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I can’t believe you’re not on Twitter

by Fiona Christie on February 4, 2011

Well I have to admit, I’m not actually. Although I do tweet occasionally in 2 group Twitters (Salford PGRs and CareersSalfordU), but I just haven’t got round to doing my own.  I know I should but it’s just getting round to it. I suppose I am also not sure how to approach it – would it be for work, would it be for personal use, or both? All that blurring of boundaries between the personal and professional is a bit mind-boggling. I have also resisted so far as I already feel I slip too much into constant checking of my phone for email, facebook, the weather, google maps, my bank balance etc…

Anyway enough of that;  the reason for the blog post title is that this was effectively what Justine Potter who runs her own Media company (Savvy Productions) said to the student and graduate hopefuls who attended the Next Generation workshop at the recent Nations and Regions conference at the Lowry.  She said that for her Twitter has been pivotal in getting work for her company but also in hiring staff. On the panel with her, Alex Connock from Ten Alps talked about people “curating their social network” and where better to start than with their 500+ friends on Facebook. According to Connock, the Media industry is all about “hustling”. Do fantastic work and try and sell it to anyone you can, using your social network wherever you can.  The importance of connections is very much the case in the media and creative industries but in other industries and sectors too.

This is all nothing new; people use contacts to get work. And yes, people use contacts for all sorts of stuff. Connections between people have always been what make things happen whether it’s through social media or more traditional forms of communication.

The BBC2 documentary this week “Who gets the Best jobs” confirmed that contacts and how you make use of who you know is becoming more important and is actually a grim barrier to social mobility. The clever young person who grows up in a poorly connected environment is going to find it harder to get one of the best jobs than the average kid who grows up in a well-connected environment, We have known it for a while;  social class is still the biggest barrier in British Society;  probably more than ethnic origin, gender etc…

Malcolm Gladwell in his book the Tipping Point talks about “How little things can make a big difference”. He talks about how 3 kinds of people contribute to tipping points – these are connectors, mavens and salesmen. No surprise, the connectors are people who are good at making connections with people; they tend to be people who know everyone! These kinds of people are natural experts at managing their network of contacts; they love collecting people. Gladwell talks about how the most influential connections can be made via face-to-face communication.

So whether it’s who you went to school with or how you curate your Facebook friends – we can’t get away from the power of connections. And small connections can sometimes make big things happen.

So when it comes to using social media; I think it does work best when it reinforces and enhances face to face communication.  I have a 14 year old son who is addicted to Facebook right now so I do understand the scepticism of the American academics who have damned some aspects of social media; describing some users of social media as having been afflicted by a “modern madness” and how individuals are “Alone together”; in a scenario where you could have 100s of Twitter followers, 100s of Facebook and Linked In contacts but no-one to call up to help you out in an emergency.

The battle lines seem to be drawn right now around social media between the advocates and the sceptics.  I am a curious pragmatist and I have heard and read enough to know that it’s something we just have to learn to use effectively.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Cristina Costa February 4, 2011 at 8:58 pm

wow – I like the way you describe yourself: ‘curious pragmatist ‘. I think it says so much about this business of social media. To really get it, you really need to try it, to be in the middle of it.
I must say that I was really skeptical about twitter at the beginning. How much can I say in 140 characters? For those who know me well, they know I can articulate very long sentences with a single breath – not to mention that I can talk for hours on end! – so how on earth was I going to cope with such limited number of characters? But yes, micro communication is effective. Quite rewarding too. People do read what you post and they do respond to it too. It’s amazing how it aggregates collective intelligence, and how it brings people spontaneously together. I also must say that it is the mix of social and professional that goes on twitter, which often in times makes many beginners more suspicious of this Social Media business, that makes it more effective.
It’s like bringing back some social experiences I think I have lost as I grew up back into my existence. I remember the times when a friend of a friend would easily become your friend. The dynamics between people were easier. I guess as one grows older, more serious, these connections are harder to firm. We are all busy. Online, and on twitter, conversations flow. Humor is also portrait, and in the exchanges of information, opinions and ideas people get to know each other a bit better. You get a feeling for that person’s personality, expertise, areas of interests…
It’s more than another way of networking; it also allows you to showcase and share your strengths with others. So yeah, twitter for me does work because of everything you’ve just mentioned . And also because it’s fun. I think that’s an essential ingredient of any learning and engagement activity: to enjoy what you do and show the world you do ;-)
Thanks for the great post.

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David C Roberts February 5, 2011 at 1:03 am

To tweet of not to tweet may be the question for career seekers but the answer lies in the heart of the network. Well not the network. The answer lies in the heart of your network .

Take a step back from asking the question about the value of social media, facebook, twitter, blogging, flickr, etc, etc, and ask yourself this question. If there was a way that you could be connected to some very smart and bright people who were connected to some other very bright and smart people who had lots of opportunities would you want to be?

If there was a way for people who were interested in very similar ideas and research to yours to know about the work you were doing would you want that? Would you want if these very smart and bright people knew people who had lots of opportunities for people like you?

Think about it for a moment – If there was a way to be connected to these people how beneficial would that be for you and your future career both inside and outside of academia? and there is more.

If the thought of introducing yourself, face to face, to a complete stranger fills you with dread, then if there was a way of making this happen without that dread and fear then would you be interested in finding out about it?

Often times we get confused about the products that we are looking at and forget to perceive things from a different perspective. Social Media should be viewed from many perspectives and a really good perspective is the one explained to me by Cristine Costa of the Post Graduate Research College at Salford University.

Cristine explained to me how Social Media can support your research in a wide variety of ways including, connecting with fellow researchers in the same field, uncovering potential sources of research data, sharing your ideas with supportive like mninded people, building a personal learning network of individuals who have interesting ideas and resources to share, and (for me the best bit) finding that there are very many people who are facing similar challenges to the ones that you are facing at the moment.

