(This post originally appeared on Lexical Linguist)
In my first post about using social media for a professional learning network (PLN), I introduced various forms of online media (mostly social media) that can be used to help speech, language, and hearing professionals create their own professional/personal learning networks. I then introduced Twitter by explaining the terminology you’ll encounter and a bit about the way Twitter works. Mary Huston then guest blogged on her intro to Linked In and has more in store for you on that topic at a later date. Right now, however, I want to get back to Twitter, since it has been the richest source of professional learning and collaborating for me.
There are some things you can do in order to get into Twitter and start using it to its fullest potential. I have listed my top 10 tips to get the most out of your experience. Some of these tips speak to gaining followers, but I want to be clear that you should never get caught up in how many people follow you. Twitter should not be a competition for followers for several reasons, but the biggest is that WHO is in your network is much more valuable than HOW MANY are in your network. Having more people following you is helpful because it gives you access to more connections, information, and makes crowd sourcing (i.e. posing a question to your community in the attempt to get multiple responses) much easier. However, you get more bang for your buck connecting with people in your profession who will stimulate and challenge you. Besides, just because someone has many followers, doesn’t mean that those followers aren’t spam or random people who don’t contribute to the community.
Have a real picture (called an avatar)
This picture doesn’t have to be of you, per se, although it is very helpful. The picture should, however, convey some sense of you to your followers. Please, please, PLEASE never leave the Twitter default egg as your avatar. You come off looking like spam or worse (not that there’s much worse than spam). I also consider it poor Twitter etiquette because you require your followers to be more vigilant about whether or not you are spam when you contribute to discussions. If you want to get more followers, ditch the egg.
Say something in your profile and give us a real name
This is especially important if you are using Twitter professionally in any capacity. I would say that lack of information in the ‘profile’ section is the number one reason I won’t follow people. Mainly, it’s because I don’t know if you’re worth following if I don’t know what you do or who you are. A brief description (e.g. ‘grad student in audiology’ or ‘SLP working in schools’) helps people to know who you are and why they should bother following you. I also suggest you include at least a general location such as province/state and country. It’s also nice if you can include your real first name (last name is more optional) so that people have a ‘real’ name to attach to you beyond your twitter handle.
Create a short, user- friendly handle
When you create your Twitter name, or handle, you should consider that people will hopefully be using it a lot. The best possible handle is your real name (e.g. @LNLeigh) or your first or last name with your job title (e.g. @SLPTanya). Please avoid long names when possible because your name takes away characters when people include it in tweets. Also, avoid strange characters like underscore or symbols at all costs – it is less user-friendly to type. Your handle, picture, and profile can work together to give people a flavor for yourself on Twitter (called branding). Give this some thought when setting them up. If you already have a Twitter handle and would like to change it, this is easily done. As an aside: if you are a speech therapist/pathologist, please avoid the word ‘speech’ in your handle – this has been flooded in our ‘market’.
If you want to get into the game and start connecting with people you MUST start tweeting. Even if you have no followers and feel you are ‘talking to yourself’ you should be tweeting. Tweet relevant material such as links you found interesting and professional ideas or experiences you may have had. Before I follow someone, I usually check their previous tweets to see if they are ‘worth following’. A ready-made community such as the SLPeeps does allow for some leeway but signing up on the SLPeeps and Audiologists Twitter List will not automatically get you plugged into the community. At the time of writing this blog post, the audiologists do not yet have a centralized hashtag (that I can find) such as #SLPeeps to help create a cohesive community so it may be more difficult to plug yourself into that network without relevant tweets.
Retweet (RT) people
The BEST way to get people to notice you and to begin participating in the community is to retweet someone else. I frequently become aware of a new person worth following because they RTed me. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll be followed, but it certainly helps show your willingness to join the community. As I’ve said in a previous post, retweeting is very important to Twitter and RTing someone demonstrates to them that you are genuinely interested in their ideas and information, so much so that you feel it’s worth sharing again via RT.
Jump in on conversations (politely)
Twitter is a public forum so treat it like a party or giant convention room and join in on conversations at leisure. It’s not considered ‘rude’ to jump into a conversation, so long as you’re on topic and contributing to the conversation. You may want to start your first tweet with “butting in” to acknowledge you’re joining the conversation if you rarely tweet with the other tweeters, more as an introduction that you’ve joined. It’s also OK to just throw a link or resource that’s on-topic into the conversation and walk away again, although it’s better if you converse a little or acknowledge any tweets in response to your contribution. It is rude to bud into a conversation thread to plug your company, blog or similar in a random way, especially if you aren’t contributing to the conversation.
Tweet more than blog or company promotional tweets
It’s just not helpful to the community and in a social network, while networking is important, so is the social aspect. This means there must be give and take or sharing involved. If you are using Twitter SOLELY as a professional outlet for your company and your handle, profile, and picture proclaim this as such, it’s potentially OK. This is because people know what to expect when they follow you. However, I still urge you to participate in related discussions and provide tweets that go beyond promoting your company. @CASLPA is a great example of a ‘company Twitter account’ who also engages the related community. CASLPA is a professional organization that uses social media to maximize potential to connect with their members (and even their non-members). It’s the ‘social’ or relationship part that makes them so great at what they are doing on twitter.
Use hashtags to get noticed by people who aren’t following you
If someone is following a specific hashtag (e.g. #SLPeeps, #hearing, #slpchat, #audiology) they will see all tweets that include that hashtag (unless the person tweeting has protected their tweets). The #SLPeeps hashtag is probably the primary reason that SLPs on Twitter have been able to come together, grow, and create a very cohesive community. I often find people worth following because they tweeted with the #SLPeeps tag. Also, using tags appropriate to your conversation makes it easier to crowd source for information before you’ve amassed very many followers. You can add #SLPeeps to your tweet, for instance, and anyone following the #SLPeeps tweets will see your tweet as well, even if they aren’t following you.
Be unprotected (at least at the start)
Again, I can’t emphasize how important it is to keep your tweets public in order to develop your PLN. Many people won’t bother trying to follow you if your tweets are protected because they cannot see examples of what you’re tweeting. Also, it’s a hassle to request to follow and then ‘wait and see’ to add you to a list they may have created to make following certain types of groups easier (more on lists another time). Protecting your tweets may have its place, but when growing a PLN it is a hindrance rather than a help.
Engage with your network
People who contribute meaningfully to the community get followed. It’s as simple as that. This means put out tweets, join in on conversations, pose questions to your community and respond to tweets that mention you or are directed at you. Even when you have many people following you it’s best to make every effort to respond to people if they direct information or a question at you specifically. You need to be contributing to your PLN in order to grow it and gain value from it.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here are some other sources if you want to see more:
Tanya Coyle, M.Sc., S-LP(C), is a speech-language pathologist employed in schools in Southern Ontario, Canada, and also teaches part time at a local college. Tanya is a life-long learner who actively networks with other SLPs via social networking, is co-founder and co-moderator of the #SLPChat discussion groups on Twitter, and is co-founder of the SLPeeps Resource Share and SLP Goal Bank in Google Docs (if you’d like to be granted access to these documents you can contact Tanya on Twitter @SLPTanya. Tanya is also the author of the Lexical Linguist blog.