M.A. in Twitter studies

My department chair sent me this piece of Higher Ed news about a new social media Master’s program in the U.K.

The article hints to a bit of a debate about the utility and need for such a program. In case there is one, let me throw in my 2 cents: TV watching doesn’t make one an expert in media studies; Same with Twitter and Facebook use. So, as long as the M.A. program doesn’t just teach people how to tweet, it should be an interesting one!

In the news(paper)

It seems that twittering by politicians is one of the hot topics in the news these days… personally, I enjoy Jon Stewart’s approach to the issue (video below), but here’s an article from the local media that cites yours truly…

Social media & politics roundtable

Today I participated in a roundtable discussion about social media in politics hosted by South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, who wanted to learn more about what social media tools to use, how, and when. Here is a summary of my opening remarks.

=== I brought to the table two main issues I hoped we would consider during the conversation:

  1. The impact of social media on politics
  2. Expectations related to social media

1. The impact of social media on politics. I believe social media has the potential to facilitate and enhance the democratic process by empowering people. Social media empowers people not only because it grants them quick access to information, but especially because social media makes it easy for people to find others with similar interests, organize, apply pressure, and take action – all in a matter of hours.

2. Expectations related to social media. There is a specific set of expectations that have arisen around social media: expectations of authenticity, transparency, speed, engagement, dialogue, and conversation. At the same time, there is a perception that social media is “cool,” that it is the cutting edge, that everyone is using it, and that if you are not using it, you are left behind. This leads to many individuals and organizations (and I tend to think of our political representatives and other public figures as organizations, or institutions) using social media in a move that very much resembles jumping on the bandwagon.

So I advise people to consider some important questions before they start using social media professionally. The most important of those questions is : WHY? (and no, “why not?” is not a sufficiently wise answer).

WHY do you (want to) use social media? What do you hope to accomplish? How can it help you reach your goal, in this case, how does it help you better represent your constituents? How can you use social media to facilitate the democratic process? To listen? To help people form informed opinions? Do 140-character snippets do justice to explaining the complex issues we face? Also important is to ask:

WHO do you leave out?

Although I’m not aware of any reliable data about twitter demographics, given the constant online presence, I assume that twitter users tend to be relatively more affluent and relatively better educated. They are people who already consume a lot of information, who form and share opinions, and are active participants in the democratic process. By engaging with them on twitter, who do you leave out? You might risk leaving out the constituents who need you most.

Take a look at this article about the use of twitter in politics on Yahoo! Technology. Read the comments. The overwhelming majority ask “what is twitter?” “what is this article about?!” – which shows that even among people who are online, very few of them are aware of twitter or are twitter users.

So, it becomes very important to consider carefully the composition and information behaviors of your target audience before deciding if and how to engage them.

Of course, a related question is that of time and resources. Social media requires long term, sustained engagement. Do you have the time and resources required for that, and if you do, is that the best use of resources? ===

As I come across other accounts of this meeting, I will add links to this post to provide you with a more complete picture of what was discussed. I do remember Geno Church from Brains on Fire offering Rep. Inglis the same advice I give my students: “Don’t twitter before coffee and after beer.” 🙂

Please note that my participation in this roundtable does not signify any political endorsement of people or ideas. I am a teacher, and when someone wants to learn, I am happy to help. I am also eager to step out of the ivory tower whenever I get a chance!

Social media & politics

I’ve been invited to participate in a roundtable discussion about the role social media should play in politics. The session is hosted by South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis (here’s his twitter stream).

The roundtable was inspired by the recent press coverage such as this:

“Audiences usually treat presidents to a round of polite applause, but when President Obama addressed House Republicans on Tuesday, they started Twittering.” (read entire article)

I know where I stand, but, in the spirit of social media, I was wondering if I can be your voice at this roundtable. Do you have any thoughts, ideas, wishes, requests, or advice that I can convey on your behalf?

Do you want your congressmen and senators on Twitter? How would you like them to use or not use Twitter?

How about other social media?

My twitter is not your twitter

There’ve been several discussions -which I’m too lazy to link to- about twitter: What it is, what it should be, the right/wrong way of using it, who you should follow, who you should unfollow, and most recently, how to measure authority (whatever that is: influence? credibility? trustworthiness?)

I resist any attempts at defining the right way to use twitter and I urge you to do the same.

The right way is that there shouldn’t be one right way.

It all comes down to the way you view the world:

Possible worldview #1: The world is complex, pluralistic, and fragmented; there are multiple voices and multiple truths. People construct their worlds through communication.

Possible worldview #2: The world can be reduced down to a few simple laws, rules, and patterns. There is one truth out there waiting to be discovered.

If #2 is your worldview, then you will keep looking for the “right” way to use twitter, and for the right way to define and measure authority.

However, if you see the world as in #1, you will agree that different groups and subgroups will create different cultures around twitter, and will use it in different way. You may also agree that a person who has authority in one group doesn’t have it in another group, because each group has different criteria for authority, and in some group the concept doesn’t even exist or matter.

To me, the beauty of social media is that it is fluid, pluralistic, multivocal, fragmented, and chaotic. Yes, it’s very postmodern, and that’s the way I like it. I see no need to impose strict authoritative definitions. Once these definitions are imposed and accepted, twitter becomes them – because that’s how we construct our world through communication.

