Many educators are discovering that Twitter is a great way to share information, keep up with current trends, and to have a steady stream of new and interesting ideas coming into your phone, computer or inbox. Teacher professional associations and other organisations are also recognising that Twitter can be a great way of getting their message out, forming and sustaining community online, and facilitating collaboration.
Here are the steps that I have followed in setting up such accounts, and which I would recommend to others planning to move into this area.
- Choose a Twitter name which clearly identifies your organisation. Keep it as short as possible (10-11 characters, preferably less).
- Take some time to set up your profile page, identifying your organisation (with a link to your website) and your aims/philosophy. Include your logo or an appropriate image.
- Make sure that your tweets are ‘public’ (there is no point in doing it otherwise), but check the box to be notified when people follow you (see below).
- Begin by following other organisations and prominent individuals who are in your field.
- Advertise your Twitter account in other media (e.g. print journals, newsletters).
- When people follow you, check out their profile. If they are members of your organisation or share your goals/interests, follow them back. If they are completely unrelated, block them. If they are vaguely related allow them to follow you but don’t bother following them back. If you are not sure, message them and ask why they want to follow your account. This will ensure that your followers are relevant to your aims. The credibility of your Twitter account is in large part determined by the people you follow, and the people who follow you (as well as the content of your tweets, of course). Relevance is much more important that number of followers for professional organisations (and the same is true of professional people).
- Choose a hashtag and encourage your followers and members of your association to use it. It might be the same as your Twitter name, or it could be something related (and shorter), but it should be recognisable as related to your core business. It is important to check that no-one else is using the hashtag (by searching for it) before you start publicising it.
- Re-tweet other organisations and your followers when they say something interesting, adding your hashtag if they have not done so. That will bring you more followers, and also raise the profile of your hashtag.
- The best way to start people on Twitter is at a conference. Advertise the hashtag, encourage people to use it, and have someone available to assist members/delegates with setting up Twitter accounts on their phones and other devices. Once you reach a critical mass of people using the hashtag (5-6 is enough if they are reasonably active, 10-12 or more is better) put up a Twitter wall on the screen at your conference between sessions (or during them, if the speakers are comfortable with that). Joyce Seitzinger has a useful list of twitter wall applications on her blog at http://www.cats-pyjamas.net/2011/06/twitterwalls-the-writings-on-the-wall/.
- Tweetups at conferences are also a good way of bringing together the people that are already using social media in your organisation.
- Twitter conversations (along the lines of #edchat) are also a good way of using Twitter to bring like-minded people together to share ideas and learn from each other.
- Tweet at least daily from the account, remembering to always use the hashtag. This shows potential followers that you have something to say, and that the account is going to be useful to them.
- Set up a Twitter newsletter using http://paper.li/ or a similar service. This creates a daily or weekly online newsletter which can be drawn from the people using your hashtag, the people you follow, or a selective subset of Twitter accounts chosen by you. People can subscribe to the newsletter by email, and it is a good way of showing sceptics the sort of information that can be accessed using Twitter.
- Set up some social media guidelines for your organisation. The industry standard guidelines are those published by Intel , and it is a good idea to consult them or adapt them to the needs of your own group.
- Managing the Twitter account should be recognised as somebody’s job. Whether it is a staff member or a volunteer, it should be acknowledged by the organisation that to establish a Twitter account and maintain it for a professional organisation should involve at least 30 minutes per day, and preferably 7 days per week. This commitment is likely to increase, not decrease over time.