I am not a social media expert. I don't pretend to know the best way to gain 25,000 followers in a year. I cringe at the term "branding," at least with regards to teaching, learning and the identity of educators.
I am not a brand.
I'm surprised, then, when people ask me how to "leverage" Twitter for marketing. I've had people ask me how to create a viral hashtag. (I have no idea. It's only happened to me once or twice.) I've had organizations inquire about the best ways to maximize Twitter for professional development.
My thought is this: If you want to know how to use social media, you're asking the wrong question. Too a large extent, Twitter isn't a commodity. It's not something that I use. There is very little utilitarian value in it if I want to view it as a tool for learning. If you want a fast, efficient way to learn something as a teacher, go read a book or a journal article. If you want to spread your message to your local community, go hang out on front porches and meet the natural connectors.
People speak of Twitter as if it's a tool that one wields, like a hammer or a picaxe. But what if that's the wrong metaphor entirely? What if social media is* less of a tool and more of a place? At its most basic level, a social network is just that: a network of relationships. Human relationships. Social relationships. Messy relationships with beautiful, broken people trying to grapple with life in a technotopia.
It is, despite all limitations, a community. If you go into it with a mentality of using it, you might as well ask how to use a neighborhood or a church or a bowling alley. If you want a one-way, on-point medium, go buy some radio airtime.
So, Why Bother?
Twitter is relational, horizontal and interactive. Twitter is where I go when I want to talk to teacher friends who are also trying to do project-based learning in environments that are test-obsessed. Twitter is where I go when I want to hang out with some teachers with my same quirky sense of humor. It's also a place where people challenge my groupthink and push me to rethink my practice.
It's hard to quantify the value of Twitter. I just hopped back on a few days ago and it feels . . . odd, like I'm the awkward guy who came back to the party after leaving to hang outside alone for awhile. I kind-of expected to write a post about being back, where I described how much better life was without Twitter.
The truth is that I missed it.
No, I really didn't miss "it" at all. I didn't miss hashtags and 140 character limits. But I missed the people. I missed the teachers who, despite the separation of space, have become my friends. I missed the community.
And that's the value of Twitter. It's a really cool place to be. It's not an idea factory. It's not a global classroom. It's not a megaphone for personal advertisements. But it is a place where I can be myself and share my world and grow in the process.
*Yes, I know that social media should be plural, but I'm speaking of it as a singular concept, so I'm thinking that it might work better this way.
photo credit: UGArdener via photopin cc