How I Use Twitter

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Community, Ethics, Higher Education, Interview, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 13-11-2009-05-2008

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If you don’t use Twitter, this post will be largely irrelevant for you.  For those who do tweet, I hope it provides insight to my perspective and is a learning opportunity for others.

If you have been unfollowed by me, please take the time to read this so you can better understand.


(Tweetdeck for iPhone = I hate it. And yeah, that guy creeping over my shoulder threw me off at the end…)

I thought it’d be helpful to explain how I use Twitter, so that you better understand how my usage of Twitter might differ from yours.  I owe it to you and I want you to better understand me as a person and the motives behind my decision to cut back.

I Cut Back on Twitter


Late this summer, I was following around 750 people on Twitter, with about 2,500 people following me. (Overall, I’m a small fish in the Twitter pond.)  If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that I have never hoped or intended to follow back everyone who follows me.  For me, it’s not feasible or beneficial to use Twitter in this manner. (Everyone views Twitter differently, and you are welcome to disagree with my view, but that’s what it is for me.)

Twitter started to ruin my Facebook experience.  I would see updates from someone on Twitter,  then again on Facebook.  I view Facebook as a more intimate relationship, so it made sense to me at the time to cut the cord on the Twitter side. Also, I was receiving these updates through the @BlueFuego account, which I monitor and filter through each day.

At the same time, I have made a conscious decision to cut back on using Twitter, as it cuts into things that are more important to me, such as time with family and putting food on the table.

How I Cut Back


I started systematically removed people, using a mixture of TweetStats.com, TwitterCounter.com, and FollowCost.com.  Factors that weighed into my decisions were the volume of updates, the signal-to-noise ratio (your definition of this ratio will differ from mine), and the amount of conversations irrelevant to me or my interests.  Not a single person was removed from my following list without a combination of these tools to decide. I did my downsizing in two waves, from 750 to around 400, and then down to 200 a month later. Looking back, that number could likely have been at 250 or so, as cutting people got harder towards the end of this process. And many of those last few are the ones whose feelings I have hurt. I should have known when to stop, but, again, if you know me you know that when I set a goal I reach it.  200 was the finish line for me.

During the this time I closely monitored my follower #’s and the amount of interactions I was having with people. For every single person, I was having the same amount of @replies and interactions with them as before, but I was able to follow Twitter better by not receiving as much noise.

Methods to ‘Following Everyone’ and Information Overload

Yes, there are MANY tools to help someone follow 50,000+ people if they wish.  Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and other desktop-based tools allow a user to segment people into groups (not to be confused with Twitter Lists, which we’ll talk about in a bit.). I’m positive that every person reading this utilizes something like Tweetdeck.

For me, following hundreds of thousands of people is not valuable.  These people usually have alternate ways of *actually* following along. You just don’t see them.

Even one of the most prominent bloggers and tweeters in the Social Web space, who I respect and admire greatly, has a separate twitter account called @My100, a blank account that is used for following a small crowd of less than 30 people. This person has recently blogged about Twitter Lists, and said he refuses to use them because people will feel left out.  It’s the same for his personal account.  It’s no longer possible to NOT follow people without backlash, because the precedent has been set, so this is one way that he has been able to cut back. At face value, everyone gets followed back and all is well. *Most* people with 5-10,000+ just sit on @replies and DM’s to interact with people. They don’t read what you’re actually up to unless it relates to them.

What about Twitter Lists?

Twitter Lists have recently been added, and they provide a way to follow a group of people without “following” them.  After trying a few higher ed lists, I have found Anne Peterson’s Higher Ed Twitter List to be the best one out there, and the one that most closely resembles the way I used to use Twitter.  It’s the one I follow, and when I’m at a desk, track to see what’s going on in the community. For me, this is a great way to stay abreast of what’s happening, in addition to the @BlueFuego twitter account. I have enjoyed Twitter Lists so far, because they offer me the flexibility to “stick my head into the fire hose” at my leisure and consume tweets when I can, rather than being forced to see them. But as far as mobile goes, they are useless to me. So let’s talk about mobile usage for a second.

Why YOUR Twitter is not MY Twitter

Here’s the deal:  Your view and my view probably differ.  Why? Because the way we use Twitter is different.  More than likely, you have a desk job (right?). You are able to use tools l have mentioned above to track, target, segment and follow many more people than I can.

This month, I will be ‘in the office’, meaning physically sitting at a desk for extended periods of a day, for a total of 4 work days. Four.  If you work a desk job,  you’ll be at your desk for 19 days this month.   You already have a strong advantage over me, because you can use tools like Tweetdeck and Seesmic to stay up to date with everyone, and let them run in the background of your computer all day.

