Social media often gets a bad rap for being a driving force behind people falling out of touch, neglecting in-person relationships, and reducing productivity for people around the world. Naysayers blame it for shorter attention spans and proliferation of bad grammar, and the most vehement of those naysayers believe that social media has led to privacy being a thing of the past. To be fair, there have been many times where I’ve been trolling my Twitter feed only to be thoroughly horrified by TMI moments and tHingz Speld lIKE THIZ.
But if you look past the rough surface Twitter can sometimes present, you find an amazing tool for learning. Last time I looked, there were 141.8 million twitter accounts in the USA alone, and there are 175 million tweets being published every day. Twitter (and other social media) can accelerate the discovery and consumption of information by leaps and bounds beyond traditional media sources and it can also accelerate the conversations being had around that information. It can expand the reach of any topic-based conversation to an entire world of users.
Twitter is a global community, which means global perspective and opinions about the topics you care about, and outside perspective is good. Edify your thinking through the opinions and insights of others.
To leverage Twitter as a tool for learning, I’d recommend these actions:
1. Create a relevant home newsfeed
Following the correct people is absolutely paramount to using twitter as a tool for learning. Follow authors you respect, bloggers, relevant media presences, and explore who they interact with, and follow those people too!
When you find someone new, check out their bio and their last 15-20 tweets. If you feel compelled to retweet them or engage with their content, then you’ve probably found a good match. If those tweets don’t mean anything to you, don’t follow, even if they’ve followed you.
2. Use search effectively
Twitter search is a powerful tool that can help you quickly sort through the massive amounts of content being published on twitter at any given moment. It works like a basic search engine, but shows results for content and people who talk about that keyword searched.
Search for “bridge” keywords for your topics of interest. Nothing that is super specific or niche, but nothing so general as to bury the content you want in a sea of nothingness. For example: I’m very interested in analytics for web marketing. I could search simply “#analytics,” but that would return results that are far too vague. But, if I search “#webanalytics” or “#seoanalytics,” then I’d see the content I really want.
3. Explore Tweetchats
A tweetchat is a virtual conversation around a central idea, and they are quite plentiful on twitter. Participating in or “listening” to a tweetchat conversation is a great way to learn about a topic from the perspective of other individuals who are interested in similar ideas. You can use tweetchats as an opportunity to develop relationships with other stakeholders in whatever topic you choose.
If you’ve never tried a tweet chat, come see how Twitter is used synchronously as an open learning exchange. Follow the hashtag#tchat
— Justin Mass (@jmass) January 23, 2013
To help find some awesome conversations to join, here is a wiki containing many current and future tweetchats.
Twitter may seem like a swirling vortex of cat pictures and Justin Bieber fangirls, but the ability it presents to quickly and efficiently discover new content from myriad sources all over the world is invaluable. It doesn’t hurt that you are rewarded for sharing good content by creating a network of like-minded individuals who are interested in hearing what you have to say. If you have tried Twitter in the past and gave up, I would urge you to give it another shot. Or if you’ve never tweeted in your life, I’d recommend that you join the platform, if for no other reason than to learn through the thoughts and insights of your peers.