10 Ways for leaders to use Twitter effectively

For most people using Twitter as a Personal Learning Network, it’s a whirlpool of conversation – a duel-band mechanism that’s disruptive, constructive, insightful and meaningless all at the same time. It’s fun and helps people deal with the flow of unconscious thought that otherwise would be silent – or go un-answered.

This is an important skill for for leaders, by which I mean those in official office.

I am not saying all leaders need to be on Twitter – it really depends on leadership style and ideology, but for those that do create Twitter accounts, should be pro-actively managing several streams of conversations, for the organisational benefit. This requires careful consideration as Twitter is ‘now’ technology offering a participatory culture if used well, and a boring monologue used badly. So here are 10 ways to do this.

What really useful ways can Leaders use Twitter?

Announcements seems to be a simple starting point, made all the better with a short explanation of why it matters, and who should pay attention. The effective Tweet works like this if you’re a leader.

1. Compose a purposeful Tweet.

  1. What is it about
  2. Why does it matter
  3. Who is it for
  4. Whats the reward

Then you are likely to see generative responses in all sorts of new ways. While not requiring 100% @replies, leaders should at least consider what was said and acknowledge a range of people in a reasonable time to their responders. Simply dumping a link, making a comment and not following up is what many on Twitter see as being wrong with leadership communication and perhaps demonstrates very effectively how little they know about their workforce. This is problematic with meta-leaders too, ignoring new voices is ignoring new ideas. Personally, I try to follow people back who ‘ping’ me, which helps me manage relationships better than simply following-back people who say nothing to me.

2. Consider your audience

“[link] this is awesome” doesn’t give any context – so likely to be subject to as much negative reaction as positive. We’ve all seen Tweets like this – “wow, check this video”. Sadly it linked to Shift Happens 1, to some it’s news but to others – where have you been! is that how you see me!

A more considered Tweet might be “[link], this still has relevance” and link to Shift Happens 1. That would allow those who have seen it to offer a more positive response and allow newer people to discover the first of several iterations.

3. Provide a context

“[link] Interesting for ESL, has new ideas in it we could use” – (everyone)

“[link] Interesting for ESL, has new ideas in it we could use #mysystem” (your system)

4. Explain the depth of the issue or problem

Twitter is a platform, not a solution – so sending people to your own reflections is now considered to be a sign of strong leadership. It’s important therefore to consider the duration, depth and extent of the likely responses. Twitter + Blog = Data that can be analysed and conclusions drawn. It might not be optimal, but for now it is a very effective way of reaching staff who are connected to the metaverse and are at one level or another responding to the several shifts in information, connections, knowledge and preferences.

5. Extend the dialogue

“[link], I’ve blogged my reflections on this issue” is an invitation to a slow blog conversation

“[link] could we use this #mysystem” is an invite to a rapid Twitter conversation.

6. Build your reputation by feeding your audience

If you find, as a leader that you have the fortune to have a thousand followers, you actually have a 1000 potential hungry minds wondering if you’re interested in them. Twitter is always more about the reader than the writer, so be mindful of what you feed them. Aspirational messages are boring, people only respond to things they see as relevant AND achievable.

7. Encourage social inclusion and diversity

Actively consider who you follow to ensure at least gender diversity and a spread of interests. This says something to your followers, it makes you dynamic, not single dimensional.

8. Help others build their PLN

Use Twitter lists, so staff can see who you follow in a structured way – #primaryteachers #librarians #mentors #inspirations etc., It helps everyone make more sense of how you see the world and how they might relate or fit into that vision. A lack of vision, lack of empathy, lack of consideration sends an equally powerful message.

9. Model Risk Taking

To encourage teachers to take risks in their classroom, demonstrate captaincy. Leaders need to help people build authentic learning networks – well beyond the local workplace. Model how to do this. Show an interest in their Twitter views – and their blogs. Timely and genuine responses from leaders have a major impact – we want you to lead us. If you don’t, avoid complaining when meta-leaders disrupt the serenity.

Leadership is earned on Twitter, through hard work and a willingness to help at a moments notice. If you’re too busy to do this – don’t assume your position of authority affords this absolutely. The Internet doesn’t care about you per se.

10. Find another platform for open dialogue

There’s nothing really wrong with not Tweeting or not Blogging if you’re an effective communicator with those under command – and already effecting these shifts in school culture, curriculum and techno-pedagogic strategy without it. Most of all, don’t hide in your private yammer-land. That network has a very different set of variables. Its useful, but in different ways. It’s not a church. Take a walk on the wild side every once in a while – see what else is going on.