While this month is hectic for me, it’s not that out of line of most months. I’m in and out of 3 conferences in one day each (i.e. not staying to sit and listen to other presentations, which would be more like a ‘desk day’ to me). I’ll spend 6 full days on site visits for clients, and I’ll have 19 flights.

So please imagine being in my shoes for a moment. (They’re size 13) Not only am I consuming tweets in chunks, catching up between meetings and flights,  but I’m doing it while mobile (and usually, while driving….).

I’d estimate that this is how I use Twitter for over 80% of the time.  This leaves a lot… A LOT… of scrolling and filtering through my iPhone Twitter app to get through everything. And that’s not how I want to use Twitter.

The Final Straw

If you’re still with me, I hope you understand this one thing:  I don’t tell you all of this so that you will empathize and feel sorry for me.  I tell you this so that you will understand me.

Rule #1: Family comes first. It absolutely kills me to miss tweets from my wife, my mom, my brother and cousins, and other friends that I interact and see IRL weekly.  One week during September, while traveling, I heard the same question from my wife or another family member three nights in a row on the phone. “Hey, did you see what I tweeted today about work/what the dog did/your dad/etc.?”
..…silence..….
“No.”
It kills me to say that.  I value the communication and relationship with my family above all else, and the moment at which I was frequently missing their updates because they were squished in hundreds and hundreds of other updates was the moment i knew I needed to downsize.

I have never intended to hurt someone’s feelings by not following them, but my personal decision to downgrade was first and foremost about family, secondly because I was usually receiving the same message across multiple platforms, and thirdly because my personal work lifestyle (mobile) does not match with my previous work lifestyle (desk job). Yes, there are mobile people who can handle it (at least at face value), but that is not my style.

What could I do better?

A LOT.  I could manage my time better.  I could travel less.  I could do a lot of things.   But this is where I am right now. I signed up for it, and I love it, but it’s not where I was 12 months ago. I’m a different type of Twitter user than I was before. My time is limited, my attention is stretched, my family is now involved. It’s a new ballgame.

Applications like Boxcar, which provide me push messages from Twitter for @replies allow me to be aware of anyone who messages me during the day, even more quickly than a direct message, email or Facebook message.  (Like yesterday, when I was criticized for not following to someone or responding to them, yet I got back to her within 60 seconds. :) )

If you’ve been offended by my unfollowings, here’s what you could do better: Understand.  Understand there is more than one way to follow a conversation, there are multiple ways to track what’s happening, and understand that you and me are very different people at the end of the day. That’s the beauty of the social web.  You use it how you want to, and let me use it how I want to.

And you know what I could do better? Understand. Understand the value you put on a connection and relationship with me. I horribly underestimated it, and for that I apologize. My intent has never been to hurt someone’s feelings. My intent has been to align my usage of Twitter with my personal needs.

You’ll Get There One Day

The day is going to come for you as well.  You’ll hit the point where there’s just too much.  You’ll undoubtedly cut down your list one day after you define and realize how you want to use this tool.  And when you do, when that time comes, I certainly hope you’ll better understand both sides of the issue.

If you want to be proactive, look around the higher ed community. There are people who have work/personal accounts, so that they don’t have to filter through the community noise. There are other people in the community who have never followed more than double digits. One person DM’d me to say she/he used Twitter lists to create a private “NOISE” list and a private “People worth following” list, and only track one of the lists. I’ll let you guess which one is used most. :)

Give Me Your Thoughts!

I continuously review my actions. If you think there is a better way for me to manage my Twitter presence, I’m all ears.  Please leave a comment to let me know where I’m missing a tool or opportunity to do better with staying connected. If you somehow fell through the cracks and I’m truly not seeing your updates somewhere, please let me know so I can fix that as well.

Thanks for understanding! And if you got this far, I thank you for your time and attention!
Brad
@Bradjward
Bradjward on Facebook

**Update** When you’re done reading the comments, go check out this fantastic post by @robin2go: http://www.personal.psu.edu/rvs2/blogs/renegade/2009/11/connections.html

Interview Week: Ben Jones, Oberlin College

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Interview, Recruitment, Web, YouTube | Posted on 16-10-2008-05-2008

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This is part 4 of Interview Week at SquaredPeg.  Missed past interviews? Click below.
Interview Week [Part 1]: Jordan Goldman, CEO of Unigo.com
Interview Week [Part 2]: Pauline from “The ‘C’ Word”
Interview Week [Part 3]: Dara Crowfoot, DePaulQuad.com

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Wrapping up Interview Week here (and my 25th Birthday!) with a video interview.  If you don’t know the name Ben Jones, you might have been hiding under a rock for the past few years.  A pioneer and leader in the admissions blogging field at MIT, Ben has certainly set a standard for us all to reach in terms of the community surrounding MIT’s blogging efforts.  When I was asked in 2005 to be a student blogger at UIS during my senior year, I was told to “look at MIT’s blogging site” for reference.

