post by Rey Carr* (By the way, if you are a coach, business coach, executive coach, leadership coach, doing corporate coaching or business mentoring, you’ve gotta join PRN! Contact Rey Carr at his email at the end of this article, or click on the link to join the Peer Resources Network directly.)
I have a confession to make. It probably won’t be a surprise to members of the Peer Resources Network. I spend a lot of time online. Most of the time I’m searching for knowledge and resources that would be of value to PRN members. It’s not unusual for me to plan to spend 10 minutes online looking for a reference. And then find that six hours have gone by.
My latest quest has centered on finding a way to increase communication opportunities between members of the Peer Resources Network. I want to increase the involvement of members in acting as resources to each other. I know better communication is an implicit if not explicit goal in our peer assistance, coaching and mentoring work. And we continually hear from members who are eager to share their own or learn about resources provided by other members.
I’d also like to enhance the interaction between Peer Resources and members. The Peer Bulletin and our website are both highly-rated by members as valuable sources of information. Yet, the communication is mostly one-way. And the website and newsletter don’t really empower members to communicate with one another.
Over the last month we’ve been experimenting with Twitter. Could this be the solution for enhancing our connections with each other? Will this Internet phenomenon allow us to improve our interpersonal communication? Can it provide the simple, elegant, and advertising-free format we desire? And will it yield increased communication quality as well as knowledge and beneficial resources?
Many PRN members probably know the answers to these questions. Twitter has grown so exponentially that everyone has heard of it. Some people even believe that Twitter played a significant role in the election of Barack Obama.
Twitter is a no-cost social networking (or “micro-blogging”) tool that allows users to send a message of up to 140-characters to any number of individuals who have established themselves as “followers.” Barack Obama, for example, was reported to have had just over 100,000 followers during his election campaign. And recently a news service (CNN) and a celebrity actor had a contest to determine who would be the first to achieve one million followers. The actor won!
Creating a Twitter account is easy, and close to 10 million people are now “twittering” or sending “tweets” (a message) to others. Almost 42% of Twitter users are adults ages 35-49, and 62% of all users access Twitter at work. Twitter growth outpaced Facebook in February 2009, and showed a meteoric rise of 1,382% over the 475,000 users in February 2008, according to Nielsen Online.
Time-Wasting Twaddle or Creative Learning Tweeter?
Twitter has had mixed reviews. Some characterize it as emphasizing trivial and useless communication. Many users, for example, use Twitter like a diary. They send out moment-to-moment details about their movements, thoughts, and activities (“I just brushed my teeth.” “I’m rinsing now.” “The water is cool and tasty.”) Who really wants to have these micro-details clogging your inbox?
Zack Whittaker (2009), iGeneration blogger for Internet resource ZDNet, describes Twitter as “only there for the obvious idiot or the social networking junkie.” He goes on to argue that the 140 character format isn’t enough to share anything of real value…a phone call or email are much more worthy as communication tools. Twitter reduces the need for evidence, rationale, support, or elaboration and instead just focuses on short bursts of “meaningless drivel.”
Other critics acknowledge the creativity of some uses of Twitter, but write them off because they are either a novelty, short-lived or poor substitute for better forms of communication. Surgeons conducting a double knee replacement in Wisconsin, for example, sent tweets to the patient’s family members and others during the surgery. Other surgeons could tweet back questions. One critic wondered whether the patient would be billed for each tweet. Another wanted to know whether Internet multi-tasking interfered with the surgery.
A man whose wife was pregnant invented a device that would send his cell phone a tweet each time the baby kicked. He saw this as a way of increasing the communication between himself and his baby. For some reason he didn’t set up a way to find out how his wife was doing.
These unique or creative uses of Twitter are making headlines. They are mostly just examples of being the “first” to use Twitter in this way. Creative, but not likely worth pursuing. Media experts believe there are much better ways to communicate including email, telephone, and video.
Others caution that what is twittered stays twittered. However, unlike email, the Twitter account holder can delete his or her tweets even after they have been sent. But what followers do with the original is similar to email; they can forward to others, archive the message, or integrate the content into their own messages.
