Twitter is increasingly being used used by educators and other professional people as a way of getting a constant stream of professional learning and interaction. It is also used by companies, government departments and non-profit organisations as a way of getting their message out and networking with their client base.
When you first sign up to Twitter there is a bit of a buzz when people start following you; not just your friends and colleagues, but even people who are friends of friends, people you meet at conferences, and so on. But you soon discover that there are also people who will follow you because they want to spam you with porn or advertisements for aluminium siding, or in the hope that you will follow them back and so enable them to get a huge number of followers.
For this reason it is a good idea to monitor who follows you, and to block people who you think might be following you for the wrong reasons. This is especially true for professional people such as teachers, and for corporate and organisation accounts. Twitter is a community, and although we each have the opportunity to make a statement about ourselves on the profile page, it is what we post in our tweets, who we follow, and who follows us that really tell the world what we stand for.
One of the Notifications settings on Twitter allows you to receive an email when you are followed by someone new. It is a really good idea to check this box. Then when the emails come in you can examine the account that is following you to see whether they are someone you want to be associated with. It is good to develop a personal protocol for this (and to be flexible about it). I look at the profile page where the person has written about themselves, and if I am still unsure I look at their recent tweets, who follows them, and who they follow.
Generally, I will block a follower from my personal account if any of the following apply:
- Their profile page is blank, obscene, or says something like “you follow me and I’ll follow you” or “on my way to a million followers…”
- They represent a commercial entity which is outside my interests, outside my geographical area, or which is not compatible with my values.
- They do not tweet, but simply aggregate followers.
I will generally follow back accounts where the profile page, feed and follow lists indicate that they share one or more of the interests which I tweet about, namely education, social media, social justice and web 2.0. I also often follow back companies and organisations in my local area, especially if I use their services or know people who work there.
The twitter accounts that fall in between these two sets of criteria are the ones who follow me, but I do not follow them.
In addition to my personal account I also manage a Twitter account for my employers, the Australian Science Teachers Association. I am a bit more particular about this account than with my personal account. I block followers who do not visibly have any involvement in science, or science education, and I generally only follow back accounts of people involved in science or science education in Australia, or large international organisations involved in this area.
If I did not have these policies I would probably have at least twice as many followers on each of my accounts. Instead, I can say that my PLN is easily discerned in my follow lists on Twitter, and I can recommend the accounts there as useful sources of information for people who share my interests and values. When I introduce people to Twitter and assist them with setting up new accounts, I can direct them to the list of accounts who follow me and who I follow as a good place to start in building their own PLN.