services Here I am going to consider micro-blogging services and their use for personal and informal learning, professional networking and as an alternative learning channel. So what is a micro-blogging service?

A micro-blogging service lets users write short text messages (about 140 characters) and broadcast them in real-time to their contacts. Micro-blogging is therefore a cross between blogging and social networking. There are a number of micro-blogging services available, but the most well known and most popular of them all is Twitter, which has taken the Web by storm since it was launched in July 2006

About Twitter

It has to be said, that Twitter has also become, as Wired magazine put it, “the application that everyone loves to hate”. Since Twitter messages or updates (or “tweets” as they are also known) can be quite personal, many people who have only seen some of the tweets on Twitter have thought that the whole thing was rather trivial and a waste of time. And if they got so far as sending a message themselves, since nobody was “following” them (i.e. receiving their tweets), it all seemed rather pointless.

However, although Twitter did start out as an entertaining little tool it has developed into something much more significant. There’s far more to it than just a lot of meaningless messages. In order to understand its full potential you need to experience it properly, and that doesn’t mean just reading tweets but actively participating in the Twitter community.

Having said that, all Twitter users are different in terms of the way that they use Twitter, so here are 20 suggestions of what you can do on Twitter and with other web applications that work with Twitter. (Note, where Twitter users are shown, the @ sign is displayed before their username, as is Twitter convention.)

  1. Establish new contacts of like-minded people in the same area of work as you, in order to get to know them better both personally and professionally. You do this in Twitter by “following” someone and thereby receiving their tweets. You can then try following the people they follow, to broaden your own network.
  2. Keep up to date with the activities of well-known individuals, e.g. @DowningStreet for the Prime Minister, or @BarackObama to keep up with American politics (note he has nearly 100,000 followers!)
  3. Keep up to date with the activities of companies and their products or services, e.g @twitter or @delicious
  4. Get news sent to you as it happens, e.g. @BBC for BBC news, or @c4lpt for learning technology and related news.
  5. Have some daily inspiration sent to you, e.g. @tinybuddha
  6. Reply to someone’s tweet (which all your followers will see) or send a personal, message to a contact (which only the named contact will see).
  7. Share web links. You can reduce URLs in size using  tinyurl.com so that they don’t take up too many characters.
  8. Re-distribute your own blog/website feed. Many people are using Twitter as a means of getting blog updates. Use twitterfeed.com to send your RSS feed to Twitter
  9. Share personal stories and experiences; it doesn’t all have to be about professional stuff, and if you feel comfortable providing personal details, your followers will enjoy finding out more about you as a person. It’s just about getting the balance between personal and professional tweets right.
  10. Ask questions. Within minutes you will undoubtedly get replies from your followers
  11. Set up a Twitter poll, e.g. using strawpollnow.com or  twitter.polldaddy.com
  12. Micro-blog conference proceedings. This helps to build an instant backchannel for an event, or you could use livetwitting.com
  13. Learn a language using Twitter, e.g.follow @talkirish for an Irish word a day or follow  @learnitfrench for 10 French words a day
  14. Add and interact with your tasks stored in Remember the Milk by following @rtm and direct messaging
  15. Get customer support via Twitter. If you complain about a product in a Twitter message, you may find a customer support person responding to you directly as many are scanning tweets for mention of their products
  16. Keep track of what’s being said about you and your company, by using tweetscan.com
  17. Use Twitter as an alarm clock, by following @timer and sending it a direct message. It will then send you a message at the right time.
  18. Track packages (with FedEx, UPS, USPS and DHL tracking codes) on Twitter using trackthis.pb30.com.
  19. Send a message to a group of your followers so only they receive your tweets, by using grouptweet.com
  20. Integrate Twitter into your Facebook feed, so that your tweets update your Twitter using a Facebook application

If you are intrigued enough to give Twitter a go, here’s how to get started. If not, jump to the next section which looks at new enterprise micro-blogging tools

Try out Twitter

Before you start it’s a good to think about how you want to use Twitter. Will it be for business or pleasure, to network with others, to receive useful content or perhaps to promote yourself or your blog? This will determine who you follow and who you want to follow you, as well as how active/interactive you want to be on Twitter.

  • Set up an account. Go to www.twitter.com and sign up. You will need to choose a unique username.
  • Set up your profile. Write something about yourself, and ideally, upload a picture, avatar or logo, and customise your Twitter page. This will have a unique web address like www.twitter.com/username and will show information about you, who you are following and who is following you. It will also display your recent tweets (known as your timeline). Note: If you want to, you can protect your profile to keep your tweets private, and approve those who can follow you.
  • Write your first tweet. Remember it can only be up to 140 characters long Remember, too, that no one will receive this tweet; because no one is following you, but at least it will put something onto your timeline so it is not empty
  • Follow people. Who you follow is completely up to you and depends on how you want to use Twitter. Take a look at their profile page (e.g. twitter.com/c4lpt) and their recent tweets and decide if they fit in with your plans. If you are looking for a good deal of interaction with people, then it might be a good idea to avoid choosing people who have masses of followers, as they are unlikely to have the time to interact with everyone on an individual basis. If you are looking for other learning professionals, then take a look at my Directory of Learning Professionals on Twitter:  When people follow you – and by default you will get an email notification when this happens – you shouldn’t feel obliged to follow them back. And as for how many people you should follow, that again is up to you and what you feel you can handle. Some people only like to follow a small number, others can cope with hundreds if
    not thousands.
  • Reply to a tweet by targeting a message at the tweeter by inserting @ in front of their Twitter name (e.g. “@c4lpt I agree”). Note everyone else will also see your message.
  • Send a direct message to a contact (by using d in front of their Twitter name), e.g. “d c4lpt how are you?” In this case only the named contact will see the tweet.
  • Publicise your Twitter presence. How can you get people to follow you? You obviously need to publicise your Twitter presence, e.g. by telling all your friends and colleagues, or printing your profile page web address in email signatures. If you have a blog or website, you could place a Twitter badge on it that displays your latest tweets, This is a useful way for people to find out you are on Twitter, and to follow you if they want.
  • Reduce the noise. Is it getting too noisy? Are you getting too many off-message tweets? You can stop following someone by going to their profile page, and clicking the right arrow
    beside the button that says Following. This will open another box with a Remove button on it. Click that to stop following their updates.
  • Stop being followed. If you don’t want someone to follow you, e.g. a spammer, than you can easily block that person.
  • Use a Twitter client. Although most people use their web page to write and receive their tweets, there are a range of other ways to do this. For instance, you could use a Firefox add-on like Twitterfox, or a desktop client like Twhirl. You can
    even read a Twitter feed as an RSS feed. Just select RSS from the bottom left-hand corner of the profile page.

Enterprise microblogging tools

If you think Twitter is too public or insecure for your organisation, then there are now a number of microblogging services aimed at inter-company use, e.g. YammerPresent.ly and Qikcom. They mostly operate in the same way as Twitter, although of course, there are very few, if any, 3rd party applications that work with them at the moment. But they certainly mean that they could also be used for internal activities such as

  • Broadcasting messages to employees
  • Providing a daily stream of information and best practices to your team Asking and responding to questions
  • from work colleagues

Enterprise services like these are already proving very popular and help employees become more productive,
by discussing ideas with their colleagues, and by posting company news and information.

Next time ..

The third part of this article will appear in the conference edition of the magazine. In it I will consider a number of different ways for creating collaborative learning opportunities and collaborative content development.

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