As I'm about to approach a major Twitter milestone of posting my 1000th tweet, I began reflecting on what I was "feeding" the bird. My account consists of a variety of information; from daily antics to long-term planning, from personal life to the professional grind, from pictures to videos, from scholarly articles to opinionated blogs. One common theme emerged from this exploration: #TwitterRocks!
The birth of my Twitter account commenced just as many other students pursuing a career in Student Affairs and Higher Education. In one of my undergraduate courses that explored Student Leadership and institutional constructs within Higher Education (shout out to #LDR4404SPR13!), the class was not only required to create a "professional" Twitter account, but we were also expected to contribute to this social media platform. Through the hashtags we used to follow our trends, to the @'s (the start of a ‘handle’, or account, on Twitter) to connect people and organizations, to the occasional "chirping" of chiming in with our own two-sense, we dove head-first into the surface level of what a tremendous tool Twitter can be for our professional persona.
Don't get me wrong, I too was initially hesitant to becoming proactive on yet another form of social media. I was already using Facebook, LinkedIn, and beginning to navigate the Pinterest waters. I couldn't see myself spending any more time online than I already did, especially when I had to prioritize time spent on classes and co-curricular activities. As the course chugged along, I realized that my thoughts behind what Twitter was and how I wanted to utilize it were changing; it wouldn't be a site that I "wasted" time on, but it was an innovative way to incorporate, contribute to, and learn from the field and its constituents.
I must preface you all, however, that in order to "spread your wings and fly" with Twitter, I strongly urge you to push past your current niche in Student Affairs and the internal beliefs that "change (in how you normally do things) is pain". Yes, you can very well get by with communicating via email, in person, and through video chat; however, I hope through this post, you might consider getting past previous notions of Twitter and are more willing and ready to persevere through the "learning curve" of your ever-evolving and continuing social-media journey.
If this plea isn't enough, perhaps these top 5 reasons why #TwitterRocks will persuade you even further:
1. The Power of Twitter Networking. With the seemingly infinite connections Student Affairs professionals create and maintain, Twitter is equipped to handle the networking web. Intrapersonally, you can use Twitter as your tracking device by creating and individualized hashtags to follow your own various #TBT (ThrowBackThursday) journeys. Additionally, having a presence on Twitter allows you to connect with your students in a culturally acceptable way; not only is this a great way to communicate with those students you don’t see on a daily, if at all, basis, but it also portrays to students that you are a relatable person, and not just a stone-walled professional. It’s rather rewarding to see students starring, replying to, and even retweeting you! With Twitter, you can network with faculty, staff members, administration, departments, and organizations at your institution; you’ll be able to stay in-the-loop with many events, initiatives, and hot topics occurring in your own backyard! The landscape doesn’t end there – the same applies for keeping in touch with your previous and future institutions. Prospective employers might be rather impressed that you’re able to speak about their environment and students when you mention their social media presence and involvement. Lastly, networking doesn’t just occur within and between institutions of higher education; it also engages state-, regional-, and national Student Affairs associations and organizations – not to mention other forms of professional engagement (such as e-newsletters, blogs, and websites).
2. Professional Development. Unless you want it to be this way, your news feed can expand beyond the tweets of grumpy cat, celebrity gossip, and sassy memes/gifs. By following other professionals, organizations, and Student Affairs-affiliated accounts, you can easily get exposed to articles, blogs, presentations, webinars, and more. This alternative form of professional development is intellectually stimulating, rather effortless, and FREE (#GradStudentBudget). Speaking of being financially mindful, you can also use Twitter to follow hashtag trends and tweets from other professionals at conferences that you’re not able to attend to see what’s being talked about and who you can contact to receive pertinent information that might be beneficial for your professional career.
3. Limiting Your Inbox. Feeding Twitter has helped me slim down on my email accounts’ inboxes. In this field, it’s not uncommon for you to receive ten to twenty emails…within one hour…on a Saturday…night. Twitter has graciously provided a “direct messaging” option for you to privately communicate with individuals. You can also use twitter to send articles or blogs to your colleagues without needing to resort to email; the same can be done with your employees or students. Working in Student Affairs has shown me that as much as we might get irked from inboxes exploding, students despise it even more. Ever heard of students deleting or never even opening an email you’ve sent them – even though your intentions were to provide them resources and involvement opportunities? Use Twitter to post announcements and tag your school’s, department’s, area’s, residence hall’s account and have your message reach the news feed of many!
4. Develop Your Writing Skills. One of the main reasons I’ve heard others resist using Twitter is the character-count limitation. However, this challenge should really be transformed into an opportunity to practice your communication abilities – like a mind puzzle, Twitter is a place to practice critical thinking. Ask yourself this, “how can the message I want to share be as concise, yet detailed as possible? Especially for those writing papers, reports, articles, or journals; when given a page limit on tasks, you first think you’ll never need all that space and then find yourself trying to shed 5+ pages. While I don’t recommend using the same grammatical structures you might on Twitter, it has helped me learn how to adequately get my message across.
5. Lead By Example. We’ve seen how social media has been used for better and for worse…where the worse typically absorbs most of the attention and spotlight. As professionals that work directly with students who are, more likely than not, active on at least one platform. Being an educator isn’t just about telling students how to maintain a good online representation, it’s also about showing them. If you’re informing students about the importance of a positive virtual self, you’ll need to understand and utilize the tools yourself. This can make a full-circle back to being relatable and “connectable” as mentioned in reason number one.
I’ll even help you take the first step - feel free to send me a direct message or tweet (@kmlewis6); you can even practice your hashtag skills by using #FeedTheSAbird or creating your own! To close, consider these metaphors: prepare your nest, feed the bird, and teach others how to expand their wings.