In addition, because of the reality of online predators, vultures, scammers, unsc rupulous data harvesters, identity theives, and Internet-surfing criminals, many potential users are unwilling to share genuine information about themselves, their ideas, or their activities (Whitty & Joinson, 2008).
Privacy concerns have led to many people on Twitter using “fake” names or pseudonyms, which, in turn, gives rise to concerns about accuracy, credibility, and integrity. It’s not unusual to see prime-time news services or print-based newspapers quoting Twitter comments as if they were a source of legitimate journalism even if the sender was bogus. Twitter users were reported as being the first source of information about tragic events in Mumbai. Others hail Twitter (and social networking) as a way to establish citizen-based journalism thus bypassing the editorial biases of corporate-owned media.
Twitter, along with other forms of social networking, is also being hotly pursued for its potential to generate commercial revenue. A new group of social networking entrepreneurs has emerged to sell their expertise on how to use these tools to make money and gain clients.
A recent email to Peer Resources from a respected self-improvement newsletter proclaimed in the subject line “Free Seminar: How to make money with Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube.” The text of the email indicated that participants in the seminar would learn, among other things, “How to use Social Media to generate MASSIVE income.” (Note: the “free seminar” was just a teaser that led to a fee-based course.) Another message on a coaching discussion list claimed that a 45-minute free seminar on “social media strategies” would enable me to “build a 6-figure business and influential brand.”
Many of these marketing campaigns prey on the lack of experience of practitioners such as coaches, for example, by using slick and compelling marketing tactics to sell their “expertise.” They create expectations that there are big bucks to be made, and they build on the worry of the less experienced that they need to “learn or perish.” The reality, however, is that very few actual claims about revenue generation are accurate. It’s likely that the only people making money using social networking are the people selling courses about making money using these social media.
In addition, many corporations, media celebrities, and entrepreneurs are using Twitter as a marketing and public relations tool in the hope of improving their business, brand, and customer base. Social networking gurus respond by saying that the majority of these efforts will be ignored or deleted by most users. They believe that the intended use of Twitter for business contradicts the fundamental value of social networking. Business relationships will only occur, they say, as a result of a successful social networking strategy.
Suzi Pomerantz, a Peer Resources Network member, MCC coach, social networking expert, and author of Seal the Deal, has written extensively about Twitter. She also teaches a Twitterclass, and is a strong advocate of the value of Twitter. On her Innovative Leadership International blog Suzi reported on a study that claimed that “blogs and social networking are consuming more online time than checking and writing personal email.” She has created an audio tutorial and powerpoint presentation for both novice and experienced Twitter users to help them maximize the value of Twitter and avoid mindless messaging and time-wasting reading. Suzi also uses other forms of social networking, and recently emailed us saying: “If you are not using Twitter, you are missing out on the most powerful and practical networking tool that exists today.”
Many others agree with Suzi. Pat Galagan (2009), an editor of Learning Circuits, the e-learning newsletter of the American Society for Training and Development, interviewed many social media and learning experts. Twitter was described by these experts as (1) a way to communicate learning (sending tweets from a conference session, for example); (2) a feedback tool for an instructor or speaker (Perez, 2009); (3) a way to establish relationships between participants in a course or learning event; (4) a way to build a professional learning network; and (5) a method for improving the ability to understand key points.
One of Galagan’s experts twittered a question to her more than 1,000 followers and learned that the top reasons they liked Twitter were: “it accelerated my learning curve; it helped me with personal learning; and it expanded my circle.”
Advocates for Twitter believe that the 140 character limit on each message actually enhances communication. Users are required to be more succinct, to get to the point more quickly, and to be more precise in their language. In addition, because the tweets are in forever cyberspace, most twitterers are likely to be more reflective, cautious or circumspect about what they tweet.
An expert on blogging for Fast Company, Marcia Conner (2008), emphasizes the value of twittering as a “what are you learning” not a what are you doing force. Her advice about how to make Twitter worthwhile includes: (1) add news-to-use (not time wasters); (2) be provoking; (3) promote something special; (4) inspire us (and not just with quotes you find from others); and (5) ask for advice.
