Monthly Archives: February 2013

How do you teach Twitter?

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week trying to find ways to show people how Twitter can make their work life easier/simpler/more fun. I’m not sure how succesful I’ve been. Social Media is a drip drip process that has to be worked on. You can’t become an aficionado overnight. But here are a few thoughts.

The Social Tweeter


I got the first year undergraduate students in my Digital Journalism class to create their Social Media portraits so I could get a better idea of how they use different platforms – if at all.

The vast majority use Social Media a lot, mainly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But they’re using it almost exclusively to keep in touch with friends and follow celebrity news (it’s not called SOCIAL media for nothing.)

A few of them are blogging or following other people’s blogs.

Soundcloud is quite popular for sharing music they’ve made and finding other people’s music. There were one or two Pinterest users who said they liked finding cute DIY ideas they’ll never use!! There was also one Reddit fan.

There were a few who didn’t have a Twitter account or who did have one “but then realised they didn’t need it.”

So the task is to get these students to realise they already have the skills and experience (in most cases) to use social media like a real journalist. What they now need to do is crank it up a bit and find out how they can use social media in a more sophisticated, more professional way. But it’s hard getting people to turn their favourite social platforms into yet another work thing!

I decided to try to amaze them with the power of Twitter as a search tool! Don’t just google “Salford” when you want a story idea or an interviewee. See how much deeper you can get with a really well filtered Twitter search! So I started by showing them a few of my favourites – Followerwonk which is a great way to search Twitter bios, Listorious, a useful people search and list directory and Trendsmap which is a fun way to search local Twitter trends. Then I hit them with the big one – search operators! This was totally new information for every single one of them. They had no idea you could interrogate twitter so closely. I handed out copies of the list of operators (one between two to encourage collaboration) and then gave them some Twitter Tasks to perform. It’s based loosely on Sarah Marshall’s MozFest social media training session but I’ve simplified it into a bite-sized chunk which I think works better with students who may need a bit of convincing about all this kind of stuff.

•Find 2 Manchester Evening News journalists on Twitter
•Find people talking in a positive way about the film Django Unchained.
•What are people tweeting about in Cape Town, South Africa?
•Find three people near Birmingham talking about the High Speed Rail link (HS2)
•Find a very recent photo or video from MediaCityUK.
The last question was a bit of a trick. I “planted” a photo on Twitter for them to find. Well, it got a few smiles….

The tasks gave the more advanced Twitter users plenty to keep them busy whilst I went round to each individual student (I had about 17 in each class) starting with the ones who were less experienced. The social media self-portraits were really useful in finding out who might need a bit more support early on and who would be able to work through the tasks independently. I was able to spend a few minutes with each student getting them started, answering specific questions, gently encouraging. I made sure to explain to them how these techniques could help in real journalistic scenarios and, crucially, help them get their assessments done.

Interrogating Twitter in this way really was a revelation to them so it was great fun for me to be able to share this stuff.

My colleague, Alex Fenton, who shares the teaching on this module, used another approach with the class the following week.  He got them all to send out one tweet using our module hashtag #DigiJourno. Even this was new to some of the students. They were encouraged to retweet the most interesting/relevant ones. Again, it was a nice, bite-sized chunk of Twitter that slotted into the theme of the session without overloading anyone. It’s very easy to put people off Twitter for life by drowning them in information! I’d tried to introduce lists and Tweetdeck but that was probably a step too far at this stage and was definitely off-putting to some in the class – although the more adept twitter users immediately saw the benefits.

And it was a revelation to the students to find themselves in a university class where you were actively encouraged to spend time tweeting!!

The Reluctant Tweeter

Away from university, I found myself discussing twitter on two separate occasions last week with friends who work in the media making radio programmes (not news programmes so they wouldn’t describe themselves as journalists). Both had had bad experiences with twitter.  One had been ordered to tweet by a manager but there was no thought-out strategy to this so the producer was left confused about the aim of the tweeting. She’d missed the one training session available. The other friend had been on a training session but it had seemed boring and irrelevant. Unsurprisingly, they both felt very negative about twitter and saw it as an extra workload being imposed on them.

The upshot of these conversations is that one of the friends is coming round for coffee one evening next week and I’m going to try to persuade her that it’s worth giving Twitter a second chance. Again, I think advanced search is the way to her heart. Show her how Twitter can help her find fantastic programme guests then all the rest will follow! You’ve got to make it relevant to people’s work life otherwise they just see it as an extra, time-consuming task they just don’t want to do.

I am genuinely excited by this challenge! I’ll let you know if I win her over. Then I’ll use that success story to work on Friend #2. Ideally, I want to spend a day at work with her putting her favourite contacts into Twitter lists…..

If you have any tips for teaching Twitter, I’d love to hear from you.