Twitter use: trying to find a balance and a few tips

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Brad Ward’s blog post about Twitter and whether or not it’s hit a ceiling in higher ed, not just among the higher ed web people, but institutions themselves.

He talks about his diminishing use of the tool in the last few months, something I can very much relate to. I think he’s right on when he says:

For one, I have thoughts longer than 140 characters that I want to share. Tweets can quickly get taken out of context at this character limit, so I find myself expressing thoughts and opinions on other platforms instead, where I have more room. I also think that ’sharing’ can be beneficial, but in a large group it hampers innovation.

About this time last month, I was going through something similar when it comes to Twitter. I was getting burned out on the noise and the shouting. Thanks to everyone who commented on that post, it was really beneficial and I took quite a bit away from the conversation.

Everyone, and every institution, has to figure out what type of Twitter use is best for them, but for me, I think the following are starting to actually help.

Pick the right tool for the job

I’ve pared down my list and am using tools like TweetDeck to better organize the people I follow. Over the last year, I find myself using Twitter for mostly professional development and communication.

If you want to see what sort of music I’m listening to or what YouTube videos I think are funny, follow me over at Facebook. Want to see cute pictures of my boys? Facebook. Want to see where I used to work? Go to LinkedIn. So on and so on.

To get the most out of any tool, you have to decide how, when and why you’re going to use it.

This is especially important for institutions to know. Want to promote homecoming events? Twitter’s good for that. Want to promote ways students can connect with alums for internships and mentoring? Maybe LinkedIn is best for that.

Organize and Segment

I’ll admit that I did caught up in the followers game for awhile.

It was important to me to get to 100, then 200, then 500 followers. As I watched people get to 1,000 then 2,000 and on up, I realized that I don’t have the time, energy or knack for self-promotion on mediums like these that others do.

That was a good lesson to learn.

Much like real life, there are hierarchies and groups of people that I want to pay more attention to than others, much like you have your good friends and your acquaintances. Columns, groups and lists make sure that I don’t miss messages and thoughts from people that I’m interested in and want to hear them.

At my current institution, I segment the University’s followers among a few groups – alums (where I can tell), campus community, Cleveland and so on. This helps me quickly scan the info and respond where needed.

Twitter shines in certain situations

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One place where Twitter is very useful is at conferences. Sure, there’s the backchannel, but you can also use it in the, um, front channel (?).

In the session Jesse Lavery and I gave last week at HighEdWeb 2010, people were throwing around plugin and theme ideas and I asked people like the extremely smart Rosalyn Metz to tweet them using the hashtag for the session.

That gives people an easy way to find that information, as well as an archive that we can all go back and look at, like this.

I’ve used Twitter a few times during on-campus events and it’s worked really well. You can read more about it here. Using Twitter means that our users who were following us on their phones were getting updates, as were users using the mobile version of the site, an iPhone/Android app, etc.