We Set the Twitter Bar Too High

Twitter has been a hot topic on the blogs of many of my classmates this week, with a few different camps of opinion: those who are looking forward to or intrigued by Twitter as a tool for learning, and those who dislike Twitter as a platform and are staying far away.

As part of my learning path I want to become more proficient with Twitter…” – Mr. Hood

I loathe Twitter’s status as the platform for professional networking + discussion in education.” – Clay

I have, however, been stuck trying to identify how I was going to effectively use this as a learning tool; until today that is.” – Gary

Reading some of these posts has been encouraging- I’m excited to watch my classmates explore Twitter and discover it’s usefulness and appeal. Reading other posts has been frustrating- I just want everyone to love Twitter as much as I do!

Twitter as a PLN

In one of our classes this week, we had two guest speakers, Christine Younghusband and Ian Landy, join us to share their experiences using Twitter as a tool for developing a personal learning network (PLN). They didn’t say a whole lot that was new to me, but everything they said resonated entirely.

  • Particularly for those in remote areas, or for those who are the only (insert descriptor here) teacher at their school, Twitter can provide an opportunity to have conversations with people about the topics that are affecting you every day, and make you feel a little less alone.
  • On the flip side, Twitter can expose you to a diversity of thoughts, opinions and perspectives that you might otherwise be missing- especially if you intentionally cultivate this.
  • Twitter can allow you to form relationships with others, and even though those relationships are primarily online, you often get to know people so well that you forget that you’ve never actually met in person.
  • The resource sharing on Twitter is endless. As one of my professors said in class: If you don’t know what to write, read. I always have ideas for things to write, because the things that show up on my Twitter feed are always sparking ideas, new connections, and new questions.
  • You have support, always. If you’re struggling with an issue, want to bounce an idea off of someone, or have a question you can’t find the answer too, you’ve got a whole network to put it out too!

Bringing in people to talk about their experiences and share how great Twitter is is, well, great. But I’m a little afraid that what we haven’t been as open about is the journey and time it takes for this love to foster. I’m beginning to wonder if we may have set the bar too high.

Digital life is a lot like ‘real’ life

Have you ever walked into a library hoping to learn something specific, and found the exact book or section you need right away? Have you ever joined a new team or group, and immediately formed all the relationships that were valuable to you going forward? Have you ever begun something new, and not had a bit of an adjustment period?

I know that for me, the answer is no. And we need to remember that when we start using a new platform, like Twitter.

Digital life is a lot like ‘real’ life, in so many ways. One of those ways is that networks don’t form automatically or immediately. It takes time. The same way that friends come and go, or that you may jump from group to group before finding your people, building a true PLN on Twitter also takes time. It requires checking out a few hashtags, deciding if they provide value to you, and choosing to stay or leave. It requires following a bunch of people, and then deciding whether or not they need to be unfollowed later.

If you think about your in-person friend network, many of them are probably people that you met through other people. I know that’s the case for me. The same concept applies to Twitter. You find a few people who are tweeting relevant, helpful information. Occasionally they retweet or engage in conversations with other people, and you find that content interesting, so you follow them too. And so it goes. But again, this takes time. If you’re just starting out, you won’t wake up tomorrow with a perfect PLN. You need a bit of patience. 

My journey

I first joined Twitter in July 2011 (I had to look that one up!). I was at a Shinerama Regional Conference (#shinelove), a few other people on my team were a part of the platform, so I jumped on board too. But that’s not when I jumped on the Twitter wagon. In fact, I didn’t even post my first tweet until a full 16 months later!  Apparently, it was a municipal election that really pulled me in?

My Twitter journey really began when I found the right hashtag. There, I found a community of like-minded people having conversations I wanted in on, and my Twitter life has grown so much from there.

  • Summer 2013: I found the #sachat hashtag, which brought together student affairs professionals from across North America. It was a thriving hashtag at that point in time, and they hosted a weekly chat (Thursdays at 1pm!) that was pretty popular. 
  • Fall 2013: I asked why there wasn’t an equivalent #slchat for student leaders. This was at a time in my life when I was walking the line between being a student leader, and being a student affairs professional. Asking questions is always dangerous, and I ended up being a part of the Leadership Team for the Student Leader Collective, which hosted #slchat.
  • Fall 2014: I was heading to New York City for vacation. One of the other #SLchat leadership team members, who also worked for the organization who oversaw the Student Leader Collective, lived and worked in New York City. Without hesitation, I went and checked out her workspace, we went out for dinner, and it was like I was hanging out with someone I’d known forever, even though we’d never actually met before. That was the first time I’d met someone in person that I’d befriended online. I wrote about it way back then! 
  • Winter 2015: I started writing for Year One, a blog series consisting of “minibiographies on the attributes of wildly successful people” (unfortunately, the blog no longer exists). I only knew about the blog because I saw it on Twitter, I only knew about the writing opportunity because I saw it on Twitter, and I probably only got the job because the person who ran the blog knew me from Twitter. Did I mention that I got paid for every post I wrote?
  • Spring 2016: I attended ACPA, an international student affairs conference, when it was hosted in Montreal, and met SO MANY people in person who I had previously only ever talked to via Twitter. As I wrote back then “Attending the ACPA conference felt like a dream two years in the making“.
  • Summer 2016: Noticing that there seemed to be a whole lot more conversations about hot topics in student affairs among our American colleagues than there was among my Canadian colleagues, I wrote a blog post asking “Where’s the Canadian Conversation?“. Now, I can’t take credit for this (at all), but that kickstarted #sacdn chats, the flourishing of the #sacdn hashtag, and the creation of SA-Exchange, a blog for Canadian student affairs professionals. My network of Canadian student affairs professionals has grown much stronger.
  • Winter 2017: I sent out a single tweet looking for new student affairs folks to join me in a little mastermind group. It has since become a group of girls that I’ve come to rely on for support, advice, and empathy. I honestly don’t know what I would do without them.

And those are just the big moments. There have been so many more little moments. Articles that people have posted that allowed me to do my work just a little bit better. Conversations that sparked different ways of thinking. Conference hashtags that allowed me to learn even when I couldn’t be there in person. Answers to questions at my fingertips. And always, always, a network of people who will support and encourage me.

But it’s been a six year journey to get me to where I am today.

At the end of the day

The people I follow and engage with on Twitter today are not, overall, the same people that I followed and engaged with years ago. The hashtags that I started out with are not all the same hashtags that I follow today. Bu without a doubt, there are people who I met on Twitter years ago, who are never going to NOT be a part of my Twitter life- and who I often forget aren’t actually a part of my ‘real’ life.

Twitter can be a magical place, no doubt. And for me, it 100% is exactly that. But you’ve got to give it time and have enough patience to watch the magic happen.

Moral of the story: Don’t give up, and believe. You always have to believe in magical things, right?

Featured image by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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