What is it?
My view of Twitter holds that it is an enhanced text messaging service that differs from texting in the following ways:
1) The message is limited to 140 characters.
2) Links to pictures can also be sent and do not count toward the 140 character limit.
3) The only people who can receive the message are those who “follow” you.
4) It is not possible to send messages to specific individuals. Each message goes out to all of your followers.
5) Each individual message is called a tweet. A message can be segmented by placing a “hashtag” indicated by the # symbol at the end of a tweet. Tweets with the same hashtag end up being accessible to anyone with a twitter account who intentionally searches for all tweets that have that same hashtag. For instance, if I tweet a message that reads, “I love my courses at Creighton. #GoBluejays!” Anyone who has a twitter account can search all messages that were given a “#GoBluejays!” hashtag.
How might it be used for your leadership situation (education, healthcare, business, non-profit, etc.)?
Twitter may be more famous because of the number of times people have been forced to retract lamentable tweets. These moments usually come when famous people with Twitter accounts say something that one would not normally say in polite company or if the whole world is listening. Those of us who live in Indianapolis are familiar with the owner of the Indianapolis Colts sending out regrettable tweets from a bar that he is at 3 AM on a Monday morning. These can be entertaining but can also damage one’s reputation. Whether one has a Twitter account or not, these controversial tweets then get reported in the broader media for worldwide viewing over the Internet.
In spite of these ignominious moments, Twitter is a remarkably efficient way to communicate short messages to followers that can sometimes number in the millions. Pope Francis, whom I have never met, can get a message to me (if I follow him) and his other 4.1 million followers in remarkably efficient fashion. That message can then be “retweeted” by every one of his 4.1 M followers to each of their followers’ Twitter accounts. This cascading effect of the Twitter network allows for messages to spread faster than wildfire as noted in our previous week’s work on the earthquake in China.
High school teachers that I work with have noted that the use of Facebook is rapidly declining among the 14-18 group. Most of our students like the quicker and more concise format of Twitter. A teacher can use this to their advantage by requesting that the students follow them if they want to keep up on the latest happenings related to the class. Teachers can also use their Twitter account to send out useful supplemental materials – especially web links – that may add additional clarity to subject matter covered in an earlier class. Twitter is flexible enough so that individual accounts can be set up for individual groupings of students so that each class can be communicated with separately. Administratively, some schools are using Twitter to send out homework reminders, snow day announcements, weather cancellations of athletic contests, and general “feel-good” news and pictures to craft a positive public image of their schools.
Another educational use of Twitter is to use the hashtag function as a means of researching topics. For instance, if I am an English teacher at a Catholic high school and want my students to write an essay about Pro-life organizations, one method that I can suggest they consider for research is to do a hashtag search on their Twitter accounts for postings under the #prolife postings. A remarkably diverse set of articles, organizations, and individual leaders will immediately present themselves for immediate use by the students.
For a great introduction into the ways that world leaders are using Twitter see Beth Kanter’s blog here. All but one of the G20 governments have an official Twitter presence. Kanter (2014) reports that six of the seven G7 leaders have individual twitter accounts. Pope Francis (@Pontifex) is the most influential world leader on Twitter. His Spanish tweets are retweeted on average more than 10,000 times each compared to Barak Obama’s average of 1,400 retweets. Modern politics has become acutely aware of the “sound bite” nature of today’s political discourse. Twitter is tailor-made for such sloganizing. This is not only true of countries and states but also true of any communication to smaller organizations and groups. Leaders who are committed to communicating a vision can use Twitter to reinforce the elements of this vision for all members of the community and thus build understanding of their hopes and dreams for their organizations.
(3) What are downsides to using it?
The downside to using Twitter is that it is, by nature of the application, a one-way conversation. While it is a good way to get a message out and to begin to get others thinking about issues, it is not to be confused with a conversation one would normally have with a small group of people. The messages are by nature short. This makes it difficult to discuss complex issues in any sort of detail.
Kanter, B. (2014, June 25). How Do World Leaders Use Twitter? New Findings from Annual Twiplomacy Study. Retrieved from http://www.bethkanter.org/twiplomacy2014/#sthash.xHn12lnp.dpuf