To tweet or not to tweet? You could always find out some more about how to network both on-line and off-line at the Research Enterprise Development Salford workshops on the 3rd of March and the 5th of April . You never know, you might just find that contact…

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Fiona Christie February 5, 2011 at 10:21 am

Thanks for the great comments – Saturday morning now so will give this some more thought. What to me is so challenging is how we use stuff like Twitter effectively so it’s not just more noise. I think it’s also a challenge to convince the sceptics to just give it a try. I am committed to trying all of this stuff and to do it all with an authentic voice and I want to get better at explaining it all to others – so your comments really help there.

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Elizabeth Wilkinson February 6, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I know how you feel, Fiona. I was put off by the insistence of some Twitter enthusiasts that if you try to separate the personal from the professional, you weren’t doing it right – or even that you weren’t being honest.

However, I now manage 3 accounts which works for me (I use Tweetdeck to monitor them all). There’s my @manpgcareers account which is news aimed at students and is fed directly to my postgrad blog, @eawilkinson which is my professional presence (mainly careers and work stuff, intended for other careers/skills people, but definitely not targeted at a student audience so shouldn’t appear on the student blog) and my own personal account (@”not telling on a work-focused blog!”) where I mainly talk rubbish about music to online friends, or post pics of my travels for my family.

I added the last two when I wanted to join in the twitter conversation at two very different events and didn’t want to self-edit or second guess what students would think of my conference comments, or work colleagues would think of my music ramblings.

So, I’d recommend a personal and professional account to get you started and if you then feel comfortable combining the two, you can always drop one of them.

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Fiona Christie February 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Thanks Elizabeth, another one of my reservations is also having the ability to do justice to having a presence on Twitter. I saw somewhere (think it was in a mag at the hairdresser’s) that there are loads of inactive accounts – where people start and then their enthusiasm fades away. But my collector impulse likes the idea of collecting all interesting stuff I notice or pick up on a Twitter account. It’s funny too – we tell students it’s good to be on Twitter (when I went to the Guardian they said it’s typical for budding journalists to include their number of followers on Twitter on their CV) but creating a positive presence on Twitter must take a lot of effort. It doesn’t just happen overnight.
So watch this space – I may be following you all soon. My colleague Tahira Majothi has just started and she seems to have taken to it like a duck to water. I also like Cristina’s point that Twitter is much more than networking but also gives learning opportunities etc etc.

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Jo Badge February 7, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Fiona – a thoughtful post, perhaps you need your own tipping point to make the move into the twittersphere? I wonder what that might be? My tipping point was a conference I attended where twitter was the back channel for some fascinating discussions inside and outside the conference. Building reputation online does take time, but it sounds to me as though you have the right approach already, in the way you are thinking about what networks you might enter and why. Noise is an important point, you need to let twitter wash over you to some extent, and certainly to turn off any desktop clients if you don’t want to be distracted. If you miss something, you miss it. Don’t worry about it. Messages to you will catch you attention and persist (@ replies and direct messages) so you can catch up on those a couple of times a day. I have a range of people I follow that tweet at different times of day, either because they only tweet at work, at home, or are in a different tme zone. You can follow and unfollow people as often as you like, so if someone is just too noisy, or too trivial, unfollow them.

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Tahira Majothi February 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Hi Fiona,

I really loved your post. I think you have raised some really valid points. As you know we discussed Twitter and Facebook previously. I was really nervous about dipping my toe in, and than I just decided to go and start up a Twitter account! Albeit for my PGCAP course.

I’m still new to Twitter so am trying to find a balance between the professional and private, between sharing information with my colleagues and my friends. This does mean that some of my tweets are hit and miss, but I am resisting the temptation of having two accounts otherwise not only would I need to invest in a SMART phone, but I fear that I may spend more time on Twitter and the lines between work and home would start to blur!

Having said that I am not on Facebook. I feel that I would rather socialise with family and friends face to face or over the phone, but Twitter appeals to me, because I have a online profile which is understated, which means that I can choose what information I would like to share and with who and I don’t feel pressure to constantly update or add pictures or collect people etc, it still serves as a useful depository of information.

Since I have joined Twitter, I have been sent direct messages about paid job opportunities at Salford and have made contacts with some of the REDS Enterprise team and Cristina’s contacts, so I do agree with David, it is interesting to mindmap people who you know, and who they know and so on.

I also am able to follow groups more readily than having to check one website after the other or from one newspaper to another. I like the format, especially how everything can be condensed into one site and it also allows you some privacy in the sense that you can send direct messages as well, provided the person you wish to send them to, is following you.

I have also recently found out about about case law such as volunteers not being covered by anti-discriminatory laws, as well as a website to help disabled people access the web easier, which was tweeted by Stephen Fry!

My Twitter account is an experiment for the duration of my PGCAP course, but I do feel that I am getting a lot more out of it in terms of news and opportunities in less than half the time it would normally take for me to seek out this information, so it has also helped to inform my professional practice.

I also agree with Cristina, it is a learning opportunity, although I really wish they would round up the characters to 15o at least!

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Gareth Morris February 8, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Fiona, forgive my bluntness but you sound like you are far too concerned with other peoples’ opinions; what they may think of you and what they think of social media. Frankly, who cares? Twitter does not work for the inhibited. You will only find the answer you are looking for when you stop dipping your toes in the water and just jump in with two feet.

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Fiona Christie February 12, 2011 at 10:24 am

Gareth, thanks very much for your bluntness. I love the way you have summed it up. You will be one of the first I will follow when I stop procrastinating on this one.

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Fiona Christie February 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Finally I am on Twitter @FCChristie

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