When It Comes To Twitter, My Way Is The Right Way

It’s ironic, almost comical, that there seems to be more and more blog posts out there about the “right way” to  “do Twitter.”

What’s especially ironic are  posts from folks who say Twitter should be used for two-way communication. They go on and on about how Twitter should be used to cultivate a robust personal learning network. Some even create awesome presentations about Twitter’s do’s and dont’s. Go ahead and check out Twitter for Educators on Slideshare and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. I would put a link there, but I’ll let you actually do some work after reading this post.

Does Twitter have to be two-way communication?

For some people yes, that’s why they use it, and that’s what they want it to be. For others, they are content to simply lurk. There’s another Twitter using group that just want to see what their favorite celebrity had for breakfast. And yet, there are millions of people who don’t use Twitter at all. For me personally, nothing beats a lively conversation via Twitter, but that can be easier said than done.

Ironically, some of the Twitter evangelists are the same folks who either don’t respond to an inquiry sent to them via Twitter and/or they have an extremely low follower/to following ratio. Now I know you “Twitter critics” are going to say, “Jenn, just because you follow someone, doesn’t mean they have to follow you back.” And you’re absolutely right. They don’t. I know that. Heck, Paige Woodard preaches that in one of her Twitter tip You Tube videos (yes, I will link to the work of a student because students rock and more educators need to start sharing more of their great work versus writing vague references to it, or worse, keep it to themselves). But that’s not my point here.

I’m not saying someone has to follow me back. I lose followers daily. I’m fine with that. Maybe it’s because some people might think I Tweet too much. Maybe it’s because I…whatever the reason, I honestly don’t care. The people who follow me obviously think I have some value as a member of their PLN and for that I am truly grateful and honored. Who people choose to follow or not follow is highly personal. But what irks me are the people who are all rah-rah over Twitter, but reach out to them for help, and you get nothing. Now how is that suppose to motivate someone to believe in the power of connection? That being said…

Twitter is not about numbers. And I’m talking about me here. For me it’s about the quality of my network, not the quantity. It’s not about “doing Twitter right.” It’s my Twitter account and I will Tweet about whatever I choose to. As digital citizens we all have the right to use Twitter and any other social network for that matter the way in which we choose. Keep in mind though that if you are an educator, you also have a responsibility to model appropriate online communication for your students.

I currently Tweet about digital citizenship, career resources for students, assistive technology, educational technology and leadership, and anything else I might find interesting, inspiring, or thought-provoking on the web. I Tweet about my students. I Tweet about my school and colleagues. I Tweet about whatever I please. Because I can.

Twitter is WHATEVER I WANT IT TO BE. If you are trying Twitter for the first time, or you’re just getting started, do the same and make it whatever you want it to be. Don’t buy into all the hype about the right versus wrong way to use Twitter. If you want to follow “rock star” educators, go to Slideshare like I mentioned earlier, and you’ll find at least 50 presentations about Twitter for teachers with recommendations on who to follow and they will all give you at least 25 of the same accounts. However…

Want to follow a celebrity? Go for it. Want to start the hashtag #replacesongtitleswithpants, knock yourself out. Dean Shareski did that recently and he has almost 20,000 followers. The beauty of Twitter is that if you want it to be one-way communication, it can be. If you want to engage in conversation, it can be that too. If you want to start a quirky hashtag, no one is stopping you. But when it comes to choosing who to follow, and I’m sorry for giving more advice again but I just have to,  be mindful that not every person out there who preaches about PLN’s talks the talk and walks the walk.

But then again, what do I know? I don’t have a huge network (remember it’s not about numbers), so odds are you’ll stumble across an eloquently written post about Twitter from someone with a much higher klout score than me who will convince you, better yet, teach you, about the “right way to do Twitter.” You can skip all that and just keep these three things in mind:

1. Do Twitter YOUR way.
2. That is the only RIGHT way.
3. If you decide that you’re not going to try Twitter at all, then so be it.

But here’s why I still feel the urge to preach the power of Twitter.

It’s an incredible tool to use for filtering and curating content

I have rediscovered Diigo and have been bookmarking what I find on Twitter into my Diigo library. I’ve then shared a link to my public Diigo library via Twitter using the hashtag #ATchat (assistive technology). Whatever course you teach, odds are there’s a chat related to it and there’s where you can start meeting people and building your own library of digital resources for your course curriculum. Following certain hashtags can also lead to coming up with your own ideas. After nominating Paige for a Bammy award, it triggered an idea for a new project in my Digital Literacy course that I am excited to try later this month.

