Monday, February 10, 2014

Making Twitter Meaningful and Manageable: Buffer, TweetDeck, and HootSuite

Our blogger today is Dr. Stacey Schmidt, Superintendent of Porter Township School Corporation.

If you are just making the leap into the Twitterverse, you may have found that it can feel overwhelming and find yourself asking:
  • How can I manage to keep up with ALL of these tweets?
  • How do people find time to tweet throughout the day?
  • How do I manage to remember the things that I have read, find them again, and tweet them?
  • How do you manage to watch your "Home" page and find that for which you are looking?
  • How does Twitter turn from tweeting to meaningful interaction?
If you've ever found yourself asking these questions or letting these questions become a barrier to making the leap into Twitter, there are some tools out there that will help!  

First, it is important to feel like you don't have to read every tweet on your "Home" page.  It is rare that I even look at my home page!  What many find to be more useful is to find hashtags of interest and to look at those feeds.  I use hashtags like I use channels on my TV--I find some that I really like, and then I tend to focus on those.  I use some tools to do this which make it easy to follow multiple hashtags.  On my MacBook I use TweetDeck. TweetDeck allows me to have several columns open showing multiple hashtags (you can set the columns to follow what you want them to follow). Right at this moment, this is the view from my TweetDeck account:

You can see that in a matter of seconds I can scan interesting posts and retweet, reply, click on a link, or favorite something of interest.  This tool helps me to make sure that Twitter does not consume too much of my day.  I can glance quickly when I have a passing moment and then move on.  On my iPad and iPhone, I prefer HootSuite.  It is the same concept, but works well on those devices.  When you sign up, all you will need is the free account.

TweetDeck and HootSuite help to provide maximum functionality for Twitter feeds, but they don't help me to Tweet.  I have found other tools that work well for this.

I don't know about you, but I love to read.  In the book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, she states, "The great teachers believe in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning."  Through Twitter I have been able to build my own professional learning network, and part of what I love is sharing and interacting on the things I am reading.  Sometimes it is a book I'm reading and other times these are blog posts or articles online that I find mainly through what I am following on Feedly (an online newsfeed reader--which I also love).  I typically read early in the morning before my day has really started.

When I find something that I want to keep, I add it to my Evernote notebook for great things I have read.  When I find something I want to share, I use Buffer.  Buffer is free to join for the basic account, and really that is all you need.  Once logged into Buffer, you can share via the Buffer webpage.  This is what my Buffer webpage looks like right now:

You can see that I have set up my Buffer account to post hourly and that I have 5 posts scheduled to go.  The content of these posts was from articles and blog posts that I had read last night and early this morning.  Through Buffer I can share these posts just to Twitter or I can also share them to my Facebook account, my LinkedIn account, my Google+ account, or any combination I choose.  You can also add other accounts.  Buffer makes my Twitter posts seem like I am reading all day and really on top of the game, when really I spent a matter of moments scheduling these things to post and not spending another minute thinking about it all day.

Buffer has a browser extension that I find very helpful.  When I am on a page that I would like to share, all I have to do is click on the Buffer icon that looks like a stack of three squares in the top right corner.

When I do that, a window pops open which will allow me to add appropriate hashtags to the post.  I can then pick the "share now" button if I want it to immediately post to Twitter or I can select the "Buffer" button which will add it to the bottom of my scheduled list of posts that will tweet out on the schedule I have set.  I can also set a custom time for this to tweet.  This allows me to add things I am reading to my Buffer so that I don't have to try to remember where that article was online that I wanted to share with my professional learning network.

That helps me keep Twitter manageable, but to get the most out of my postings I also need to interact with others on Twitter.  I try to schedule in 5-10 minutes at the end of every day to check my "Connect" tab in Twitter.  If someone has replied to a tweet, I will reply to them. If someone has posed a question on a tweet, I take time to respond.  Throughout the day if I see something that comes through my TweetDeck that is of interest, I take the time to reply or retweet.  This has allowed me to meet people from all over the world and make connections that have improved me professionally and have brought resources that others have to offer to my school district.  I never would have grown the way I have this year if I hadn't made the leap!  

I was reading an article (today in fact) about how student group work has changed as they use Twitter. Now, rather than interacting and drawing upon the knowledge of the 4 people in your group, one can access the collective knowledge of people around the world through Twitter.  This week I read about a superintendent that had a very different interview process that enabled him to leverage the power of their professional learning network--a community which included people from all over the world.

As educators, we need to have the passion, drive, and energy to want to learn more ourselves.  We need to model our love of learning to our students.  How are you developing yourself personally and professionally, and how are you developing those around you?

Are you using Twitter to build and communicate with your PLN (personal learning network)? Have you tried any of the tools mentioned above? Now's your chance. Try one or more of them today!

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