Social Networking Sites Facebook and Twitter

Just a few years ago none of us would have imagined that we all would become Internet Celebrities! Almost all of us have used e-mail for years and there were many of us who maintained a personal or professional web page or even kept a “blog.” Most of these technologies were “one dimensional” in that they offered only one way communication--the sender sent, the receiver received. Then came “MySpace” which began the “social networking” trend. I was one of the early users of MySpace but since many of my colleagues and friends at the time did not use it, I was left with “Tom” as my only “virtual” friend.

There is no doubt that these sites are popular and growing in use (click on the chart above). In general however, I find that my students use social networking sites much more than I do. They have well developed networks of typically hundreds or thousands of “friends.” I set up my Facebook page primarily as a means to communicate with my students. Although I often publish things such as information about class projects, and activities, joining Facebook is not mandatory for any of my classes. I have never been one to “force” technology on anybody. And I also let my students “initiate” whether or not they want to be friends. Although the majority of my “friends” on Facebook are students, increasingly I am receiving friend requests from colleagues, relatives, and even people whom I haven’t heard from in years. While I try to keep my page on a “professional” level, I do include a little personal information about myself.

I am very careful about “how much” and “what kind” of information I post. One of my concerns when viewing other friends pages has to do with the kinds of pictures, personal information, and inappropriate “language” that are found. You must also be aware of what your friends post to your own page. What a potential or current employer finds on your page may reflect poorly on you. Yes, you can make most content “private” but one of the unwritten “rules” of the Internet is that anything that is out there can and will eventually be seen. You want to make sure there is no “Michael Phelps” moment out there waiting for you!

Twitter on the other hand, is entirely different from Facebook in that it can more easily be used for direct communication in real time. The potential for use in teaching I believe is greater--since one can post anything and all of their followers will receive it. For example, I could post a link to an interesting article or website that is relevant to class--or ask a question. It is more like “texting,” in that sense and so far I have found it better suited for what I do. I first started using Twitter just over a year ago and am slowly working it into the set of technology "tools" I use to teach.

My initial impression of Twitter was that it seemed to be used mainly by celebrities to share what they were doing with fans. During the Summer of 2009 Twitter gained headlines with the breaking news from Iran and also Michael Jackson’s death at the end of June. Also the “competition” between CNN and Ashton Kutcher to be the first to reach 1,000,000 followers helped create interest in Twitter. Unfortunately, I still have several hundred thousand followers to go…

As far as my Marian University activities: in addition to sharing articles and links, I have twittered about our new football stadium, sitting next to our President at a meeting, summer recruitment day, a fall faculty luncheon, and the “Billionaire’s Challenge” contest in my Operations Management class. I have also twittered about my golf game, my vacation, injuring my knee while working out, my cat and dog, and learning to ride a motorcycle again. None of which ever risked bringing the Internet down--although my cat now has more followers than me!

I can understand why Twitter is great for celebrities, athletes, and politicians for sharing what they are doing with the rest of us--but most of us don’t lead that interesting of lives compared to say Ashton, Britney, LeBron, or Sarah Palin! So what do the rest of us Twitter about? If you are new to it, I would say: "Whatever you want." That first "tweet" can be anything. And you're not too old either. My favorite commercial is where the family is sitting on the porch and the father is Twittering “I’m sitting on the back porch.” As use of Twitter grows I expect to see it used more as a marketing channel to reach teens and twentysomethings. Since it is so easy to use and can be accessed quite easily from mobile devices I would expect to see Twitter--or something like it--become the dominant means of communication. Here are some numbers to consider:

1,382% year-over-year growth in February 2009.

In February 2009, adults ages 35-49 had the largest representation on Twitter - almost 3 million unique visitors from this age group.

62% of the audience access Twitter from work only, while only 35% access it only from home.

In January 2009, 735,000 unique visitors accessed Twitter via their mobile device.

(Source: Nielsen)

My "blog" on the other hand has been the most effective for disseminating information and supporting my courses. I have maintained it for several years and have a worldwide readership which I track through Google’s Analytics. With this I can see where my readership is coming from, what content they are searching for and whether or not they return as well as what kind of browser and Internet connection they have. The “computer scientist” in me is more interested in this information and tends to spend hours analyzing the many graphs and charts provided. It is however easier to “publish” content though Twitter than it is my blog and the bottom line is I think if I had more of my students as “followers” on Twitter I would tend to use it more often to share articles and course information.


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