And the problem is, that once something is constructed and accepted, it becomes reified – it becomes a hard, immutable, taken for granted truth. We forget there was a time when it was open to negotiation and discussion and we continue to live with it, to obey its definitional authority, even when it doesn’t serve our purposes any longer.

To avoid this, I’d rather we keep the world of twitter fluid, complex, and pluralistic, and that we don’t agree on any one definition or right way. Rather, let us enjoy the multiple worlds and villages we’ve built around twitter, and celebrate the fact that my twitter might not be your twitter, and that’s the beauty of it.

How to find people to follow on Twitter

So you figured out Twitter, signed up for an account, added a nice photo and did all the basics David Meerman Scott recommends.

Now, what?

It feels awkward and lonely. Like you have a phone but no one to call. The next step is to build up your social network on Twitter. To do so, you need to find people to follow.

Caution! Before you start following people,
make sure you’ve done the things DMS recommends!!!

At the very least:

  1. have a bio & a link to your site, blog, etc.
  2. upload a personalized avatar (preferably a photo of your beautiful self)
  3. post at least 10-15 tweets. See also this guide to getting started on Twitter

Now, you’re really ready. Let’s find those people.

What kind of people? Who should you follow?

You should follow people you have something in common with. I’ll take the example of a PR student. You want to follow PR pros, other PR students, PR profs, and if your hobby is… sand castles, sand castle enthusiasts.

The principle is simple: Find 2-3 people to follow. Then:

  1. Look at the list of people they follow. If the people you’re interested in are interested in these people, chances are you’re interested in them, too. Repeat the process. For every new person you follow, or who follows you, look at the list of people they follow.
  2. [update 10/31/2009: unfortunately, this tip is outdated. You can only see @replies if you follow both people in a conversation. As Twitter adds capacity, I hope they will revert to the old model, it was the best way of finding new people to follow, IMO] Make sure you choose, in your twitter settings, to see all @ replies. Notice who the people you identified in step 1 are conversing with. Check them out by clicking their username in the twitter conversation. See what they tweet about, read their bio, check out their blog, and if appropriate follow them. Then repeat Step 1: see who they follow.
  3. twitter

  4. You probably read PR blogs. Most PR bloggers are on twitter, also. Look at their About or Contact pages, or look at the sidebars for twitter information. Look at their blogrolls to identify other PR blogs & bloggers. Then repeat step 1.

It will take you a few weeks to build your social network, but if you follow these steps, you can accumulate quite a lot of followers in a few days. Take it easy, don’t follow 70 new people every day, or they’ll think you’re a spammer. Attempt to find 5 new people to follow every day until you reach 50 or 100. Then your social network will grow naturally, you don’t have to try.

Now, if you’re in PR, the easiest thing to do it to go to PROpenMic (a social network for PR folk) and to find people there. Many people list their twitter username in their profiles.

So, let me get you started and ready for Step 1. Here is a list of some of the people I follow and I think you should, too, if you’re in PR. It’s not a comprehensive list and it’s not a TOP.. anything list. Just a list:

See also:

And since you won’t find me on any of these lists, I’m @prprof_mv.

Happy & safe tweeting!

If you’re a seasoned twitter user and want to help out, write your advice and/or twitter username in the comments.

Students live-twitter class

It’s long overdue, but here is my post about the PRinciples class session that was live-twittered.

I started class with these instructions for students:

  • Unprotect updates (settings)
  • Use Web interface & reload page often
  • Use #principles hashtag – twemes
  • Tweet: Important ideas, Links, Comments

Then I set them free and started lecturing about social media: What it is, and how it has changed power dynamics in society. I remember telling students that social media lets people inside the Golden Wall – telling them that as I was speaking, they could twitter what I said, and that was scary: What if I said something stupid? I also told them that social media makes it possible for individuals to have voices as loud as those of rich organizations.

Then Laura Fitton (@pistachio) joined us on Skype, and the live-twittering continued.

During that one hour, the conversation coming from our class was at the top of twitter conversation tracking boards twitscoop and current.fm.

The most powerful take-aways for me were:

  1. We LIVED the concepts I had just talked about at the beginning of class. We saw our voice climb up among twitter conversations. Tweets from a small group of mostly young women were at the top of the charts. We experienced the shifted power dynamics brought about by social media.
  2. For me as the teacher, the experience was terrifying and liberating. It was like living the nightmare that you’re naked in public. My students might not tweet negative things about me, but if I do say something stupid, as I often do, it doesn’t stay within the classroom -it’s out there for the whole world to see. So, CAUTION: This exercise is not for everybody. It certainly wasn’t for this NYU professor.
  3. Learning happened – quickly and powerfully as an avalanche. It was important to give students time to reflect on what they learned. Here are some of their reflections: Alyssa, Cara, Michael, Sallie.
  4. The downside: This experiment made apparent several opportunities for twitter spam, which I won’t explain because I don’t want to teach people how to spam.

You can read everything that was twittered during class, or just my favorites. Students still twitter during class, and I see and comment on their tweets afterwards – it’s allowed and encouraged, but not required – they should be free to take notes in whatever medium serves them best. I would like to experiment in the future with collective note taking (I’m looking into NoteMesh) and with CoverItLive.