Five ways to avoid Twitter mishaps

Twitter has been in the news a lot lately and I thought I would dedicate some time to the innerworkings of the site.  As many of you know, Twitter is a microblogging site where users can post up to 140 characters describing their thoughts or actions.  Although the site has become popular with celebrities who post all of their random musings, I believe that Twitter has tremendous value for educators.  For instance, I use Twitter as a professional development tool.  As I described in an earlier post, I follow a group of Twitter users who I have selected based on their ability to help me grow professionally.  They are smart, thoughtful people who are reading and sharing interesting articles and posting “tweets” that make me pause and reflect.  In the classroom, some educators are having their students “tweet” reflections on chapters they’ve read.  Other teachers are using Twitter to have their students take on the persona of different characters in a book and “tweeting” as if they’re that character.  What would Juliet tweet?  Or Billy Pilgrim?  Activities like this could really resonate with some students and get them to think and apply what they’ve learned in new ways.

I used Twitter in one of my online classes recently.  Since I was teaching a class on Web 2.0 technologies in education, I wanted to spend some time discussing social networking in general and Twitter specifically.  After talking about the site conceptually, I had the class tweet while they watched the video Growing Up Online.  I assembled all of the students into a Twitter group and then placed a feed inside our online course shell.  Students could then follow along as their classmates reflected on what they watched.  Even though the students were not watching the video at the same time, by adding time stamps and chapter markers in their tweets, they could see how their classmates reacted to different portions of the video.

Although the site has educational value, Twitter can create some problems, as well.  You don’t have to look far to find people who have made mistakes on Twitter.  This week, I thought I’d offer some tips to help educators protect themselves from any mishaps on Twitter.

1.  Brand yourself.   We all have different interests and different facets of our personalities.  At the onset of using Twitter, people need to ask themselves “How do I want the Twitterverse to view me?”  Select a profile picture and contribute tweets that are consistent with that brand.  If you’re using the site as a way to communicate with your students, be sure to contribute tweets that fit within that persona.

2.  You might want to protect your tweets.  Depending on how you’re using Twitter, you might want to go into the settings and make sure Protect your Tweets is selected.  This will allow only your “followers” to read your posts.  For instance, if you’re using Twitter to share ideas with a research group, you might not want to share your work with the whole world.  Protecting your tweets will offer some privacy over your work.

3.  Understand Twitter conventions.  Despite being a really simple site to use, Twitter can still be a little confusing to understand at times.  When people first start using the site, it can almost be like visiting another country and not understanding the customs.  Twitter has its own unique set of conventions that have developed from people wanting to maximize how those 140 characters are used.  Three of the most common are retweeting, the @ symbol and the hashtag (or the # symbol).  For a complete explanation of each of these Twitter conventions, check out this great post from a social media PR blog.

4.  Use direct messaging for private conversations.  For people who are unfamiliar with Twitter, a direct message is analogous to an email message and a tweet is like a Facebook profile update.  “Tweets” can be viewed by all of your followers but direct messages can only be read by the individual receiving the message.  Confusing the two functions could create a real mishap (like a New York congressman experienced recently).

5.  Don’t tweet everything you think.  There are probably a multitude of variations on this tip including “Don’t tweet when you’re angry” or “Don’t tweet at 2 AM on a Saturday night…”  Regardless, it is critical to remember that everything that gets tweeted enters the public Twittersphere and can be potentially accessed by the world.  While the news tends to focus on celebrity and political mishaps, educators have had their share as well.  Some mishaps have resulted in educators being suspended or fired for using social networking inappropriately.  While Twitter can be a great educational tool, it can also create some problems when used improperly.

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