How do you teach Twitter?

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week trying to find ways to show people how Twitter can make their work life easier/simpler/more fun. I’m not sure how succesful I’ve been. Social Media is a drip drip process that has to be worked on. You can’t become an aficionado overnight. But here are a few thoughts.

The Social Tweeter

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I got the first year undergraduate students in my Digital Journalism class to create their Social Media portraits so I could get a better idea of how they use different platforms – if at all.

The vast majority use Social Media a lot, mainly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But they’re using it almost exclusively to keep in touch with friends and follow celebrity news (it’s not called SOCIAL media for nothing.)

A few of them are blogging or following other people’s blogs.

Soundcloud is quite popular for sharing music they’ve made and finding other people’s music. There were one or two Pinterest users who said they liked finding cute DIY ideas they’ll never use!! There was also one Reddit fan.

There were a few who didn’t have a Twitter account or who did have one “but then realised they didn’t need it.”

So the task is to get these students to realise they already have the skills and experience (in most cases) to use social media like a real journalist. What they now need to do is crank it up a bit and find out how they can use social media in a more sophisticated, more professional way. But it’s hard getting people to turn their favourite social platforms into yet another work thing!

I decided to try to amaze them with the power of Twitter as a search tool! Don’t just google “Salford” when you want a story idea or an interviewee. See how much deeper you can get with a really well filtered Twitter search! So I started by showing them a few of my favourites – Followerwonk which is a great way to search Twitter bios, Listorious, a useful people search and list directory and Trendsmap which is a fun way to search local Twitter trends. Then I hit them with the big one – search operators! This was totally new information for every single one of them. They had no idea you could interrogate twitter so closely. I handed out copies of the list of operators (one between two to encourage collaboration) and then gave them some Twitter Tasks to perform. It’s based loosely on Sarah Marshall’s MozFest social media training session but I’ve simplified it into a bite-sized chunk which I think works better with students who may need a bit of convincing about all this kind of stuff.

•Find 2 Manchester Evening News journalists on Twitter
•Find people talking in a positive way about the film Django Unchained.
•What are people tweeting about in Cape Town, South Africa?
•Find three people near Birmingham talking about the High Speed Rail link (HS2)
•Find a very recent photo or video from MediaCityUK.
The last question was a bit of a trick. I “planted” a photo on Twitter for them to find. Well, it got a few smiles….
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The tasks gave the more advanced Twitter users plenty to keep them busy whilst I went round to each individual student (I had about 17 in each class) starting with the ones who were less experienced. The social media self-portraits were really useful in finding out who might need a bit more support early on and who would be able to work through the tasks independently. I was able to spend a few minutes with each student getting them started, answering specific questions, gently encouraging. I made sure to explain to them how these techniques could help in real journalistic scenarios and, crucially, help them get their assessments done.

Interrogating Twitter in this way really was a revelation to them so it was great fun for me to be able to share this stuff.

My colleague, Alex Fenton, who shares the teaching on this module, used another approach with the class the following week.  He got them all to send out one tweet using our module hashtag #DigiJourno. Even this was new to some of the students. They were encouraged to retweet the most interesting/relevant ones. Again, it was a nice, bite-sized chunk of Twitter that slotted into the theme of the session without overloading anyone. It’s very easy to put people off Twitter for life by drowning them in information! I’d tried to introduce lists and Tweetdeck but that was probably a step too far at this stage and was definitely off-putting to some in the class – although the more adept twitter users immediately saw the benefits.

And it was a revelation to the students to find themselves in a university class where you were actively encouraged to spend time tweeting!!

The Reluctant Tweeter

Away from university, I found myself discussing twitter on two separate occasions last week with friends who work in the media making radio programmes (not news programmes so they wouldn’t describe themselves as journalists). Both had had bad experiences with twitter.  One had been ordered to tweet by a manager but there was no thought-out strategy to this so the producer was left confused about the aim of the tweeting. She’d missed the one training session available. The other friend had been on a training session but it had seemed boring and irrelevant. Unsurprisingly, they both felt very negative about twitter and saw it as an extra workload being imposed on them.

The upshot of these conversations is that one of the friends is coming round for coffee one evening next week and I’m going to try to persuade her that it’s worth giving Twitter a second chance. Again, I think advanced search is the way to her heart. Show her how Twitter can help her find fantastic programme guests then all the rest will follow! You’ve got to make it relevant to people’s work life otherwise they just see it as an extra, time-consuming task they just don’t want to do.