Ben is now the VP of Communication at Oberlin College, his alma mater.  Watch this video interview with Ben as I ask him several questions about the new job and future projects.


Tomorrow, check back for a few more projects to keep an eye on. I hope you’ve enjoyed Interview Week at SquaredPeg!

Interview Week: Dara Crowfoot, DePaulQuad.com

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Alumni, Blogging, Concepts, Interview, Marketing, Recruitment, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Web | Posted on 15-10-2008-05-2008

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This is part 3 of Interview Week at SquaredPeg.  Missed past interviews? Click below.
Interview Week [Part 1]: Jordan Goldman, CEO of Unigo.com
Interview Week [Part 2]: Pauline from “The ‘C’ Word”
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Today we’re talking with Dara Crowfoot from DePaul University about DePaulQuad.com, a social network exclusively for parents of current students.  This hit my radar a while back and it was great to talk with Dara and learn more about the initiative, so I wanted to share it with you.

Dara is the Director of Marketing Strategy at DePaul, and comes from an impressive marketing background including time as the Director of Marketing of Verizon Avenue at Verizon and Assistant Brand Manager at Kraft General Foods.

SquaredPeg.com: When was DePaulQuad.com launched?
Read the rest of this entry »

Interview Week: Pauline from “The ‘C’ Word”

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Interview, Recruitment, Video, Vlogging, YouTube | Posted on 14-10-2008-05-2008

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This is part 2 of Interview Week at SquaredPeg.  Missed yesterday? Click below.
Interview Week [Part 1]: Jordan Goldman, CEO of Unigo.com
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A while back I listed “The ‘C’ Word” as a top 5 blog you should probably be reading. Pauline, the creator of the site and SquaredPeg fan, saw that I was going to be in Seattle for NACAC so she sent me an email and we met up to chat. She is a freshman at Seattle U and is fresh out of the recruitment cycle.

Here is a quick video interview with her about college and admissions.  Enjoy! And don’t forget to check out “The ‘C’ Word“.


Interview Week: Jordan Goldman, CEO of Unigo.com

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Free, Higher Education, Interview, Recruitment, Research, Technology, Thoughts, Web | Posted on 13-10-2008-05-2008

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This week is special. Why? My birthday is on Thursday. That’s right, I turn 25 and cheaper car insurance is just around the corner (except for that speeding ticket I got last week…..). But you know how we do things here at SquaredPeg.com.  So keep your gift cards, animal balloons, and the keys to that Porsche.  Instead, here is my gift to you.  4 interviews with 4 people from all aspects of higher education.  And on Friday I’ll wrap it all up with some new projects to keep an eye on.

Today we’re going to kick off this 4-part series with an exclusive SquaredPeg.com interview with Jordan Goldman, CEO and founder of Unigo.com. Unigo is a new platform for college students to share reviews, photos, videos, documents, and more with students on their campus and across the country.

Alright, let’s get started.

SquaredPeg.com – Jordan, most people might not know it, but you’re no stranger to the Admissions. You were interviewed by the NY Times at 17 about the admissions process and later became subject of ‘The Gatekeepers’, a bestselling book.  You’ve also published two college guide books. What intrigues you so much about higher education admissions?

Jordan Goldman, CEO of Unigo.com

Jordan Goldman - I think … choosing what college you go to is an enormous decision.  It’s stressful, it’s incredibly expensive, in many cases entire families save for years and all chip in … and where you eventually go does shape you to an extent.  It helps teach you how to think, helps direct how you approach problems, helps define who you are and what you do with your life.

Up until very recently the best way to make this stressful, four-year, $50,000 to $250,000 decision was to buy a college guidebook.  And when I was 18, I came up with an idea to help make those guidebooks a little bit better – I created a series of 100% student-written college guidebooks, called Students’ Guide to Colleges’, that were published in a couple of editions from Penguin Books

About a year after I stopped doing Students’ Guide, I started thinking about the limitations of print guidebooks – each college only got a small number of pages, with no photos, no videos, no interactivity.  For a decision this important, that resource didn’t seem helpful enough.

High school students and parents needed more accurate, authentic, honest information.  And college students needed a place where they could really represent their college lives – if they loved their school, if they had issues with it, if they were someplace in-between.  The internet provided the opportunity to create an enormous, comprehensive and totally free resource that could help everyone.

I realize I’m going on a bit of a tangent here, on the very first question … but one of the things we were able to do with Unigo, that I think is pretty exciting, is that we strove to create something that was actually responsible and representative.  That we didn’t just sit back, open a review platform, and hope people came.

