26 June 2014

Reflections on Twitter

A colleague emailed me yesterday to say that he had joined Twitter and to ask me if I would be able to have a chat with him about it. This got me thinking today about what I might say to him when he comes to see me next week.

I have been on Twitter since 15 November 2010 and passed the 2,000 tweets milestone sometime recently. I can say without a doubt that Twitter is probably my no.1 way of staying in touch with what is happening in my field as well as in cognate areas such as other library sectors, archives and recordkeeping, digital humanities, cultural collections, and e-learning. My network on Twitter has also helped me to avoid some of the isolation that can be involved in working in emerging areas where there may be no other person in your institution (or your city, or your country, depending on how small your niche is) for you to talk to.

I can remember quite clearly what finally tipped me into becoming a Twitter user after some years of scepticism; I was at the eResearch Australasia conference and realised that there was a very interesting 'back channel' happening on Twitter: people were live-tweeting the content of the presentations, but there were also discussions, links being provided to products and projects that were being talked about, as well as networking and social opportunities being organised on the fly.

Some of the things I have learned that I think I will pass on to my colleague are:

  • Start small - find a few key people to follow who tweet on the topics that are most of interest to you.
  • Don't worry about being a lurker for a while - it's OK to read and observe without tweeting yourself (though eventually you will realise you are missing out on half the fun).
  • Ditch the Twitter web application ASAP - experiment with the different desktop and mobile Twitter clients to find one that you like. After trying quite a few apps over the years, I now use the TweetDeck plugin for Chrome on my work and home PCs and recently started using Tweedle for Android on my phone.
  • Be clear in your own mind about whether your Twitter account is a work account or a professional account or a personal account. Find out if your organisation has a social media policy and be clear in your profile if the views you are expressing are official or your own opinions.
  • Don't be afraid to be yourself - the sky will not fall in if you drop an occasional more personal tweet into a mostly professional account.
  • If you are at an event, live-tweeting is a great way to help out other people who couldn't attend. Don't forget to use the conference hashtag and to include the name of the speaker and/or session number so that people can follow up if they are interested.
  • If you are not at an event, follow the hashtag from your desk - depending on the conference and the number of people tweeting you can get a surprisingly good overview of what's going on and can usually work out which 2-3 papers or presentations you might want to follow up on later. Cheap and easy professional development right at your desk!
  • If you enjoy your interaction with people on Twitter, make an effort to connect with them in real life. One of my favourite parts of VALA this year was the tweetup (which was of course tweeted itself by @flexnib!)
  • When you are out and about networking, think about writing your Twitter handle on your nametag. You might be talking to someone you know from Twitter and not even know about it! (Also, if you are organising an event, you could include Twitter handles on printed name badges and consider publicising a hashtag as part of the marketing.)
There is still plenty I have to learn about Twitter and it is important to reflect on how you use this tool if you want to get the most out of it. At VALA earlier this year, Kathleen Smeaton (@kathleensme) and Kate Davis (@katiedavis) gave a fascinating paper on librarians' use of Twitter (Kate has blogged the presentaton here.) Their research made me think about a number of things, but the one that stuck with me was the high proportion of librarian tweets that consisted of un-edited retweets.

Since this presentation I have been more conscious of having a look at a report or article before retweeting and offering some commentary, however short. Today, for example, I received a tweet from the Australian National Data Service (@andsdata) about their latest newsletter:
In the past, I probably would have retweeted this without providing an opinion (and maybe even without reading the newsletter). But, taking Kathleen and Kate's advice to be more opinionated into account (!), today I retweeted the link twice with some commentary on the articles I found most relevant:

After these tweets, Amanda Nixon (@MLNxn) from eResearch@Flinders and I had a further exchange about her article, which is really what Twitter should all about - making genuine personal connections with librarians and other professionals you share interests with, no matter where they live in the world.