I am genuinely excited by this challenge! I’ll let you know if I win her over. Then I’ll use that success story to work on Friend #2. Ideally, I want to spend a day at work with her putting her favourite contacts into Twitter lists…..

If you have any tips for teaching Twitter, I’d love to hear from you.

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Why Pinterest is the crack cocaine of Social Media.

In the beginning, the common theme amongst tech commentators and Social Media gurus was that Pinterest was something for the ladies – a bit of harmless fun that made them feel like they were using a computer.  It was somewhere the ladies could go whilst their menfolk were in Google Hangouts.  Pinterest became the Babycham of the internet era.

If the tech writers were to be believed, across the less fashionable parts of America, a new generation of Stepford Wives was mindlessly pinning and repinning pictures of ponytails whilst maintaining their fixed smiles.  Who needed tranquillisers in the Pinterest era?

And it was respectable.  Unlike vulgar social media like Twitter and Facebook you couldn’t just JOIN Pinterest.  You had to be INVITED – like a Tupperware party.

And maybe Pinterest would have stayed that way if Big Business and powerful media organisations hadn’t started sniffing around, trying to see what was keeping all these women so happy, trying to see if they could make a buck or two out of this pinning/repinning compulsion.

Pinterest crossed the boundary from bridal shower to boardroom.  Things would never be the same again.

Soon Pinterest was no longer the preserve of nice, middle America homemakers who liked making their own Christmas cards.  It became the social media of choice for any up-and-coming marketing newbie or social media editor who wanted to show off.  Men were no longer embarrassed to be seen to pin in public.  Suddenly, everyone was doing it.  It went global.  People measured their success in repins and follows.  Greed was good.

We should have seen it coming.  But we didn’t.  We never do until it’s too late.

Slowly, inevitably, Pinterest revealed its darker side.  It wasn’t a sweet, innocent pick-me-up after all.  It was cruelly addictive.  It was the crack cocaine of social media and once you started pinning, you’d keep coming back for more.  And more.  And more.

Growing numbers of women – and men – turned into hopeless addicts in desperate search of a repin.  But the repins were getting rarer and the hit wasn’t as high.  Nobody was interested in their boards any more.  Their pinning became more and more desperate, erratic, thematically vague.  Eventually, they reached the bottom rung, forced to do things they’d never thought they’d do;  they started pinning images of moderately engaging kittens.

 

I speak as one who knows what it’s like.  I’ve tried to wean myself off with strong doses of Storify but it’s no good.  Pinterest’s got its hooks into me and no mistake.

We may not be sharing needles, but we’re sure as hell sharing pins.

To feed my habit, I’ve started pushing.  I’m targeting social media novices.  They’re weak, vulnerable to the promise of unlimited images of clever storage ideas for small rooms.  I’m not proud of myself.  Pinterest made me do it.

So why am I writing all this?  Because I’m hoping that this blog post might help some of you avoid the Pinterest habit.  Don’t be deceived by its feminine guile.

It’s too late for me.

SAVE YOURSELVES!

Spreading some coding love on Pinterest.

This blog seems to be less and less about journalism and more and more about computer science!!  That’s not something I would have predicted when I started out twenty-odd posts ago.  But I love that kind of deviation from the planned route.  The whole beauty of blogging and social media and linking is that you are taken in directions you never thought possible and can find yourself delighted and reinvigorated by the most unexpected things.

I’ve been messing around with Pinterest for a couple of weeks (there’s a lot of buzz about it) but couldn’t really find a use for it.  It’s, well, a bit twee at the moment.  It’s really taken off with female crafters in the States, people planning their weddings, pictures of cute animals doing amazing things – you can imagine.  So not really my thing.  But everyone was talking about its huge potential.

If you’ve not come across Pinterest yet (it’s invitation only at the moment!!) it’s a digital pinboard site with lots of sharing (repining.)

Then yesterday I came up with the idea of creating a Pinboard about all the great resources and blogs and people I’ve come across as I learn about coding.  So instead of writing a blog with hyperlinks to all these sites which people skip over and ignore, I’ve got a pinboard with lots of intriguing images which draw people in and encourage people to click and visit.  That’s the idea, anyway.

My coding Pinboard - 100% not twee

Within minutes, these images were being repined and commented on in the Pinterest world.  That’s a lot of sharing bang for your buck!  And maybe as a result one more person will start to learn a little bit about coding….

