I have not always been a Twitter aficionado (read: I hated the idea of it all for the first 5 years). However, in 2011 I was somehow convinced to create an account and my friends came up with my handle. A few saucy Packers tweets later and I wasn’t too impressed with its purpose. I didn't get what a hashtag was and thought the idea of only using 140 characters to be to akin to the textspeak I loathed. Yet, a year later I started to dig in to the Twittersphere again. I can't remember exactly what forced me to, but my hunch would be that it was to promote some Melibee Global workshops. Almost 2,500 tweets later and you can say I’m hooked. I’m now known to many as only my handle, @MidwestAsh.
How and why did this change?
The big change came in playing around with what Twitter could be used for. Still not really getting the point, I learned by experimenting with it. Maybe some folks watch how-to videos or take a class (is that possible?) but I wasn’t ready to make that kind of com-twitt-ment. I started by finding a few people I wanted to follow and seeing what they were saying. At first it was friends and celebrities, the typical Twitter stereotype. Were people really posting what they were eating or where they were going every 5 minutes? Not exactly. I began to realize what I was really interested in seeing was what those in my field (International Education) were talking about. So I started searching.
What did it take?
I Googled different hashtags to find out what they meant, and if I’m recalling correctly, I searched for tweets about #intled or #studyabroad. This is where the gates opened. I was able to READ the direct thoughts and issues that prominent international educators were sharing. It was like an insight into their life. Once I figured out how to reply and dialogue with them the possibilities were endless. I was making connections with some big wigs in the field and was keeping up with all the key topics being discussed. Eventually, I began generating my own content, sharing articles, and creating dialogue. This in turn attracted people to follow me.
Lessons from the experience?
I didn’t understand many of Twitters functions at first. In fact, I think my first few weeks consisted of just retweeting and favoriting everyone else. I had no idea that “DM me” meant direct message, or how to manage my time following the endless stream of tweets. Slowly, mainly by making mistakes, I figured it out. It wasn’t as intimidating or overwhelming as I had made it out to be. Thanks to sites like HootSuite and Tweetdeck managing Twitter or many social media platforms is a lot less cumbersome. I no longer spend hours a day trying to catch up on every tweet I’ve missed. However, when a big event happens I can stay alert as things unfold.
Having a consistent presence on social media has transformed my personal and professional network, opened up new career opportunities, and broadened my knowledge of events. It’s allowed me to stay up to date by the minute on breaking news before it’s shown on most other media. I’ve been contacted to guest blog on several sites, been offered jobs, and even made some really great friends. Most recently, I had the chance to connect with a huge group of my followers and people I was following during the Tweet-Up at the annual NAFSA Conference in St. Louis. Meeting my virtual tweeties IRL (in real life) was exciting and gave me a chance to finally put a real face and personality to the handles I had been following for so long.
The moral: Don’t be afraid to get on Twitter. It’s not just people sharing what they had for dinner or where they’re going this weekend. Twitter (and social media in general) can do wonders for your career, your students, and your office if used the right way. The possibilities are up to you!
Ashley Houston is a graduate student of Intercultural Relations at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She loves yoga, social media, and a good bar of milk chocolate. While in school full-time, she juggles several part time commitments, including serving as an RA at a Japanese Language Institute, Innovation Associate with Melibee Global, Managing Editor with Yoga Travel Tree, and Educator at lululemon athletica.
You can follow her on Twitter @MidwestAsh
This blog is all about social media. I hope to offer tips, tricks, advice and more on using social media within international education and international travel.