For the last few days I've been participating in the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME, twitter hashtag #CCME13). The conference involved a lot of hype around the use of social media. I saw many people stretching beyond their comfort zones to explore social media, and specifically, Twitter. People want to know what this twitter things is all about. Personally, I really appreciate that people are willing to try.
Unfortunately, the exploration often goes something like this:
1 – Get a twitter account
2 – Learn how to search the hashtag
3 – Experiment with sending a tweet to a friend
4 – Follow the conference hashtag for a few minute
5 – Decide the information received is of limited use
6 – Conclude that twitter is dumb
As someone who has been active on twitter for some time, I've left feeling like they just didn't get the point. Twitter is not necessarily about individual tweets, it is about a community of people sharing.
When I first created my Twitter account, I didn't get it either. I did not see the value in it. Then someone introduced me to #LRNCHAT (http://lrnchat.wordpress.com/ ). Every Thursday night for 2 hours, learning professionals get together to participated in a facilitated chat. The facilitators post a stream of questions and anyone who wants to can join in the conversation. There are many idea leaders from the workplace learning community on LRNCHAT, so joining in on the conversation is a way to connect yourself to the community. I loved that I could chat with the well known authors and leaders, as well as other instructional designers who share my passions and frustrations with the profession.
I've now found a different type of learning community, #PHDCHAT (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23phdchat). PhDChat is a community of PhD students and early career researchers, who provide support for one another. Although there are regular chat times, it is more of a continuous support community. When I need a break, I check-in to see what is happening on PhDChat, provide congratulations to anyone who has announced an important milestone, and answer any questions if I feel that I can be of help. If I am feeling isolated in my PhD experience, I can reach out to this community and know that I am not alone. If I have a questions about a tool or research method at 2 a.m., I can reach out to this community, and often (not always) get an answer, usually within a few minutes of posting! Again PHDCHAT is about a community.
Conferences that have hashtags provide an opportunity for community to form around the conference. Tweets from the conference allow those who are not there to learn key nuggets of information from those that are there, but in many ways, that is a secondary benefit of tweeting a conference. More importantly, tweeting provides a way for people to connect with one another. At a conference with over 2000 people, it isn't easy to "bump into" that person with a shared interest, but if both of you are tweeting, then you can arrange a time and place to meet. If you are going to a conference and don't know anyone, Twitter can provide a way to connect with people so you aren't eating all your meals alone.
In summary, Twitter isn't just about a one way flow of golden nuggets of information. Twitter is social media – it is about connecting people with a shared interest, in a format that welcomes all. Anyone can join, anyone can lurk, and anyone can participate. That's why I tweet!