So what we did was, we hired an 18 person editorial team, and decided Unigo would initially cover 250 colleges.  We spent about 3 months researching every one of those colleges.  Then we hired interns on the ground, who really believed in what we were trying to accomplish and who helped corroborate our research.  For the next 5 months, we reached out to current students one by one, telling them we wanted to create this giant and honest resource and asking them to be a part of it.  We put in extra effort to ensure we received reviews from students from every major, extracurricular, gender, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation and more … students who love their school, who have issues with it, or have mixed feelings.

In the end, at 250 colleges, more than 15,000 students contributed more than 35,000 pieces of content.  In some cases, a full 10% of the student body took part.  And the value of having that volume of reviews is, if we have 150 reviews of a college, you can search by a variety of criteria.  You can say, only show me reviews by English majors, or African American students, or politically right-wing students at a left-wing institution … so you can see a school from the eyes of someone who’s just like you, and interact with them.  And as we go forward, we still have our 18 person editorial team, as well as the ability to rate, star, comment on and flag all content throughout the site.

SP -  You graduated college in 2004 and I finished in 2005.  Isn’t it amazing how much things have changed since we went through the process? What are the biggest game changers, in your opinion?

JG - I really think the internet transformed – or has the ability to transform, is still in the process of transforming – the entire educational landscape.  So much more information is available than ever before, ideas can spread and be shared and worked on collaboratively to create all sorts of new things.  And much of it is made available for free!   So many traditional barriers to access have been torn down.  It’s really exciting.  This has really broad applications – Project Gutenberg, for example, making tens of thousands of books instantly available to everyone, or Wikipedia putting an enormous range of knowledge instantly at our fingertips – and, in the case of Unigo, it means prospective students who previously couldn’t afford to go on campus tours all across the country, who weren’t able to grab a current student by the arm and ask them questions – now they have a way to find an amazing range of authentic information right from their living rooms.  Prospective students have a way to interact with one another and ask each other questions about these schools.  And they have the ability to see each college from the perspective of someone just like them. Sure, Columbia is a great school.  But is it a great school for African American students?  What about students from California?  Is it the same experience for a wealthy student as it is for someone a bit less well-off?  How about a conservative student, or a gay student?  Those are questions Unigo can instantly help you find the answer to.  We want to move the focus away from overly broad rankings that don’t tell you much of anything, and over to “What’s the college that’s actually best for YOU?”

Also, for current students, it gives them a platform to represent their experiences.  Previously, if they loved their school, there was no real way to share that with the world.  And if they had an issue with their college, they could protest in front of the library, but that’s about it.  Unigo lets them create content about their college lives, and see what their classmates are saying.  It really allows a conversation to start, that’s beneficial to other current students, but also for the institution, to be open to legitimate peer review, to assess what students are actually experiencing and perhaps change for the better as a result.

SP - Unigo is currently featuring approximately 225 schools.  Are there plans to get all institutions on the site?

JG – Absolutely.  In the coming months, Unigo will be expanding to include nearly every school in the country.

SP - Unigo might possibly be the tipping point for user generated content about universities. As students find their voice and start to share it, how should universities react?

JG - I really do hope that universities will embrace the idea of Unigo, even if they’re a bit wary at first.  Not only is Unigo one of the largest sources of college information, we also take great efforts to be among the most responsible sources.  And the site is a perfect way for administrators to see what students think about their schools. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses and acting on the information they read, administrators can improve students’ experiences—and ultimately their schools’ reputations. A number of universities have already contacted us and are pretty excited about the platform.

SP - Admission Offices are currently at a crossroads between traditional methods and electronic recruitment.  How does Unigo help fill that gap, both for the student and the school?

JG – I think … in the old way of doing things, administrators traveled from state to state, from high school to high school, explaining their colleges’ missions and programs to prospective students.  Now, with sites like Unigo, any student can instantly access a world of information about what it’s really like to attend these schools, direct from the real experts – the students who attend them.  Any student can find out about schools that are right for them instantly, from their living rooms.  It takes a lot of the mystery and anxiety out of the process for high school students, and (hopefully) removes a lot of the leg work to increase awareness from college administrators.

SP - Last question. SAT and ACT as a predictor for college success…. Thoughts?

JG - The SAT and ACT can provide useful metrics, but they should always be viewed as part of a much larger package.  A student’s scores are only a small part of who they are and what they’re capable of, and should ideally be assessed in that light.

SP - Thanks for your time, Jordan, and keep up the great work!  If you haven’t checked out Unigo.com yet, what are you waiting for? Click the image below.

Unigo.com