April 8, 2011

Twitter as a professional social network

I've been discussing the merits of Twitter as a professional social network recently in conversation with colleagues. One of the regular objections to using Twitter professionally is that there is too great a noise-to-signal ratio. In other words, people are reluctant to get too deeply involved with Twitter because they think they will be swamped with people talking about what they had for breakfast, how their cat was sick on their auntie Bessie, or other niff naff and trivia. Professionals don't have a lot of spare time, and want to maximise the time they do have. I don't blame them. But they should also realise that Twitter can actually save them time if used in an appropriate manner.
Firstly, see Twitter as a fast moving stream. You can choose when to dip your toes in the water and when to let the stream flow past. You don't have to be online all the time, and you don't have to have Twitter on all the time. Use it when you need to, to learn, discover, share, connect and communicate.

Secondly, filter by choosing to follow the right people. There are at least three ways to choose the people you should most likely follow. 1) Go on the recommendations of people you trust. If they have been on Twitter for a while, they will know the ropes and they will know the dopes. Ask for their advice, or simply trust them and follow the people they recommend in their Twitter lists. 2) Choose to follow people on the basis of their content - look at their profiles and the Tweets they post, and you'll soon see whether or not it will be worth your while following them. 3) Don't forget that you can also discover people to follow on Twitter through serendipity. This may be because someone else you follow has retweeted them or simply because you spot them online. If they look interesting, follow them - you have nothing to lose - and you can always unfollow later if it all gets a little too tedious.

Thirdly, you can filter your Twitter stream by using keywords to search for specific content. You can also be very specific by following hastags for say, events such as conferences, or breaking news stories. Keeping an eye on trending topics can also be useful occasionally, especially if you want to lock into something that is breaking news. These three levels of filtering should enable you to enjoy Twitter as a useful PLN, without you being swamped with spurious content. Third party tools such as Tweetdeck can also compartmentalise content and make it manageable. You can choose what each of your columns contains, including your own mentions or DMs (Direct, private messages to you from friends).
Read more at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com

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