Twitter also has some advantages over other web-based discussion forums. Twitter users can block or decline unwanted contributors to their own Twitter page. Users basically moderate their own Twitter pages. Tracking and viewing the latest updates (messages) to a Twitter page is much quicker and simpler than trying to follow a discussion on most web-based forums or comment areas.
Call to Action for Peer Resources Network Members
The debate about the value of Twitter will continue. But most experts agree that Twitter is a tool: its value is only in how it is used. The rapid growth of Twitter will necessarily include many innovative, creative, and valuable directions. It will also include many time-wasting minutes which can turn into hours. It can be consuming, and it can be addictive; and it can also be informative, provocative, and worthwhile.
We propose an experiment. We’d like to connect as many Peer Resources Network members together on Twitter as possible. We’ve established a Twitter account for Peer Resources at http://www.twitter.com/Peer_Resources
What we’re suggesting is for each PRN member to establish his or her own Twitter page (at http://www.twitter.com). Then go to the Peer Resources’ Twitter page (at http://www.twitter.com/Peer_Resources), and ask to be added as a “follower.” When added, we can go to your Twitter address, and we will, in turn, ask to be added as a follower to your Twitter page.
In addition, when you access the Peer Resources’ Twitter page, you can read the profiles of other PRN members who are followers of Peer Resources and select those you would like to follow. This process can create networks within networks.
If you already have a Twitter page, then add Peer Resources to the list of Twitter users you follow, and let us know your Twitter page so we add your Twitter page to the Peer Resources follower group.
We can then send messages to each other, and the messages will go to all the people in our network. The idea here is to start using Twitter and determine what kind of interaction works best for us. We are only limited by our imagination.
If you’re stuck as to what you might say (“tweet”), consider the vision of Shama Hyder a social marketing expert and CEO of Click To Client, a full service web marketing firm. She suggests that we think of Twitter as a coffee shop–a coffee shop teeming with people and no limitation on physical space. But you have to bring your own coffee. “No big deal,” she says, “everyday people come to this coffee shop to do their thing (write notes, relax, connect with others). They don’t come there to listen to sales pitches, but they are open to learning new things and making new friends.” (For a list of additional ideas on how to make the most of Twitter, see Shama Hyder’s article “101 Ways to Rock and Be Rocked by Twitter” at http://clicktoclient.com/blog/page/12/.)
If you want to find others to add to your own list of people you follow, a good way to find people who share your interests is to use the Twitter search engine at http://www.searchtwitter.com. This search engine enables searchers to find out who is tweeting about what.
If you want a tidy way to organize the tweets you receive, consider using a no-cost personal browser called TweetDeck that will allow you to connect all your Twitter activity as well as other social networking contacts.
Our goal is to create a mutual interaction tool that will help us share resources, expertise, inspiration, and learning in a way that benefits all members of the Peer Resources Network. I hope you will join us on this experiment by creating your own Twitter page and becoming a “follower” on the http://www.twitter.com/Peer_Resources page. Please let us know what you think about this by sending an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Conner, M. (March 30, 2008). The latest in learning fast: edu-Twittering. (Retrieved May 24, 2008 from http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/marcia-conner/learn-all-levels/latest-learning-fast-edu-twittering).
Galagan, P. (2009). Twitter as a learning tool. Really. (Retrieved April 23, 2009 from http://www.astd.org/LC/2009/0409_galagan.htm).
Hyder, S. (January 7, 2009). Why social media will never work for you. (Retrieved April 21, 2009 from http://clicktoclient.com/why-social-media-will-never-work-for-you/).
Perez, E. (April 26, 2009). Professors experiment with Twitter as teaching tool. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, JSOnline (Retrieved April 29, 2009 from http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/43747152.html)
Whittaker, Z. (April 24, 2009). 10 things I hate about Twitter. (Retrieved April 27, 2009 from http://blogs.zdnet.com/igeneration/?p=1540&tag=nl.e539).
Whitty, M.T. and Joinson, A. (2008). Truth, lies and trust on the Internet. London: Routledge. (Available from Amazon.co.uk)
*Reproduced with permission by Peer Resources Network member Rey Carr. Membership in the Peer Resources Network is available from Peer Resources at www.peer.ca/PRN.html.