Social Media and Social Work Part 3 – Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter is the predominant ‘microblogging’ platform. Microblogging is a form of sharing thoughts, links and messages in short sentences and phrases. Twitter itself restricts updates to 140 characters initially basing itself on the model developed in SMS messaging systems.

Think of it like Facebook’s ‘update’ bar without the rest of Facebook and you might be getting close (indeed, Facebook’s revamps are not entirely coincidental to the success of microblogging). It’s more than telling people what you’re eating for lunch, it  is about sharing links having conversations, getting feedback for ideas and reflecting thoughts in ‘real time’.

There are as many different ways of using Twitter as there are people using it. Initially, I started using Twitter as a kind of ‘RSS feed’ meaning that I followed a lot of organisations such as The Kings Fund, MIND and the Department of Health as well as the BBC  and checked on useful links they would post.

Then, some of the people updating their feeds added a bit more ‘personality’. There might be the odd question of people asking ‘What do you think of this proposal?’ or ‘Here’s a horribly prejudiced article from the Daily Mail – what does everyone else think?’ and it became irresistible to reply.

Then more and more individuals found their way on to build and share links they found interesting and to comment on the links and the articles or just provide a commentary on what was happening and what they were thinking. For me, Twitter comes into its own during ‘live’ events such as when the General Election results were coming in last year or while watching Question Time and you can give a feel of the general thoughts of a wide range of people and the sense of a shared communal commentary.

Twitter allows for public updates and that’s what it was mostly designed for but you can also send messages to specific individuals provided you both follow each other. This allows for greater privacy and interaction on many different ‘layers’.  Twitter also allows for ‘pseudonyms’ and anonymity in a way that Facebook doesn’t.

It’s beauty and it’s success is it’s simplicity. You write a message and publish it. You put @ before someone’s name to reply to them personally and a D before their name to send them a private message.

Ultimately, it’s something that is hard to explain until you try  but the most important thing to remember about Twitter is that although it is still a minority ‘platform’ – a lot of ‘influencers’ use it. That is why it is mentioned on the BBC News and in Newspaper and Magazine articles. People who create and shape opinions use Twitter and it is by far the most effective way to gain a ‘voice’ about what you do and what you want to say.

As well as accessing it through the main website (where you go to sign up), there are various programmes designed specifically to update and manage Twitter. I use Tweetdeck on my home PC  but there are many others. More importantly it is also possible to access via mobile phones which give it an immediacy. As well as text, there are ways that pictures can also be shared.

One proviso I would add is that it is sometimes easy to become complacent to the ‘privacy issues’ when coming to grips with new communication methods. It can seem as if you are having a private conversation with one other person but remember unless you specifically use ‘direct messages’, everyone can see what you write. It isn’t a place to explain in detail the people you might visit during a day at work or to discuss who annoys you at work or the type of people you don’t like working with – particularly if you are remotely identifiable.

As a platform though, I have found that it has richly complemented my blogging. I can have more interaction with readers and other organisations and social workers, users of social work services and carers  around the world immediately. As it is a platform beloved of media, you can often find channels directly to politicians, journalists and people to whom you may not otherwise have contact with and that allows us the power to put our own thoughts across.  I might put ideas on Twitter that wouldn’t make it to a full post or thoughts that come to me during the day but mostly I use it as commentary and reaction. As the user base has grown, I can see an extension of a social work/social care community that has helped me consider situations, thoughts and approaches from different angles.  It has also eased some of the commuter boredom and bus rides/waits between visits during the working day but more than the blogging, possibly because of the ease of access and the low ‘entrance’ barrier, I feel I ‘get to know’ people through the platform.

There are a few conventions that exist on the platform such as the idea of using ‘hashtags’ to ‘tag’ a post or a link. This allows subjects to be ‘collated’ so for example, #bbcqt (BBC Question Time) is a good way of collecting all posts about the latest ‘episode’ or #socialwork if there is a post of interest related to social work. I’m not a great user of hashtags to be honest as I feel they can clutter my view but that’s just me.

Another convention is on Friday to suggest people for others to follow – known as ‘Follow Friday’ and ‘tagged’ with #ff   Again, I’m not too good at actually doing this because I usually want to suggest too many people.

You can follow me here but I have also put together some lists which might be worth following if you are starting out.  Lists are good ways of sifting through some of the potential information overload and organising groups of people into different ‘categories’.

These are my lists which might be good ways of ‘starting out’.

One for Social Work (social workers or issues related to social work)

One for Social Care (broader list of social care campaigners, people and organisations)

One for Mental Health (users, professionals and organisations related to mental health)

One for Politics (journalists, campaigners and organisations related to political views).

Obviously there is some overlap.

Yesterday, I asked on Twitter for suggestions of ways that social workers and social work students found Twitter helpful and here are a selection of their responses

@OSPEuk I use twitter to set tasks/ forward useful info / journals to social work  students &a ct as virtual off site practice educator

@tasha_adley gives those debating entering the profession more of a genuine insight into the career and good reading material

@mzsocialworker1 to “meet” others SWers from all over the world, to build an online peer-support network, to access interesting blogs and SWinfo

@dougaldoug Partly as a news feed (that’s main reason I use twitter generally),partly to get insight into SW’s experiences in a new way

@tostaygold advice & support from peers; I find particularly beneficial as nqsw when finding feet

@andrew_ellery limits feeling isolated. Source of realtime news. Puts sw’s in control of image portrayed 2public. Share international knowlege

@wiggyhug Twitter has helped me to connect with other social workers who want to harness social media= so I’m less isolated. + I feel more informed

@lizzydripping to share and access interesting documents and news, peer support and contact with people whom i would not have access to

@fluffosaur to find other social workers! to communicate with organisations (@tactcare, @natfin1 etc.), event planning

This is a brief guide related to my own use of Twitter but I’d welcome comments about the experiences of others.  If you want to read  more, there is a great article here about  how to use Twitter.

You can read the rest of my series on Social Media and Social Work here.

Part 1 – Blogging

Part 2 – Social bookmarking

Next week, I’ll be looking at Social Networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook and Forums