5 Things Every Teacher Should Know About Twitter

Over the past few weeks, several people have asked me how to take the next step with Twitter, whether that meant joining for the first time, or taking their tweeting to the next level.

Assuming you already have an account (if not, go here), here are five things every teacher should know about Twitter.

1. Don’t skimp on your profile setup

There’s a lot to do when you first join Twitter. It’s easy to stop halfway and think, “I’ll go back and add that later.” Before you dive any deeper into the world of Twitter, make sure you’ve at least taken care of the following:

  • Add a profile photo. I recommend adding a photo of yourself (ideally, of your face). You don’t need a professional headshot, just something that adds a human element to your online interactions.
  • Add a profile description. A few words about your passions and the various hats you wear (professionally and/or personally) will help the Twitter world know who you are and what you’re about. If you’re looking to expand your online learning community, a description-less profile will hold you back.

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2. Learn the different message types

Not all messages on Twitter behave in the same way. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Regular tweets. These will be seen by everyone who follows you.
  • Mentions. You can “mention” someone by including their name somewhere in the middle of your tweet. All of your followers will see these messages, and a special “ping” will go out to the person you mention (even if they don’t follow you).
  • Replies. When someone mentions you in a tweet, you have the ability to reply. Only those who follow both you and the person you’re replying to will see your message, unless…
  • Dot replies. If you add a character before the @ symbol in your reply (the most common approach is .@, or the “dot reply”), then all of your followers will see your message. (Warning! Use dot replies sparingly, as many of your followers will only see half the conversation—and that can be awkward, confusing, and annoying. The best use of a dot reply is to share a comment—or better yet, a resource—that would be valuable to many of your followers.)
  • Direct messages. If you follow someone on Twitter, and they follow you, you can send private tweets (called direct messages, or DMs). While some things are best shared privately (maybe an email address, or a link to a private document), unless there’s a specific reason for talking on the “down low,” I prefer mentions and replies rather than direct messages.

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3. Hashtags are a simple way to achieve Twitter Ninja status

Ah, the hashtag. A source of much eye-rolling for those older than 17 and not named Jimmy Fallon. Believe it or not, hashtags have the potential to change your life as a teacher. Here are two reasons why:

  • Communities gather around hashtags. Have you ever seen #MTBoS at the end of a tweet? It stands for mathtwitterblogosphere, and it’s a way that a rather large and decidedly amazing group of math educators share ideas, questions, lessons, activities, and feedback with one another. Have a question about standards based grading? Include #sbgchat in your tweet. Need some advice or feedback from (fill in the blank), chances are there’s a hashtag that will allow you to speak into an ongoing conversation within a particular community.
  • Hashtags are used for weekly chats. Did you know that every Sunday night at 8 pm (PST), hundreds of passionate educators gather for an hour to discuss the latest developments in the California education landscape? It’s one of hundreds of education-themed chats taking place during each week, and all you need to get in is the “hashtag key” (in this case, #caedchat).
  • Bonus. For math teachers who can’t commit to a chat at a particular time of the day/week, check out #slowmathchat (details here)

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UPDATE: Shortly after sharing this post online, I participated in a discussion of Twitter etiquette. We briefly discussed dot mentions, hashtags, and retweets. Kate Nowak captured the gist of our conversation with this comment about intentionality:

4. Follow to your heart’s content

I used to watch my “following” count, thinking that if it got too high I wouldn’t be able to keep track of everything. Recently, I let go of that fear and started following whoever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to. Here are two thoughts that may encourage you to do the same.

  • Skipping tweets is not a sin. I’ve tried two approaches: (1) Limit who I follow and read every tweet, and (2) Follow whoever I want and read as much—or as little—as I want. I’ve found this second approach to be particularly helpful, especially since you can…
  • Add your favorite Twitter folks to a list. Let’s say you’re following several amazing people (just for illustration, we’ll say @jstevens009, @mrvaudrey, @mr_stadel, @fawnpnguyen, @robertkaplinsky, @ddmeyer) and you don’t want to miss a single thing they say. Add them to a list, and add that list as a column in Tweetdeck. (Again, more on that in a moment.) Voilà! Now you have a slow-and-steady stream of goodness from your favorite folks on Twitter, without restricting the overall number of people you follow.

Here’s how to add people to lists in Tweetdeck:

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5. Get better software

Twitter works in a standard web browser. It has its own free app for smartphones. It even works on flip phones (via text messaging)! But you’re shortchanging yourself (in my opinion, anyway) if you don’t download and use these tools:

  • Tweetdeck. An application for Macs and PCs, this is essential if you want to track multiple hashtags/chats/lists with absolute ease. Oh, and it’s free. You can learn more and download it here.
  • Tweetbot 3 for iOS. Are you using an iPhone? The official Twitter app has its pluses and minuses. But in my opinion, nothing on the iPhone comes close to Tweetbot. While it’s not free, when you’re talking bang-for-your-buck, this $4.99 is well worth it. You can learn more about the app right here.
  • Android users… I don’t have an Android phone (at least not after that incident with the washing machine), but word on the street is that Talon and Tweetcaster are worth a look.

Parting Shots

If there’s only one thing you pick up from the list above, make it Tweetdeck. You’ll probably be able to get up and running on your own. If not, come back to the blog in a week or so (or subscribe via email—there’s a form on the top right of the blog) for a walkthrough of how to set up Tweetdeck from scratch.

Update: One Two More Things…

Comments 4

  1. Michael, I have been part of the mtbos for a couple of years now, but I never fail to learn something new everyday from this amazing group of people. Thank you for this share. The dot@ thing is new to me!!

  2. Oh wow, This is so helpful to a newb like me who generally tunes out of social media trends (but who is trying to tune in!). Thanks for sharing.

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