Twitter is filled with incredibly generous people

Some of whom have no hidden agenda whatsoever. Some who really want to collaborate and share ideas. Many who are in education because they love teaching and they want to be better for their students and their schools.  These are educators out there who really do “talk the talk” when it comes to PLN’s and Twitter. These are the people you need to find and connect with. Some of these people have large networks for a reason.

They are helpful and sincere and as I mentioned, they are in education for the right reasons. They care about kids and their colleagues, both in and outside of their own school communities. They are the kinds of people that I am glad to have as a part of my PLN. An example of such person is Nicholas Provenzano, aka “the nerdy teacher.” I sent Nick a Tweet last night just before sitting down to write this post inquiring about his upcoming TEDx event, as I am looking for as much inspiration for my TED-Ed Club members as possible, and what did Nick do? HE RESPONDED! Imagine that?

I keep hearing more and more educators, and some very smart and successful business people, talking about how social media is changing. Perhaps that is why people are heading to Google+ (give it time, you’ll get on it eventually), or perhaps that’s why more educators aren’t using social media at all.  I think that those who aren’t active on some type of social media platform are missing out, especially in terms of having incredibly easy access to a vast amount of classrooms resources, not to mention the opportunity to develop some pretty amazing friendships (this really does happen). But at the same time, I do understand why people aren’t on sites like Twitter.

So how do we get everyone, those with thousands of followers and those who are still eggs, to use Twitter as a two-way communication tool? The answer is, we don’t. The more appropriate questions would be:

1. How do we get educators to understand that they can have complete control over their Twitter account?
2. How do we help educators understand that Twitter can be used to help support and meet their individual professional (or personal) needs?
3. How do we get young people to find a balance between using Twitter as a social communication tool, while at the same time, helping them understand what they Tweet contributes to their digital identity?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I hope I find myself in a chat where these issues are being discussed. Perhaps Paige could moderate?

All I know is that if you are going to write about connecting and Twitter and sharing and engaging and collaborating and PLN’s…then the next time you get a Tweet, or a comment on your blog, then at the very least, you should take two seconds and respond to it.

Image Credit: Rosaura Ochoa




  • BRAVO! Thank you for your honesty! My undergraduates are working on their final multimedia presentations for the semester and one group worked with middle and high school girls on understanding the need to look beyond #s and likes. Unfortunately, our students see status in how many followers and how many likes their SM accounts receives. They are sharing personal information to the world using #follow4follow without understanding that quality is more important than quantity. Personally, I want to model how SM is an opportunity to engage, collaborate and learn more than just collecting followers and likes. So, for anyone new to Twitter, focus on the conversation and collaboration. Follow people that want to learn with you! If we can model this for our students, we’ll be teaching a valuable lesson.

    • The work you are doing with your undergrads is incredibly important! They are fortunate to have a professor who values digital citizenship education. Conversation and collaboration are key ingredients to building a strong PLN. The professional relationship we have developed through meaningful connection on Twitter is proof that when leveraged properly, social media can be extremely valuable to the professional growth and development of educators! It’s been great to collaborate with you this year and I look forward to working with you and your students in 14-15!

  • You are absolutely right, especially when it comes to showing young people that making quality connections with others through social media should be the first goal, not simply generating high numbers. There are certainly thought leaders in all industries, including education, but my point in writing the post was to encourage everyone to think about people brand new to a space like Twitter and how in order to get them to stay, there should be some level of engagement and encouragement. This will prove to people that Twitter really can work! Look how far it’s taken us 🙂

  • Like you, I’m teaching students to take advantage of the things I’ve learned about social media and the digital world. I appreciate the PLN I’ve developed, which includes folks like you, and like Nick and scores of others who DO respond when I ask questions. I try to do the same for others. I hope you find it more flattering than thievery that I’ve used much of your class materials as a starting point for my own. There is so much value in teaching students digital citizenship, research and curating, how to write for an online audience and just how to get along in an online world. I’m thankful for educators who don’t stop what they do when they leave their classrooms each day.

    • Hi Lisa, I’m completely honored and consider it a compliment that you have found value in my course materials and are adapting them to fit your needs. The culture of sharing and collaboration among educators across the globe, thanks to technology, is incredible. It is ultimately making us better for our students. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about my post. Perhaps next year our students could collaborate on a project? Let’s stay in touch and see if there might be an opportunity for collaboration.

