What should @edgehill do on Twitter?

Following on from my post about growing usage of Twiter, today I’ll look at how we might use Twitter at Edge Hill.

We set up an account for Edge Hill back in May and since then we’ve used it mainly to publish links to news stories (using Twitter Feed), and occasionally interacting with people.

The number of followers has crept up – 174 at the time of writing – but many of them are other universities and colleges or possible spammers. Admittedly numbers aren’t everything but I think that’s indicative of us not using Twitter as well as we can.

So what are other universities up to? In the UK it seems largely similar to us. Some are purely automated, others have teams managing tweets and responding to replies. Two that are fairly typical are Keele University and the University of Bath. The latter has, however, experienced an unexpected boost – UniofBath tripled their followers in under a week. How – because a load of snow dumped down on the city last week! As Alison Wildish explains:

[…] The bus and train services ground to a halt and as a result the University closed. During the morning the Communications team posted messages and updates on our internal homepage AND on Twitter. Alongside this the Customer Services team at Bath Bus Station updated their own Twitter account with the latest news on the buses. Both streams of information proved invaluable and as the day went on the number of ‘followers’ increased.

So what Edge Hill needs is 2′ of snow? Maybe it would help, but while that might be an initial draw, as Alison acknowledges, it’s not going to keep people coming back. What if the snow doesn’t come? How should we promote usage of Twiter?

  • Announce that we’re on Twitter: it’s only just dawned on me, but we’ve never made a formal announcement. Bath did this on Thursday mid way through the “crisis”.
  • Connect Twitter with our systems: we have the GO portal which could easily have a panel for our Twitter feed (it can already using RSS but let’s make it more accessible).
  • Diversify our messages: not every news story will interest everyone (sorry Paul, Angie and Mary!) so we should feature a broader range of the things going on at Edge Hill – events, conferences, open days, sports results, alumni – the list is endless.
  • Create a network of Twitter accounts: it’s quite likely that not everything will fit neatly into the main edgehill account – how about an account for the Students’ Union? SOLSTICE Conference have an account too, so let’s get them working together.

The likes of Chris Moyles (who’s added 40,000 followers in a week) are appealing to Edge Hill’s core demographic so we can infer that there must be some more students out there using Twitter. Let’s go find them!

26 replies on “What should @edgehill do on Twitter?”

  1. Hi there Mike

    Thanks for the mention of Keele’s twittering! I think it is potentially a very useful tool. I’m enjoying the interaction with students and alumni, but what is also interesting to me is having an RSS feed of the Twitter search for Keele – it’s amazing what you can find out 🙂
    Awareness of Twitter is definitely growing and people will increasingly expect to find their university on there.

    It’s also good to find out what other institutions are up to – I learnt about a very interesting Edge Hill course via Twitter just yesterday!

    Take care
    Hannah

    Media & Communications Officer
    Keele University

  2. On the other hand you might like to read the Charlie Brooker piece: ‘Another day wasted as I turn to the Twittering classes…’ Guardian G2 Mon 9 Feb. Brooker decribes Twitter as: ‘a monumentally pointless “social networking” thingamajig that lets you type 140-word ponderings or questions to an audience of other timewasters.’

    And is the fact that Chris Moyles has a Twitter audience really a recommendation.

    The Brooker piece is well worth reading – you could find the link on the web but why not take time, sit down read and think

  3. Brooker also says “Like most meaningless indulgences, it sounds fairly nauseating to anyone who hasn’t given it a go, but once you’ve “got it”, there’s something strangely compelling about it. It’s the online equivalent of popping bubble wrap.”

    And he’s been using Twitter to tell people how The Guardian cut his column this week

  4. Indeed Twitter is a “‘a monumentally pointless “social networking” thingamajig” until you really start to use it. 🙂

    Last week it proved an invaluable way for us to spread the word about the campus closing at the University of Bath and it provided an excellent channel for the local bus station to advise people about travel problems.

    I think Mike’s mention of Chris Moyles merely highlights the number of people using the service. If 40,000 young people have accounts surely its worth a University considering it’s use of it?

  5. I’ve been using http://www.tinytwitter.com/ on my mobile (no iPhone for me) for a few weeks. Last week, I needed to travel on the Merseyrail rail network. This can often be problematic.

    I searched twitter for information. What turned up was a UK trains disruptions service for Twitter: http://uktrains.pbwiki.com/FrontPage I followed and immediately started receiving alerts of disruptions on my mobile through the Tiny Twitter application. The service will let you follow most of the UK rail networks.

