Twitter Summit – 3/10/2014

Is it possible for a large group of people to share their thoughts all at once and also be heard, again, all at once? In a debate or public forum, topics are discussed by a few speakers, albeit with highly structured arguments. However, the main issue with a public forums is with the many bystanders or listeners in the crowd—their voices are often never heard due to time limitations. While a speaker may cover most of the main points for consideration, it is possible for some points to be left out of discussion, which prevents the discussion from reaching its full potential. In my upper-division “Writing for Your Profession” class, we attempted to use Twitter as an alternate means of communicating ideas with a large group of people.
The goal of our Twitter Summit was to discuss topics in interdisciplinary writing and social media for around an hour. Scholars from around the world were invited to partake in the discussion with our class. We used the tag #wrt4pro, short for “Writing for Professional Development” as a means of keeping our discussion anchored and accessible. Each topic was proposed by a student as a question.

The 140 Character Limit is Not a Disadvantage

It seemed odd to me at first—why would a large group of people discuss a topic with each other through a medium which directly limits the number of characters each person can write? Limiting each person’s response length would seemingly prevent people’s complete thoughts from being heard, which is not conducive to a full-fledged public forum. And at first, some truly found the 140 character limit to be challenging to work around.

But as the discussion continued, we began to realize that the 140 character limit wasn’t all that bad. In fact, the character limit forces Twitter users to think harder about what they post on the internet.

Posts must be short and to the point, and if they wish to be successful, must present themselves in an appealing fashion because it is easy for one single tweet to become lost in a sea of tweets. Incorporating attractive elements such as discussion on trending topics or stylistic writing can catch another user’s eye, leading to more popularity for your post.

Everyone Gets Lost in Discussion Sometimes

It’s important to acknowledge that no individual will remember every single point that was made during a discussion. Discussions in public forums might follow a more linear path of thought, with more clear connections from point to point. In a Twitter summit, it’s easier to get lost on different tangents when each question posted allows users to respond at any time, whether said question is the center of discussion or not.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable to fall behind in discussion, but with Twitter, there’s a solution. Since each post is stored on the internet, it’s always possible to go back and look at the tangents you might have missed during the discussion. Our class stored the entire Writing for Professional Development conversation on Storify here.

General Ideas for Communicating via Twitter

Social presence is also important to having a user’s thoughts heard—a social presence is akin to having a second identity, a strong social presence (with many followers/subscribers) gives a person general authority in that people will be more willing to listen to a person with general authority in the social media realm. When communicating over Twitter, it is important to remember that the entire internet world is your audience. If general social authority is your goal, be sure to stop and think before posting, and how it could potentially affect your following. Controversial posts might result in people unfollowing you on twitter.
Additionally, follow basic twitter netiquette. This includes avoiding too many hashtags and posts about routine daily activities. Consider keeping separate Twitter accounts for both business and personal purposes. Dell’s Social Business Connection blog has a more complete list of Twitter Do’s and Don’ts.
In the end, Twitter has its own advantages over the traditional public discussion forum, but as an ever-changing means of communication, Twitter users must take into consideration different ideas such as their personal presence, post conciseness, and professionalism.

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