  • This eloquently sums up my current feelings on Twitter. To me, and you apparently, we have the power to make Twitter into what we choose. Just like in education, there is more than one way to get to where we’re going. For some, Twitter is recess during grade school, doing whatever it takes to get the most followers. For others, and I’d be in this group, it’s about quality over quantity. I want to engage, yes actively engage, in thoughtful discourse about the path our schools are on. I try to engage with others as often as I can, for that helps me to grow and understand. Unfortunately, there are those that throw their ideas out, and leave it at that. An idea, to me, is a great start. But if it ends there, I am invariably left wondering about what could have been.
    I’m not concerned with how many followers I have, nor do I feel the number of followers you have is a reflection on your value in the Twitter-sphere. However, I am interested in the followers that help me create new learning by sharing great resources, or walking along side of me as I flesh out new ideas. This is where the true power of Twitter can be found, for those interested in it for that purpose.

    And, as you mentioned, would it kill you to reply if queried about something you profess to have knowledge of?

    Great post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

    • Thank you Scott for taking the time not only to read, but to comment on my post and share your perspective. Like you, I tend to gravitate towards people on Twitter who want to go a bit deeper than simply sharing a resource. That’s definitely a start, but I agree that continuing the conversation leads to deeper understanding and professional growth. I think another by-product of active conversation and relationship building is creativity. This ultimately translates into more exciting classrooms for our students. Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

  • I’ll go one better. What about those same people that say we should teach students to be creative and use social media… as long as you follow this step-by-step guide? Kinda kills the creativity.

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  • When I started with twitter over 7 years ago, it was much different. A few educators essentially trying to figure it out. For me it became and remains mostly social and some professional. The large portion of educators today are thinking professional and maybe a little social. I could care less about how or why someone uses twitter.

    But no one “gets” twitter until they can tell a story. That story about another person they connected with. Until then I think it’s either just another information source or and confusing place full of noise where figuring out how to reduce the noise to signal ratio can be extremely frustrating and thus, most give up. Once they can tell you about a story of connectedness, it sticks. I’m very uncomfortable telling anyone how to use it because my way is my way, that’s all I know and I can tell you lots of stories. Even #replacesongtitleswithpants has a number of pretty neat little side stories that move way beyond the seemingly superfluous.

    I’ve been pretty clear with how I use twitter http://shareski.ca/y/followme and still struggle with educators natural tendency to provide step by step guidelines. As my good friend Bud Hunt says, “describe, not prescribe”.

    The answer to your question is essentially that there is no single approach but my test for knowing if they get it is to ask, “What’s your twitter story?” If they dont’ have one, they have to keep looking.

    • Hi Dean! Thanks for taking the time to not only read my post, but to comment. I’ve talked with several “Twitter vets” who have said the same, how much it has changed since they first starting using it. I completely agree with you about the number of people who attempt to make sense of Twitter, only to give up out of frustration. It’s true that educators can use Twitter however they see fit, but that’s the key. Educators do need to use it so that they their “Twitter story” can unfold. Only then do I think educators will really understand how Twitter works and why Twitter works. Beyond using Twitter in a professional capacity, I have several friendships which emerged from a mere 140 characters. Many of the online connections I’ve made via Twitter have translated into “real life” and that’s what really excites me about Twitter.

      • Jenn, this whole thing is spot on. Helpful guides and clarifications of features & functions have value, no doubt – but the “rules” often act as a barrier for adoption. For me using Twitter as a professional was mostly about sharing & receiving resource snippets, but it has recently evolved into forging collegial friendships that go well beyond 140 characters.
        There’s definitely no right way (as you know my first post was giving restaurant advice to a diva NFL wide receiver), but the only truly wrong way to use Twitter is by not giving it a try before declaring its value. If folks think you are using it “wrong” or your style offends their sensibilities, they can simply choose not to follow you. Hashtags, self-curated follower lists, and good search skills ensure that Twitter has room for everyone – Ochocinco & education luminaries alike.

  • Jenn, this whole thing is spot on. Helpful guides and clarifications of features & functions have value, no doubt – but the “rules” often act as a barrier for adoption. For me using Twitter as a professional was mostly about sharing & receiving resource snippets, but it has recently evolved into forging collegial friendships that go well beyond 140 characters.
    There’s definitely no right way (as you know my first post was giving restaurant advice to a diva NFL wide receiver), but the only truly wrong way to use Twitter is by not giving it a try before declaring its value. If folks think you are using it “wrong” or your style offends their sensibilities, they can simply choose not to follow you. Hashtags, self-curated follower lists, and good search skills ensure that Twitter has room for everyone – Ochocinco & education luminaries alike.

