Twitter can easily be dismissed as a waste of time in time (like reality TV). Us elders are easily distracted and Twitter is so darn distracting. How does one focus on writing with that stream of comments flowing just behind your writing screen? It’s a challenge for Tweeple, but I suggest, it’s a challenge worth conquering. There’s a lot to be learned from Twitter that can’t be learned in kindergarten, college or the local bar.
You learn to be concise.
Twitter gives you only 140 characters to get the entire message across. Letters, numbers, symbols, punctuation and spaces all count as characters on Twitter. Wordiness doesn’t work. Twitter counts every keystroke and won’t publish anything with a minus in front of the word count.
At first blush, that seems impossible. It’s not, though. It challenges you to know the right word for every situation. People with a big vocabulary are at an advantage because they don’t use collections of little words to say what they mean, they jump right to it. All those hints your English teacher gave you–picture nouns and action verbs, get rid of adverbs and adjectives–take on new meaning to the Twitter afficionado.
Twitter isn’t intimidating
A blank white page that holds hundreds of words, demanding you fill in each line margin to margin is intimidating. 140 characters isn’t. Anyone can write 140 characters about any topic. Even non-writers find they pen 140 characters and more, learn to whittle back, leave out emotional words, adjectives and adverbs, pick better nouns and verbs because they need the room. Instead of worrying what they’ll say on all those empty lines, they feel successful.
Social networks are all about netiquette. People thank others for their assistance, ask politely for help, encourage contributions from others. Use this framework to learn to play well with others. Engage in the Twitter community. Greet your stream. Answer hellos from others. Be polite even if you feel like s***. Answer pleas for guidance and help. It’s all about manners.
Learn to be focused
With only 140 characters, you can’t get off topic or cover tangential ideas. You have to save those for a different tweet. Tweeple like that. They want to hear what your main topic is and your thoughts on it, not your meanderings. When you force yourself to write this way, you find it really doesn’t take a paragraph to make a point. Use the right words, people get it. Consider that the average reader gives a story seven seconds before moving on. OK, yes, that’s more than 140 characters, but not much.
Here’s an idea. If you feel you must get into those off-topic thoughts. write them in a separate tweet.
Learn to share
When you find something useful on the internet, share it with others. Copy-paste it to your stream, add a link or an image. Don’t keep it to yourself. If you benefited from it, others will too. Think big, beyond yourself. Learn to share.
Writing short messages perfects the art of “headlining”.
Writers call this the title. Bloggers and journalists call it the headline. Whatever the label, it has to be cogent and pithy enough to pull the audience in and make them read the article. That’s a tweet.
Tweets need to be written knowing that tweeple can @reply
Yes. This is the world of social networks where people will read what you say and comment. That’s a good thing. It’s feedback and builds an online community, be it for socializing or school or business or writing. Learn to construct arguments expecting others to respond, question, comment. Not only does this develop the skill of persuasive writing, you learn to have a thick skin, take comments with a grain of salt and two grains of aspirin.
#Hashmarks develop a community
Use #hashmarks to extend the reach of your comments and ideas. It’s a filing system for the stream. Use it to share and use it to research. Once you’re used to #hashmarks, you’ll wonder how other social networks survive without them.
Learn tolerance for all opinions
Why? Because Tweeple aren’t afraid to voice their thoughts. They only have 140 characters–why not spit it right out. Because the Twitter stream is a public forum, understand what you say is out there forever. That’s daunting. Take the opportunity to think about your public profile. Represent yourself well with good grammar, good spelling, well-chosen tolerant ideas. Don’t be emotional or spiteful because it can’t be taken back. Rather than shying away from exposing yourself to the world at large, use Twitter to learn how to live in it.
Break down barriers to talking to other people
It’s less intimidating to type 140 characters than raise your hand in class, all eyes on you and have to spit out the right answer. Or go to a party and have to talk to new people, or attend a mandatory meeting with a ‘social’ hour at the beginning. With Twitter, you type an answer, delete it, edit it, add to and detract from, all before you push send. Plus, it’s more anonymous with no body language or facial expressions. Just words–and not many of those. Have your say, see how others respond, have a chance to clarify. What could be safer.
Twitter is exciting, new, hip. You’ll want to use it. It’s not the boring water cooler or faculty lounge. It’s a way to engage in ways that are less intimidating and therefore, more fruitful. In an unofficial survey of Tweeple, I found out that 30% of them use Twitter to get information on a topic they’re researching. That’s like have hundreds of friends to talk to about a question. Wow.
Twitter is always open
Inspiration doesn’t always strike in that ten minute break at work or those couple hours you get between dinner and bedtime. Sometimes it’s in the middle of a meeting, at lunch, even at 2am out of a sound sleep. Twitter doesn’t care. Whatever schedule is best for you to discover answers, Twitter is there. If you post a tweet question, someone across the globe will be awake. I love that. That’s a new set of rules, uninhibited by a subjective time period.
If you’re a teacher, please take a moment to vote in this poll. Tell me how you think Twitter would best benefit your classroom if you were using it.
Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.