Using Twitter as an information tool

Posted on: 24 August 2012
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This blog post details some of the ways I use Twitter and how I think students might use it as an information resource. I have linked back to explanations of the terms used, if you are new to Twitter.

I have tried different web 2.0 tools for work and current awareness but none of them really compare to Twitter in terms of value.  Put simply, Twitter has transformed how I get my information about my profession, stay aware of current issues, and get updates from publishers and suppliers.  Mailing lists still have their place but Twitter is my go-to information hub now.   Three main ways I think you can get the most of Twitter ‘the information tool’ are:

Follow– see what fellow tweeters, people in your industry and other like-minded types are talking about by following them.  It’s also a good way to get alerts and updates from companies.  Remember this won’t always just be 140 characters about what they people for breakfast but will often contain links back to reports/news articles/opinions/research etc. etc. etc.

Searchyou don’t need to find people to follow to see what they are saying, just use Twitter’s search to see what people are saying on particular topics.  Tweeters often categorise/tag their tweets with a subject or subjects preceded by a hashtag (e.g. #education #media #marketing); explore these with some simple searches.

Engage- A huge part of Twitter is the ability to network online, to have direct access to key thinkers, to engage with like-minded people, to interact with your community/industry and to tweet your own thoughts and opinions.  I must confess that when I use Twitter for work I am probably more guilty of being a lurker than an engager; I prefer to use it passively to find information than asking questions or frequently tweeting myself.  However I do follow and am followed by a large number of librarians and I find this a fantastic resource to exploit if I have a quick question or want an opinion from colleagues.

Encouraging students to use Twitter as an information tool

I have had a few conversations with academics from the fashion management courses about Twitter.  They increasingly want their students to exploit Twitter as an information source, particularly as there are many influential people from business and fashion management tweeting.  Creating a Twitter list of such people for the students to follow is a good start.  In fact, they don’t even need to have a Twitter account, or follow those people- all they need to do is click on the list link and before you can say Tweet there is a list of what all those important people are currently tweeting about.

Getting students to search on a topic on Twitter might demonstrate the range of information of available.  I have just tried a simple search on #retail. Of course, with any search, there’s a lot of chaff to wade through and teaching students the importance of checking sources for validity and authority remains strong.  But, with caveats done and even with just a quick scroll down the list, I find data from the Office of National Statistics Twitter feed on retail sales volumes, a tweet from EIU (the Economist Intelligence Unit) linking to a story about the challenges ahead for retail up to Christmas, and a very mouth-watering link to a report on chocolate markets from KPMG. 

Engaging with discussion groups

One opportunity to engage might be to find a particular discussion group in your industry.  Discussion groups (or Tweetchats) are virtual groups which meet on Twitter, usually at a set time, to discuss a particular topic.  The discussion is grouped under a given name with a hashtag and all tweets in the discussion must include the given #name.  For example, in my profession, #uklibchat is a fortnightly discussion group usually held on Tuesdays 6.30-8.30pm GMT.  Topics and questions for discussion are proposed by participants beforehand.   You can search #uklibchat on Twitter to see recent discussions.  Similarly #phdchat is popular amongst researchers with discussions on different themes every Wednesday evening.

If I’ve whetted your appetite for Twitter and you want to find out more you can seek me out on Twitter at @elliemurphylib