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A few weeks ago, someone who teaches a class on social media asked me to put together some tips for their students on ways to use Twitter. I don’t consider myself an expert on Twitter, but sheer perseverance counts for something.

Below are some highlights. Wise and worldly readers, what would you add or change?


Figure out your persona. What kind of voice do you want to have? In other words, are you a cheerleader, a polemicist, a jokester, an advocate, a fan, a critic or something else? As you build a persona, you’ll attract those who find that persona worth engaging.

What’s your niche? A niche doesn’t have to be super confining, but it should offer a first-level answer to the question “why should anyone care what you say?” For me, it’s higher ed administration. It could be almost anything, but it needs to be something: a political cause, a streak of fandom, a quirky interest. “Random thoughts of a random person” isn’t a terribly compelling hook.

What’s your goal? Mine is being involved in the national policy conversation around higher ed. Having a goal in mind makes daily decisions much easier.

Are you playing the short game or the long game? The short game rewards the sensational and the polemical, but over time, that’s a high-wire act. It’s hard to be consistently provocative without, well, provoking people. The long game involves more considered tweets and responses, so it can build more slowly, but it holds up over time.

People can see your likes but not your bookmarks. Likes suggest approval. Bookmarks can mean “save for later.” If someone sends out a link to a very political piece, I’m much more likely to bookmark it than to like it; political polemics are not part of my persona, even when I agree with them.

I use Twitter partly as a self-updating annotated bibliography. People tweet out links to articles, usually with a one-sentence summary or commentary. As a research tool, that’s unbelievably useful. Contribute when you can, by linking to good pieces with one-sentence summaries.

If you respond to tweets with questions, keep the questions short. Don’t try to play “gotcha.” Short and clear questions invite actual responses, which can lead to actual conversations.

Amplify folks who need amplification. It’s good manners.

Read people who are different from you. I’m a middle-aged cishet white guy; I learn a lot from following people outside of those categories. They see things I don’t see. Learn not to take some statements personally.

If you get critiqued, try to understand before responding. Don’t feed the trolls.

Open-ended questions that aren’t loaded can be great for discussions. Just make sure to check back in when people respond. Even a simple “Thanks!” goes a long way.

You don’t have to be certain about everything. Honest expressions of uncertainty can lead to great conversations.


Wise and worldly readers, any thoughts?

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