    The service get’s information from BBC Backstage’s travel feeds. As from yesterday they are trialing “crowd sourcing”, http://uktrains.pbwiki.com/Crowd-Sourcing, enabling people to retweet problems as they happen.

    Services are popping up all the time. We could tweet timetable information, lectures, rooms, changes, cancellations etc.

    Monumentally pointless?

  6. Much of the power of microblogging is in casual communication between a group. For me, Twitter and Facebook updates replicate what I miss most from my student days – walking to and around campus and ramdomly bumping into and chatting to a wide range of friends, and people I sort of knew, and therefore feeling more like part of a community. Maybe that enhancement of feeling like part of a community is what the technology can do at Edge Hill?

    I like Gartner’s Hype Cycle diagram – http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/08/18/where-are-we-in-the-hype-cycle/ – from 6 months ago, which places Microblogging on their Hype Cycle. Even then we can see it creeping up into the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’, and I guess the publicity over the Hudson Crash reports – http://www.editorsweblog.org/multimedia/2009/01/twitter_first_off_the_mark_with_hudson_p.php – and the Stephen Fry interview have ‘fast-tracked’ it in 🙂

  7. Oh dear,
    I always knew it was going to be risky, an agnostic raising perfectly reasonable doubts at the equivalent of a revivalist meeting in the bible belt somewhere in deepest rural Tennessee. To mis-quote Mandy Rice Davies: ‘They would say that wouldn’t they.’ If you are a fan of twitter you are going to be an enthusiastic, evangelical born again – but like born agains I detect a lack of criticality, at times a degree of skepticism can be a healthy virtue.
    Let’s examine that famous justification for the social utility of twitter. It enabled the University of Bath to put out on its twitter account a notification that due to snow the university was closed. This is not so much a Pauline revelation as a Homer Simpson moment. Inches – sorry centimeters of snow, nearly gave away my age there allowing entusiasts to dismiss my views as antediluvean, Bath grinds to a halt like the rest of the country, public transport ceases to function. However I guess because of this extreme weather – almost a generational event, modern undergraduates don’t know what snow is and don’t know what to do – and because they have had initiative bred out of them they are unable to take decisions for themselves. Nothing on Facebook, log on to twitter find out what is happening. University Closed, Lectures Cancelled. DOH!
    Some interesting comments on the Edge Hill forums -students disappointed that there was no snow -so they had to come in for lectures. This at least demonstrates that Edge Hill undergrads still have initiative – if there had been lots of snow they – like the population of London would have enjoyed a snow day.

    If we are already getting complaints about students misusing public access computers on campus to browse Facebook – how much greater the potential of twitter to waste time and tie up resources. It’s not as though twitter is resourceful – looking at the Bath Buses site what does it tell you – It’s been raining a lot, rivers have a lot of water in them, some roads are near rivers, they aren’t flooded yet but they might be. If the roads do flood we might not be able to get buses on the roads. Another Homeric bolt of lightning – followed by others – in the morning there’s a lot of traffic on the roads and buses might be running late.

    The twitvangelists will undoubtedly argue that there are all kinds of useful learning things you can do with twitter but this is just about as vague as the banter of the false prophets lining the streets of Jerusalem in the Life of Brian. I have no doubt that there are lots of useful learny type things that you can do on twitter but you can probably do them just as well in other ways. For one thing you couldn’t develop a series of arguments like this.

    However I now find that I have broken one of my basic principles – however much fun it might be to bait the doorstep God Botherers you can never win. Fortunately the virtual nature of twitter means that, unlike earlier 19th century religious enthusiasts, they can be safely enclosed in the 21st century metaphorical asylum on the top of the moors, leaving us agnostics to read books or go for walks in challenging real places where they might need to fall back on their own resourcefulness.

  8. As Baldrick might have said this was, all along, a cunning plan to demonstrate that arguing with doorstep evangelists is a thankless and pointless activity.
    QED

  9. Bashing Twitter seems completely equivalent to walking into a room full of people having a conversation and loudly dismissing everything they are saying as irrelevant.

    Perhaps it is to you, but don’t labour under the misapprehension that you are required to participate.

  10. What a strange St Scholastica’s Day this has been. In the morning I was reading part of a poem by Wendell Berry:

    Shun electric wire.
    Communicate slowly. Live
    a three-dimensioned life;
    stay away from screens.
    Stay away from anything
    that obscures the place it is in.

