Colleges and universities are using Twitter in different ways. Some are very engaged, some are not. Some see it as a great resource and others as a great bane.

Some schools, especially on the recruitment side, monitor accounts and answer questions and some schools re-post headlines. I’m not saying that’s bad–my institution did this for the first year we had an account, though we’re getting better about being active.

Twitter is an intriguing tool beccause allows you to engage your followers in a way that you can’t do via email or a blog. It’s real time, always changing and very participatory.

I love hockey, especially the Pittsburgh Penguins. They are in the midst of a tough series against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals – but for the last couple of months, they have been using social media, especially Twitter, better then just about any sports franchise out there. You can follow them at twitter.com/pghpenguins.

They tweet updates, roster moves, practice news, scoring updates during the game, and lots more. They tweet if the big screen will be set up outside the arena so that fans can come to the arena and watch the game with thousands of other fans.

This week, they are engaging their followers in a cool way – they are holding a scavenger hunt today that’s happening only on Twitter. The prize: expensive, not to mention sold-out, playoff tickets.

What a great way to engage your audience and have them hanging on your every Tweet as they seek out a prize worth hundreds of dollars.

So, how does this relate to higher ed’s use of Twitter?

Obviously, we don’t have playoff tickets or hundreds of dollars to give away, but we as institutions can be a valuable resource.

We can help our audiences, be them prospective students or alums, figure out the scavenger hunt that can be higher ed and get the prize they want – whether its personal contact, help in submitting their application essays or how to best direct a monetary gift to an area that needs the funds.

We can ask them to come to an event or share with them a YouTube video or blog post we think they’d be interested them. We can ask for their help and their feedback, we can help them feel part of the loop and still part of the campus, even if they graduated 30 years ago.

images.jpgThis week is Twitter week at HighEdWebTech. Each day this week, I hope to explore an area of Twitter and hopefully share some thoughts and best practices. Of course, I’m on Twitter and you can find me and follow me here.

I think it’s safe to say that Twitter’s hit the main stream. It’s certainly a hot topic in all areas of college marketing, from enrollment marketing to fundraising.

Today, I’d like to talk about your account’s icon – that little 73 pixel by 73 pixel area in the left-hand corner of your account’s page.

Your account’s icon may be one of the most important thing you enter when you are setting up account. Seriously – and here’s why.

Your followers may not be getting your tweets at Twitter.com – they may be using a client like Twitterific, TweetDeck, Nambu, Seesmic or Tweetie. Whether you follow 15 people or 1,500, looking at people’s icons is a quick and easy way to see who’s talking and you can quickly decide if you’re going to pay attention.

If you don’t set the icon, users see this:

That’s not terribly useful. This, on the other hand, is useful:

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Your school’s icon can be your logo, your seal, your wordmark, your marketing phrase, a picture of your campus’ version of “Old Main,” just make sure your icon makes people know it’s your school. Here’s an example of an icon that’s getting cut off by Twitter.

That’s the logo for North Dakota State’s Twitter account. As you can see, the entire letter N is cut off and at quick glance, you don’t know who that account holder is. The icons for their other accounts are good, for example the icon for their bookstore’s account is good:

Here are few other ones that are getting cut off, are hard to read, or don’t clearly state what school they are :

I’m fortunate that for the past six years, I’ve had an awesome graphic designer, Penny Frank (@), working down the hall from me and we’ve collaborated on a ton of projects.

Last week, she redesigned many of our account icons. We wanted to make sure that they all had their own personality, but contained Allegheny flavor – colors, fonts, treatments, etc. Here they are, I think they’re great.

I’d love to have you post your account icons in the comments or point everyone towards a few that you think are very well done. I’ll gather them up and feature them in a post later on this week.

Amazon has announced a new program, AWS in Education, offering educational institutions and faculty access to grants to allow them to help students get hands-on experience

AWS in Education provides a set of programs that enable the worldwide academic community to easily leverage the benefits of Amazon Web Services for teaching and research. With AWS in Education, educators, academic researchers, and students can apply to obtain free usage credits to tap into the on-demand infrastructure of Amazon Web Services to teach advanced courses, tackle research endeavors and explore new projects – tasks that previously would have required expensive up-front and ongoing investments in infrastructure.

Allowing students and faculty reduced cost access is a genius move for Amazon. Why not allow students to learn their system – hoping that when those students graduate and get jobs in the field, they’ll look to Amazon as a place where they can use their skills and experience and get applications going quickly. Genius.