The Trouble with Twitter

Disclaimer: This will not be one of those posts that tells you how I think you should use Twitter or what to tweet. Rather, it is a reflection of my own experience and professional development via Twitter. Take it or leave it.

Last night, I was fortunate to have an amazing conversation with Matt Bloomingdale and Valerie Heruska (to pros whom I tremendously respect and admire) as a guest on their Professional Reputations Aside podcast. After we stopped recording, the conversation continued. I had been lamenting my struggle with the transition on how I use and view Twitter for professional development and it finally clicked for me. Let me explain….

Twitter is not the end all be all of professional development. At one time for me, it was. This past semester, I embarked on an #saroadtrip where I have met with a whole bunch of amazing colleagues from around the world (thanks to my friend Lisa in Canada!). We discussed everything from branding in our field, to disrupting education, to creativity, to graduate preparation and much more. Including several conferences, webinars, and #sachat topics, this was by far the most fruitful learning I had experienced as a professional yet. The best part: it was FREE! While this post may at times seem like an anti-Twitter post, it is not. Rather, it is pointing out the limitations of only focusing on 140 characters and not using the network built on Twitter for even deeper learning and connection.

Twitter is fantastic for helping us to expand our personal learning network. It connects us to people we otherwise perhaps would never meet. The discussions that happen here are great, but very limiting. It is easy for something to be perceived differently than you intended. Dissenting opinions often seem like attacks. Trying to keep up with any given conversation results in a lot of agreeing or retweeting – and not enough actual dialogue. We start a great conversation about something important like mental health in our field or the purpose of higher education, only for it to take a back seat to the next topic a week later. These #sachat discussions are starting points – not a one time topic to be discussed tweet after tweet for two hours on a Thursday.

What I have found to be most helpful is to use Twitter as a stepping stone. It has allowed me to meet some fantastic people and then to further the discussion, connection, and learning in a much deeper way beyond tweets. 140 characters can be so painfully limiting. Twitter is also public. I can’t be completely vulnerable, honest, or authentic knowing my students and colleagues will see it. I need another space to have these honest conversations with colleagues in a way that does not come across the wrong way or harm my relationship with folks on my campus.

In many ways, I think our profession has grown to overvalue Twitter as a communications tool. As many have said before, it is but one tool for learning and communicating – not the only one. I think it is important that we remember some amazing professionals who are doing incredible things in this field are not on Twitter and you will never see them on #sachat. The mark of a student affairs professional is much deeper than his or her digital identity. I do not want to be remembered or recognized by my handle or profile picture. Instead, I hope people will connect with what I write here on my blog or appreciate the work I am doing on my campus or professional association.

Twitter helps us to connect, to share articles, and to have some base level conversations. I fear, though, that it has become for many the only place to connect, share articles, converse and learn. I challenge each of you to deepen and broaden your connection to your network you have built on Twitter. It does not have to be the way I did it through Google Plus. Many other people are doing this – chatting and meeting, learning and discussing. Make it your own and know that there are many professionals out there with stories to tell, ideas to share, and encouragement to give. All you have to do is ask.

What are you doing to learn and connect beyond Twitter?

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11 thoughts on “The Trouble with Twitter

  1. Tim, I can’t agree more! I am so grateful for the connections and conversations that have BEGUN on Twitter, but that have grown into so much more. You asked what I’m doing to learn and connect beyond Twitter: I’m trying to set up Google Hangouts and phone calls with folks, to engage more often on blog posts (hence this comment 🙂 and to reach out to people individually.

    I really appreciate the content you share with our online community (#sachat and through your blog) and I am excited to continue connecting with you.

  2. I appreciate your framing of this subject. Twitter has helped me find amazing professionals and started important conversations. It is the starting point for growth and connections.

  3. Great post, Tim. Twitter has been a great vehicle to help carry me to greater connections with colleagues. Thanks to connections that began on Twitter, I’ve co-presented at NASPA, brought guest speakers into classes via Hangouts, and have had many offline conversations. Those 140 characters are a great tool for getting the ball rolling, but I’ve also found the reward comes in taking those connections to other places.

  4. Great post. I like to think of Twitter as more of a gateway – to useful/interesting articles, clusters of valuable scholarship, professionals to connect with, social connections – I really hope that pros don’t use it as an end-all, be-all, but I fear you’re right in some cases. Always helpful to have the reminder!

  5. You wrote: “In many ways, I think our profession has grown to overvalue Twitter as a communications tool.” Is that really the case? It seems like Twitter is used by only a small, hyperconnected minority of people. So maybe it’s just a case of making due with the available tool (“when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”) or not moving out of our comfort zone. I also suspect that a very small group of people enjoy the appearance and feeling of making many connections and discussing a lot of important topics without actually having to put in the work necessary to make genuine connections and have substantive conversations.

    • Kevin – thanks for the comment! I agree completely with your latter point some people enjoying the feeling of connectedness and discussion. To your first point perhaps what I meant more was that for the people who use twitter they overvalue it as a tool, similarly to what you suggest at the end of the comment. It is overvalued in the sense that face to face or one on one discussion is undervalued. In some respects, also, we use twitter handles in badges and praise the high users of Twitter at conferences. Is that not alienating those who don’t use it? That’s more what I meant by overvaluing- if that makes sense.

  6. As I wandered around ACUI14, I realized how many people I interact with weekly on Twitter were not actually part of my ACUI Family. I realized that there are so many wonderful folks that either don’t do Twitter, or just aren’t big social media folks to begin with. I spent a lot of time connecting (as I could before I got sick) with those folks and was glad to have that face to face time.

    ALSO – I was so happy to be able to continue new relationships via social media. Starting working closely with ERF fellows and now I follow more of them on FB and Twitter whereas I wouldn’t have before we had so much personal time together.

    You are so right though, you can’t substitute one for the other. I discourage people from giving up social media completely – but also want folks to not just engage online.

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