    Then later, Ian’s comments, and an article suggesting that ‘Digital Overload Is Frying Our Brains’ http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/02/attentionlost.html – ‘a never-ending stream of phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, text messages and tweets is part of an institutionalized culture of interruption, and makes it hard to concentrate and think creatively.’

    All on various screens, of course. I do think there’s an enervating, debilitating quality to endless tiny bits of communication. But at the same time twitter and the like keep me in touch with a bunch of people doing outdoor stuff, and sometimes lead into debate beyond a superficial level – eg a contact I have yet to meet in real life has given me a lot insights into his Jain religion… in a series of civilised exchanges. So I guess I want to have my cake, eat it, then tweet about it afterwards.

    But to answer the question… I can’t comment on the learny stuff but, if people choose to engage with Twitter (just as they might choose to open envelopes or read emails) then we should use it as a way of keeping in touch with those who are interested in the University on some level. People considering us a place to study for a few years (weather permitting) for instance – we may as well give them the occasional reminder that we exist and link to interesting things we have to show or say. Given that this will take about 10 minute a week it’s not such a big deal.

    And a comment, most tweets that I see include links to other things, web pages, video, picture etc., so the 140-character limit isn’t the full story. The Twitterstream becomes a sort of living Google created by people (rather than the mindless algorithms of the search engines) one has chosen to follow. I read recently someone saying it’s more like the bar in Cheers than CB radio…

    Meanwhile I continue to look out for a life-changing 140-character haiku appearing in Twitter. Maybe with a reference to snow falling.

  11. Ian, I’m not quite sure that the replies have been quite as rabid or as Saul-like as you would make them out to be.

    Twitter (among many other systems) clearly has an audience, and can be utilised by institutions to provide useful information directly to that audience; regardless of any opinion, lack if initiative or scepticism, that fact remains as clearly as the sneeze of Leviathan in the dark of night. As a non-academic employed not in thrall of the pedagogic services I have no opinion on the learning activities which may or may not be possible with Twitter, but I can comment on the utility of a short-turnaround message system from a bus company whose services are essential for actually getting to and from a University surrounded by acute geography and the easy and early provision of notification to staff and students alike that yes, they can go home without penalty.

    It is also, of course, not as if there is some Abrahamic sacrificial challenge occurring and other parts of University output are designed to suffer but a complementary part of the existing communications channels.

    However, I now find that I have broken one of my basic principles – avoiding tedious and tenuous bible analogies in favour of clear speech, experience and evidence. Luckily I’ve been using Twitter for quite a while now and so have the evidence that it is useful for my purposes (unlike the many, many services I’ve abandoned as useless).

    Feel free to join up and try it yourself. It may not suit of course (which nevertheless doesn’t preclude its usefulness for others or for organisations). My personal non-work related username on twitter is pip.

  12. I think it’s important to remember that Twitter should not be used as an excuse to not keep improving internal and external communications at the University. It’s all well and good making announcements and alerts via a Twitter account, but you’ve got to keep in mind that you’re probably targetting a very tiny portion of your audience – a very small subset of those people who will see the information were it to go on an intranet or an email. Even Chris Moyles, who has spent at least 4 or 5 days on air now pushing his Twitter account mercilessly, only has ~50,000 followers from a listenership of over 7 million. At Warwick, our Twitter presence (@warwickuni) has 203 followers from a combined student/staff population of over 20,000 (and I wonder how many of these followers are other institutions!)

    If you’re struggling to communicate with your stakeholders, I don’t think that Twitter in the answer – as a personal gripe I can’t stand it when institutions auto-update from an RSS feed with all kinds of mundane tripe! While Twitter has its uses, to communicate with a tiny subset of your audience, I’m not sure it’s worth wasting any time on that should really be spent improving communications in other ways. At the end of the day, institutions using Twitter probably reeks of a Creepy Treehouse when students see it – like when your dad adds photos of his nights out on Facebook.

  13. Mat,

    I’m not sure anyone has suggested Twitter could be a replacement for improving communications. Yes, you are probably only targetting a small portion of your audience but the same could be said for putting a notice up on a noticeboard. It can compliment other forms of communication though and for that reason I certainly feel it’s worth investing a couple of minutes to post updates.

    The great thing about Twitter is you don’t invade peoples space. If you are interested you follow. If you feel it’s ‘mundane tripe’ then don’t.