  • Hi Jenn

    Nice to meet you! My twitter friend, Sheila, shared this link with me through Twitter. Thanks for having the courage to say the hard things.

    I absolutely agree with you that we should have the freedom to use Twitter or any other new form of media in the way that seems right for us. The only thing that I don’t think is right to do (and I think you would agree with me) and that is to not respond to someone who has Tweeted you. It seems that the higher one’s social rockstar media status is, the more unlikely he’s going to respond to you. Most weird is when they start a conversation thread and then you reply but then they don’t respond. More weird is when a number of people respond but none of us get a reply. Us “responders” start having a conversation amongst themselves and the original Tweeter has disappeared? Who knows where?! This is social etiquette that I’m not acquainted with in the “offline” world so I don’t really know what to make of it…

    When I tweet to them, I feel like I’m the lowly commoner approaching the royal throne. Will the King hold or not hold out his golden scepter to me? Will he deign me favour? Do I take the chance of approaching?

    After a few times of receiving no response, I just give up and no longer Tweet to them. If they don’t follow me, I eventually unfollow them. If they are following me, I just leave them “be” on my timeline but mainly out of courtesy (because they’ve followed me) and not because I have hope of any real relationship eventually developing. It’s a bit sad, after all that. You have to have a lot of guts to navigate a new social medium when it’s like that. And we say we want to encourage teachers to join Twitter…? (About as much fun as being at a junior high dance with your back pressed against the wall wondering if someone will be willing to dance with you…)

    Sure, we can have our unique ways of having discourse on Twitter but it’s sure—can I say it?!— hypocritical when they write a blogpost saying, “people want to be heard on social media” but then on Twitter, they don’t reply when people are making themselves heard?


    • Hi Vivian,

      Nice to meet you as well! My apologies for the late response! I greatly appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your perspective. I love your remarks about etiquette. If someone were to make a statement or ask a question in the real world, I don’t think you would ignore that person, yet it seems to be perfectly acceptable to do so online. If we are supposed to be role models to our students of appropriate online communication, I think this type of interaction or lack thereof needs to change and improve. There definitely seems to be an emergence of online “in crowds”very similar to a high school social scene. I don’t think this is exclusive to the education industry however. But you hit the nail on the head when you talked about the hypocrisy of people who advocate for PLN’s yet don’t do a whole lot to welcome new members.

      My focus has been on following people who I can learn from and who are genuine. It seems like you share in that philosophy. I didn’t realize when I wrote the post that it would resonate with so many people, in fact I didn’t think it would get very much exposure at all but it ended up being my most popular post (I’m a new blogger) which proves to me that there are a lot of folks out there who share in my sentiments. Fortunately, it does seem like there are a lot of educators getting onto Twitter. I hope that they don’t get discouraged and will stay on because the more educators share and learn from each other the better ultimately are for our students.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond, I really appreciate it

  • Hi Jenn

    Yes, your blogpost is resonating with a lot of people. I think many people feel and think these things but we’re just not brave enough to say it aloud. So, again, thanks for saying the hard things.

    I know that Twitter is about following a lot of people (and then usually they follow back) but I don’t plan on getting so big that I don’t have time to decently reply back to people. I’m not in any danger of getting that big on Twitter, so it’s not a huge worry on my part 😉

    I grew up writing letters and so I also try to reply to any comments on my blogposts. It takes a concerted effort to keep it up, but I think it’s important. It’s a sign of gratitude to people for taking the time to comment. Maybe I’m trying to stuff this new format (blog writing) into an old paradigm (letter writing), but I think it’s just polite and humanity is about connecting with other people, so isn’t it a basic assumption that we reply back to each other?

    If we replied to letters and now reply to blogposts, surely it can’t be too much effort to reply back in Twitter? At the very least, I “star” a tweet as a sign of acknowledgement and thanks if I don’t have anything to say back (ex. when someone sends me a compliment, I prefer to “star” it, than to broadcast the compliment to all my followers, but of course it depends on the context. There are times when I do reply to a compliment too!)

    Did you see this Youtube floating around the Twittersphere? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wGhiEfq0Ks It’s a funny poke at “You’re Doing Twitter Wrong”.


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