Opinions that lead to change are rarely agreed (initially)

Don’t attempt to police Twitter, by hammering people if their views are other than your own with policy. You might be surprised to learn lots of people on Twitter initially met because of fierce disagreement, have now become close allies and friends. Grown ups can do that. A role for leadership is to notice both sides of the debate and help them not simply to resolve it, but find the common ground that both can use to do something useful. This might not be a visible Twitter conversation, but needs to happen. If not you might just be missing out on the best opportunity that came your way all year.

Can anyone point to leaders doing this really well? I’d like to follow them.

I don’t get Twitter!

How important is networked knowledge? Why should you learn about personal learning networks? You’re doing just fine as you are, why is it important?

As information communication technology expands, the amount of documentation, reports, papers and internet content an organisation generates also expands. This plays out in the atomised chatter of emails that it generates in the organisation.

We talk about information overload – but the process of creating information seems to create more information communication. A 1000 word report realistically means you will read 5×1000 words and get 50 emails.

Comparatively  ‘web-enabled’ common interest groups that share a common goal are able to solve problems, often with hundreds of people involved who never meet face to face.

Organising your organisation can be a crippling task. The odds of 30 people reaching a consensus, based on face to face discussion, is low. Conversely ‘web’ groups intrinsically understand participation and collaboration. They generate self-regulating organisations to solve problems (or try to) so don’t concern themselves with hierarchy or worry about failure – if enough people participate, even once, it will succeed. This is the story of Wikipedia.

Think about that. The process of trying to ‘get organised’ inhibits performance and marginalises people in the organisational process. If you don’t agree with the direction – you have to convince a critical mass to change. You are all in the one organisation, so you can’t leave and at the same time can’t progress. It’s the tragedy of the commons played out in meetings around the world every day.

I think that getting 50 people working to solve a common problem is actually quite easy. I only know it is easy because I’ve learned how to do it. We do this inside groups on Facebook, Ning and Twitter.  Its amazing how much you learn in 140 characters that you can’t from 100,000 word publication.

Academics and corporations are talking about this is as ‘cloud networking’. The goal is achieved through the people in the network. We succeed by learning how to succeed (I know, it’s bizarre).

This has a direct impact on the organisation that you work in. You have access to networked knowledge and can do more than you could without it.

What is a Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Say you are in a meeting with 10 people, all trying to figure out a problem. No one knows (or agrees on) the answer. You orbit the problem for an hour, and agree to meet again after you go and read up on it.

What if you were in the same meeting, with the same problem, and 5 of those people had access to networked knowledge instantly via the internet. 5 people ask 5000 the same question. The odds of getting traction on your problem are massively increased – as the people who reply have already read up on it, and they are not stuck in your meeting for 2 hours, more like 2 minutes.

The chances of failure are reduced as your network grows. You don’t need to know all the answers, you just need to know how to connect the question to the right networks. As a whole network, then it can take on governments. That was obvious in the Obama Election Campaign.

You have to put back into the network, but that time is offset by the amount of time you save.

The reply I give to the ‘I’m too busy, I don’t know how you find the time’ statement is “It’s easy, I don’t have to know it all, I know where and who to go to and create new knowledge from what they have.”

I don’t need to re-invent the wheel over and over. I will get help more often than I strike out . This to me is the critical thinking and network literacy skills I want my own kids to have – and I hope that they will have teachers who understand that.

It’s an almost ‘Borg’ like scenario, and I can appreciate why it seems so un-imaginable to people on the outside. “I don’t get Twitter! – What do I do?” – It’s not Twitter you don’t get, it’s the value of instant connectedness that you don’t get. Why would you?

Personal Learning Networks are cyclic. As you learn more, you build a capacity to share and do more – and there’s always someone new to help. You are not a time-lord, but it can feel like it – as there are moments where you see a problem and get an instant solution, saving your hours of ‘research’ or ‘trial an error’.

The groundswell that is seeing massive growth in educational ‘activism’ has the ability to tackle governments can also solve your ‘how do I convert a jpg file to a gif’ file questions.

PLNs don’t care about FAQs, because they can deal with CAQs (constantly asked questions). They don’t care about how they are organised because they don’t need to have anything more than and IP address to act as powerful learning nodes.

The knowledge is the network and that belongs to all of us – it’s there if you want it. Just ask.