  14. I guess if Twitter still sent text to phones (outside US) it would be more useful for information-giving.

    I’m with Peter B on the value of casual communication – brief exchanges in corridors, the odd chat over coffee, some random banter via Twitter – it all oils the wheels. Heck, it’s part of being human, or ast least of having pleasant work/study places.

    There are people in the Uni who I have got to know primarily through Twitter and Facebook (which are linked up in my case) – as well as being ‘nice’ this also means I have working relationships with those people that can kick in when needed… we can bypass the pleasantries and get straight into advanced debate!

  15. Thinking that this thread of comments illustrates a very good point.

    Twitter is one communication method, that many people opt in to, one of a rash. Statistics show that other methods such as email, rss and mailshots are very hit and miss.

    As Alison suggests, one opts in to follow, therefore shows an interest and then engages with fellow twitterers, which leads to sometimes mundane, but often enlightening conversations and contacts in real life.

    Surely pedagogy is all about inspiring interest, engaging others and having a dialogue? (140 characters or not)

    Twitter is merely a platform, which may well be replaced by something newer or flashier soon, but for the meantime serves many purposes to many people. As Peter B suggests, possibly a campus identity, in my experience, business contacts at other Uni’s (never known about until Twitter) and from a personal perspective, a whole world of information, in bite size chunks that I can choose to take or leave, on my terms.
    (And raising a shed load of money through twitterers coming together all over the world tomorrow night – http://www.twestival.com)

    Ian, you may want to consider the 5 stages of Twitter http://blog.mrtweet.net/the-5-stages-of-twitter-acceptance-where-are-you-at article, reminds me of the change management curve a little. Nothing wrong with being at Stage 1 of course, provided your lack of understanding doesn’t cause you to make generalised, sweeping statements about something you’re not willing to engage with.

    That said, I’m all for book reading, there are some great 140 character reviews on Twitter if you’re interested?

  16. Interesting…………
    but apart from Roy I appear to be in a blog of web developers there ought to be a collective noun for such a body. So am I convinced? I was asked if I was a twitatheist or a twitagnostic – there’s a certain lack of elegance here – how about atwitheist and twitgnostic? As I’ve been offered the choice I think I would always go for twitgnostic as any idea of rejection are based on gnosis -knowing or being acquainted with.

    And then I’m rudely interrupting a room full of people conversing and loudly dismissing everything they are saying as irrelevant. I would never do that but I get the distinct impression that I’m the little old wine drinker at a Temperance bash. As I said earlier I feel like I’m talking to the equivalent of bible belt fundamentalists who can preach – usually to the converted but who find it difficult to develop a more constructive dialogue.

    “Is your Twitter really necessary?” that’s all I want to know – are you (3rd person plural) simply using it because it is cool / because everyone else is using it / because it’s the latest must have. Is Twitter then nothing more than the electronic equivalent of the Burberry baseball cap? You can, if you think hard enough, convince yourself that it really does work and makes a difference to everything – a bit like gears 13 and 29 on a 30 speed gear mountain bike.

    Perhaps I’m not rudely interrupting the room full of people conversing -I just don’t understand as I’m just not too good when it comes to people speaking in tongues. Perhaps then Twitter is just not the platform for me – after all it doesn’t appear to support – or be compatible with some of my favourite platforms: parody, irony and self-deprecating humour.

    Now just to prove that I find some new technologies useful in my work with beginning history teachers have a go at solving this Enigma:

    Eisenhower SHAEF May 31 1944.
    673728466 / 68375673

    46927466 / 46646368 / 337363368 / 8766 / 7388533 /
    9328437 / 9 /

    2777622437

    4663 / 5825 / 464 / 77333

    answers when I get back off holiday a week on Monday.
    Your average 14 year old can usually solve this in about 10 minutes.

    If you can’t wait until then you can always follow the link and order the book – a valuable platform which does support parody, irony and self deprecating humour:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Teaching-History-Developing-Reflective-Secondary/dp/141294791X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1234375132&sr=8-1.

    Solution on page 78 by the way

  17. There are only three “Web Developers” in this discussion, so my 10 and 7 year old tell me (and I had to tell them I was one of them – d’oh!) unless, that is, the Media & communications officer, Designer, Web services Manager, Sys Admin, Librarian, Marketing Director and Learning Technology Development Officer are all moonlighting…

  18. Charlie Brooker is still tweeting, and he’s following Graham Linehan and Peter Serafinowicz (Brian Butterfield himself)

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