I’ve been using Twitter for a while now and am about to tweet for the 1,000th time. Whenever you near some sort of milestone in your life, you tend to reflect a little bit. While I realise reflecting on the number of Twitter messages I’ve written confirms me as a complete geek, I wanted to think about why and how I have used Twitter since I set up my first account on this day 2 years ago.
Originally, I decided to join the Twitter revolution because somebody told me it was really cool and it was going to be the next big thing. My instincts were to use it to promote this web site, Anseo.net. I set up the account Anseo and I remember staring at an almost blank screen, which asked me what I was doing right now.
I also remember thinking that I was NOT going to use Twitter for anything else except reporting news from the Anseo.net web site so my first tweet wouldn’t be something like
Just joined Twitter and figuring out what it does
No, I reported updates that I thought people would be interested in. Tweet number one was:
Anseo is planning a more professional look to its site
Great. Two days later, my fourth tweet confirmed that this new professional look to the web site was up and running. I don’t think I had any more than 3 followers at the time. It took me three months to write my first 15 tweets; these days, I may write 15 tweets in less than 3 days. However, I was using Twitter as a broadcasting tool.
I started broadcasting Anseo.net’s updates more regularly when I came upon a service called Twitter Tools, which is a plugin for WordPress. As Anseo.net was (and still is) based on the WordPress platform, I added this plugin so that every time I wrote an article on Anseo, a Twitter message would be broadcast stating the name of the article and a bit.ly link to the article.
In fairness to me, I quickly realised that Twitter could be used as a social tool so I began asking followers questions. The only problem was that I hadn’t got a lot of followers and I hadn’t learned the benefits of following people. Again, my mindset was still using Twitter as a one-way broadcasting service. Although I had about 30 people “following” me, I wasn’t following anyone back.
Most people who were following me hadn’t followed me because of Twitter. Most people followed me because I was beginning to broadcast tweets about Interactive Whiteboards. I began following some of the users who were following me. Initially it made no difference. I kept broadcasting and one or two people started following. I rarely logged into my Twitter account.
After seven months of tweeting, two things happened at the same time.
Firstly, I decided I wanted to tweet about other things in my world. One thing was the government’s cutbacks on children in school. I wanted to send Twitter messages about protesting. Secondly, I discovered the “@” symbol which allowed me to mention another Twitter user.
Because I wanted to tweet about things other than Anseo.net, I decided to open amy own personal Twitter account. Anseo.net was still for broadcasting the web site’s updates, not my personal thoughts. The account @simonlewis was gone as were most derivations so I stuck my middle initial in and @simonmlewis was born with the tweet:
simonmlewis is now Twittering separately from Anseo
So, now I had two separate accounts to run. I quickly began my microblogging career with amazing insights such as: “I’m now finally happy with the look of my web site” and “Relieved now that the school I’m principal of is 100 days old and still standing”. In fairness, I quite like the latter tweet, which was a significant moment for me.
Discovering the “@” symbol should have been a huge bolt of lightning for me but I rarely used it. I didn’t really see the reason for using it when Direct Messages were available to me.
In January 2009, I had the brainwave to link my Facebook and Twitter account together. I also stopped using Twitter from my @anseo account and only tweeted from @simonmlewis. I thought this would save loads of time and I could tweet my status updates rather than having to update twice. It also marked the start of how I began to really use Twitter as a social tool. On Facebook, I had about 120 friends or so. I knew each and every one of them and they knew me. So, when I tweeted the message about being a principal for 100 days, I got loads of responses on my Facebook page. A few days later my tweet about writing a talk for an upcoming CESI conference also led to some conversation on Facebook. This was great, I thought.
It was CESI Meet 2009 that marked the moment Twitter itself changed from being a broadcasting tool to a social tool for me. It was a Twitter user by the name @johnmayo who opened my eyes. He hooked up his laptop to a projector and logged on to a Twitter program called Twitterdeck and anyone with a Twitter account was asked to write tweets about the evening.
As people got up to speak at the meeting, anyone with an Internet connection was able to write Twitter messages. I wrote about ten and other Twitter users wrote similar amounts. Essentially, these tweets from February 13th 2009, are a collaborative diary of the evening. Sadly either none of us had heard of the #hashtag or it hadn’t been invented yet! After CESI 2009, lots of new Twitterers began their Twitter journey. I even got my sister to start tweeting. (Strangely, as I write this she used Twitter to send me a direct message for the first time. She usually uses Facebook.)
@johnmayo also helped us all figure out how to use the “@” symbol to have lots of inclusive conversations. We all agreed that the best thing about Twitter was it was a great tool for sharing recommendations of educational web sites. So a little group of educational tweeters began recommending sites they found to each other. More importantly though, for me, this small group of tweeters started recommending each other to their own followers. Messages such as:
Hi @Someone1. You should follow @someone2. He write great things on somethingorother.
became reasonably commonplace. My followers started to grow and grow.
