Thanks for reading SmartBlog on Education’s Friday Feature. We’re here to help educators like you engage, innovate and discuss. This week, veteran educator and SmartBrief contributing editor Tom Whitby provides a framework for expanding your professional network using Twitter.
For those who do not know, here are two basic Twitter principles: 1. If you only follow ten people, you will only see the general tweets of those ten people. 2. If only ten people follow you, only those ten people will see your general tweets. Although some might argue that the right ten people might be enough, I would argue that ten educators is a very limited professional learning network. The never-ending task of building a PLN is to continually follow really good educators to get the information they put out.
I often say that the worst advocates for using Twitter as a PLN are power users. They come up with numbers, time on task and strategies that overwhelm and blow away the average Twitter users, not to mention how they scare off any novice. The accomplishments and numbers of power users tend to intimidate those who would consider using Twitter but see these numbers as unattainable and huge obstacles to success.
Building a PLN consisting of quality educators, who responsibly share quality information and sources, takes time and requires a plan. It is my belief that the people you follow are far more important than those who follow you. That doesn’t mean your followers are bad or have no value, but quite selfishly, they do not fit into the focus of what a PLN is designed to do. It is created and maintained to provide you sources and that only comes from those who you follow. Of course you should share those sources with those who follow you, but that is another blog post.
How do you find those quality educators to follow in order to add value to your PLN? It is much easier to do today then it was when Twitter first started. A rule you should always follow is to check a person’s profile before you follow. You can view their profile, making sure they are a professional educator, and see a sample of their tweets before committing to them. An easy way to follow people is to take note of who is most often being retweeted and follow him or her directly. Another good tip is to follow your favorite education bloggers. Most are on Twitter, and many have “Follow Me on Twitter” icons on their sites.
The very best sources for good people to follow on Twitter are the best people you already follow. If you select your best followers and go to their profile, you can view the people that he or she follows. A simple click enables you to follow those people as well.
Additionally, many tweeters have lists of people culled from all of their followers for the purpose of grouping. I have a list of what I call my “Stalwart List.” It is made up of all of the people I most frequently get information from. Another list I maintain is that of education organizations and publications. You can subscribe to anyone’s lists. As they are updated so are you.
Hashtags add range to tweets. If you send out a general tweet only your followers will see it. If you add a hashtag to that tweet, then anyone following that hashtag gets it. In the case of #Edchat, that could be thousands. Following hashtags will often lead you to people who share your interests. If there is a specific hashtag that you follow, #Edchat, #Edtech, #SSchat, #CPchat, etc., you may find tweeters frequenting those tweets. Shared interests may yield great sources as well as new good people to follow.
By constantly working and updating your PLN, you will continue to have relevant and beneficial sources flowing through your PLN. The one thing to remember is that you can unfollow people much more easily than it was to follow them. They are not notified of an unfollow. Having and working a plan or strategy to follow people for your PLN development is essential to grow it and increase its value.
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He previously spent 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.
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