What I like about it is that it provides a good format for telling a non-linear story.  So my collection of resources for coding learners doesn’t really lend itself to a traditional narrative structure – although you could find a way of doing that, of course.  But a Pinboard enables me to bring all my material together and the “linking narrative” is the passion about the subject which I want to share with a wider audience.

I got in touch with Manchester Girl Geeks about it too (I’d pinned them!) so they’re playing around with Pinterest in the same sort of way.  Between us, we’ll turn twee into geek!

I left the BBC…..but I’m OK!

In July this year, I left the BBC after 22 years.  This is my journey beyond the BBC and into the unknown.

On 1st July 2011, I will cease to be a BBC employee.  I will hand over my dangly ID and henceforth my only relationship with the BBC will be as a license fee payer.  I will no longer be able to waltz into a newsroom and rearrange a running order, write the lead story or demand the presence of correspondents on air.  And for some reason, I really don’t mind.

I’ve worked at BBC World Service since 1989.  It was where I’d always wanted to work and I loved it.  By the mid 90s, I was in my dream job as a World Service journalist and had the time of my life working with some fantastic editors, producers, presenters and reporters from all over the world on Newshour and the World Today.  We were full of ideas, phone bashed like crazy to get people on air, never gave up, spoke God knows how many languages between us, travelled to bizarre corners of the World and had fun.  I learnt so much in that department.

I did work in other parts of the BBC too (eg Good Morning Scotland, Today in Parliament), but always felt drawn back to Bush House.

In recent years, I’ve been in the Newsroom at World Service.  The newsroom deals with fact – fact without the trimmings.  The emphasis is on the written word, providing a definitive summary of the world that could be relied on as accurate and impartial.  News room programmes – bulletins and World Briefing – were programmes of record and that meant correspondents’ despatches, live reporting and clips of the main players.  That’s exciting when there’s a big breaking news story and you’re taking listeners around the world to build up a picture of a developing event.  But most of the time, putting together that kind of programme isn’t very exciting.   When you go on air in the studio, your main job is to watch the clock to make sure all the material fits the time slot, hitting all those “hard posts” which enable rebroadcasters to opt in and out of our schedule.

As time went on, I realised I was becoming bored and losing confidence in my ability to make programmes.

Then I met Claire Wardle.  She’d just started running one-day courses for BBC journalists on “Making the Web Work for You.”  I signed up and went on one of the first ones.  My God, she packs a lot in to a one day course!  I was such a social media beginner, the vast majority of it went way over my head and by the end of the day, I’d forgotten everything I’d learnt in the morning and felt a bit unwell.  But I was really excited by it all and over the next few months, I invested some time into exploring the various tools and ideas she’d talked about.  I was still a novice, but I was a happy novice getting excited when I found  practical applications for these new skills.

But there was another consequence of her course.  I found myself becoming more and more interested in the processes of journalism and less interested in the stories themselves.  Yeah, yeah so it’s another election somewhere in the world, but how are different journalists and media organisations and start-ups finding the new angles, verifying the facts, sharing the story?   It was an exciting world and I felt left behind.

So now I find myself living on the edge of the Pennines having left London after 22 years.  My husband now works at BBC North, soon to transfer to MediaCity.  For a long time, I desperately wanted to work there too, excited by a new project.  But I gradually realised my heart wasn’t in it any more.  If I was going to relocate to the other end of the country, it seemed silly to just shoehorn myself into an unsatisfactory BBC job when I could take the opportunity to reinvent myself completely.  I was lucky my husband had a full time job now and I had the luxury of not having to be a breadwinner.  It seemed foolish to let this freedom go to waste.  So I took voluntary redundancy from the World Service which, following savage cuts, was having to shed staff by the van-load.

To cut a long-ish story short, that’s how I’ve found myself about to become a visiting lecturer in radio journalism at the University of Salford on its BA degree course (so I will be working in MediaCity after all!)  I’m also seriously looking for research opportunities and am pretty sure that’ll be in the “geeky” end of journalism, thanks to Dr Wardle’s inspiration.  But the first step is to see whether I actually like being back in academia.  I think I will.  When I left the University of Sheffield, I was adamant I did not want to stay on as a post-graduate.  I wanted to get a proper job and do something useful!  But there was always a little niggle at the back of my mind telling me I would probably end up back in academia some day.

So, that’s pretty much how I got to this point.  I’m at the start of a journey and, as I hope you can tell, I’m pretty excited about it.