I also started following non-teachers like George Hook (@ghook) and David McWilliams (@davidmcw) and they followed me in return. By following me after I followed them, they both understood the “grammar” (quote from Jason Oke) of social media on Twitter. I felt connected to them. Unfortunately for David, I sent him messages telling him uninteresting things loosely related to his economic updates. I cringe as I look at my tweet to him about the price of coffee in Iceland. Oddly enough he didn’t reply to that one. I presume he no longer follows me. However, what David and George did was a small but important lesson for me. Where possible try to follow back your followers as it creates an important connection. In fact, I think it is the key to changing Twitter usage from a broadcasting tool to a social tool. It makes it much more effective.
So I was now one happy Twitter user. Everytime I blogged. a Twitter update would appear then my Facebook account would reciprocate and conversations often began. Often if someone I followed tweeted another conversation could start.
In April 2009, I got an iPhone. However, despite having the Echofon app at my fingertips any time I wanted, I rarely tweeted from my phone and stuck with Twitterdeck.
It was @johnmayo again who introduced me to the #hashtag. He was doing a survey about Twitter and asked his followers to write how they use Twitter in education. He asked us to use the hashtag #cesidt. Here were mine:
I use Twitter to let people who follow me know if I’ve posted something new on my web site
also have introduced Twitter to mesh with Google calendar in order to remind parents of school closings, etc.
also using Twitter instead of status update on Facebook
I now had used Twitter as a survey tool.
A few weeks later, I disconnected my Facebook status updates from Twitter after tweeting about a summer course I was giving every hour or so. Although I only wrote around 30 tweets over the week, it was from too many status updates for Facebook. The “tirade” of updates was not appreciated by my Facebook friends and a good few of them spent several days slagging me off for finally becoming a robot. Facebook users seem to update their status about once per day. Twitter users can, in effect, do the same thing dozens of times a day. Twitter users don’t seem to mind this. Facebook users do.
By July, I was regularly tweeting from my phone. All was good and I was ready for reporting on the next CESI Meet through Twitter. The second CESI meet had several more tweeters than the first. I had arranged to meet @daynuv at the evening through Twitter and we found each other through the tool. However, it was after the meeting ended that Twitter gave me a new dimension. My wife had left all of her shopping bags in the meeting room. We were halfway home and the place was locked up for the night. I didn’t have anyone’s phone number so I sent the following message:
@magsamond Rozz left an M&S bag at the meet this evening. Did you happen to see it?
Another person at the Meet saw this tweet and you can read the story on “How Technology Saved my Wife”
Over the next month or two, I used Twitter while watching the X-Factor, which made the experience a lot more fun and interactive, particularly when Jedward (who?) were performing. (Example: #XFactor Jedward. Oh. Dear. God.) I also used Twitter to vent my frustrations with the teachers’ unions for wanting teachers to vote in favour of strike. I was so aggrieved that I posted up several tweets. When teachers overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action, I wrote a tweet condemning the people who voted. It wasn’t a particularly awful tweet but the consequences from it taught me to never tweet anything that I wouldn’t say out loud to everyone including people who may not agree with me.
It’s really only in the last six months that I have published most of the one thousand tweets. Retweeting (re-posting someone else’s tweets) is a daily habit and Twitter has made this an easy process. I feel I understand the etiquette of Twitter and the best ways to use it or not. I tweet more and more often but this is probably because more and more people are joining up. I have learned several things since taking my first tentative steps into the world of tweeting.
- Using Twitter to broadcast is not as effective as using Twitter to converse
- If someone follows you, it’s good to follow them back. It makes a connection.
- However, if a celebrity follows you back, it’s probably best not to tell them mundane things about coffee prices in Iceland.
- The @ symbol is a great way to involve people in discussion
- The #hashtag symbol is a great way to organise tweets and gives great opportunities for meeting other users
- Broadcasting your blog articles using a tool like Twitter Tools is an effective way of letting people know you have new content on your site. It’s probably more effective than RSS.
- Twitter is great for recommending good web sites
- Don’t link Facebook and Twitter. Facebook updates are not as plentiful as Twitter ones.
- Retweeting is great for recommending other users’ tweets and also gives great opportunities for linking up with more Twitter users
- Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t say to the person/people you’re tweeting about
I imagine it won’t take me as long as two years to reach another 1,000 tweets. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t signed up to Twitter to give it a go and persevere with it. The first few tweets can be like talking into a vacuum but once you follow some fellow-tweeters and pick up a few followers of your own, the Twittersphere is a fine place to be.