Is Twitter Just Window Dressing?

Sometimes I wonder, there is a lot of content that gets repeated, retweeted, and passed around, but how much of it is actually read? Milton Ramirez’s tweet got me thinking (because I do try to reflect):


I’m sure any marketer or business person could tell you how wonderful Twitter and social media have been for their website traffic and ad revenue, but what should teachers care about traffic? Sure, it’s interesting (and even useful depending upon your role) to know who visits your website or blog, but those data don’t provide much value in and of themselves.

I’m wondering how much window-dressing is going on through social media. I consider myself very active. On a scale of 1-to-10, where 10 is the most active one can be healthfully online, I’d rank myself at an 8 or 9 on most days. The truth is, I’ve always been addicted to social interaction, feedback, and connecting with other people. They are what keep me fueled and on fire for life. What can be dangerous is when you lose yourself in something like that.

Twitter provides a rush of information and interaction like being in a big conference hall where anyone (experts and ed celebs included) can be reached. You get a nice little chill the first time you get “RT’d” and someone repeats the same message you sent out into the blue. The echo can make you feel validated, your name is stamped on it, others can see it, and it’s really real. However, the drive for building a following loses all value and authenticity if it is one based on numbers rather than people. If you just search for “social media expert” on Google, you’ll find a list of results amassed with keyword flailing marketers bound and determined to optimize themselves for search.

Teachers: we have to be different. We aren’t selling anything, not seeking “followers” but collaborators and fellow learners. Twitter can’t work if you try to make it about you. It must be about US. Soren Gordhammer of Mashable says in his post Zen and the Art of Twitter, “Give what you want to receive.” The simple advice for those who seek encouragement is to offer it rather than beg for it. The same is true of attention.

23 thoughts on “Is Twitter Just Window Dressing?

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  2. I think this is a really important issue, Steve. I am reminded of Paul Bogush, a wise leader worth following, once told me he refuses to follow more than 500 people and that he does not like to follow others who follow more than that (I could be giving the wrong numbers, but I do remember there being limits). While I do not personally follow this very well, I have been thinking about it recently.

    When a fellow educator “follows” me, I feel like I should follow back to see what we can learn from each other. Yet, the more that I follow, the less I feel able to truly connect and keep up with individuals. It’s a very tricky line to navigate.

    Thank you for addressing this issue! Great post!

  3. I wrote a post echoing Milton’s tweet months ago and it is still in my draft box because I didn’t want to tick off any followers😉 But since you have brought it up…

    I think that is one of the reasons I have been on twitter a lot less lately. Remember way back when I said it is my “blog reader” –ack…total loss for the right word–it seems now most of the tweets are just a recycling of blog posts and links. My follower list is becoming a bit of an inbreed family with a link being tweeted by one person and then continually retweeted with me seeing each one because every one has the same core group of followers.

    I have also noticed that even the topics that get discussed, they seem to be less of a discussion, and more of just a chorus coming into a song with just a few members slightly off-key, not coming in with a different song. I worry that twitter will no longer take new participants and infect them with an energy to go out and create new infectious ideas that contrast with the current pedagogical practices, and instead simply homogenize new followers into what the chorus believes a progressive educator should be.
    And sometimes…once-in-awhile…I wonder if twitter is becoming nothing more than a breeding ground for Sneetches.

    And now that I have said all that…
    “Give what you want to receive.” I have to recognize myself as bit of a hypocrite since instead of giving what I want to receive, I have started sitting back waiting to receive without giving much at all.

  4. Thank you! Paul, you just dropped a wonderful gift in my lap. I’ve missed your voice recently. I’ve been less active lately as well, but mostly due to school (teaching being a priority) and family over the break.

    Glad you’re BACK. Finish that post too:)

  5. Thank you Candace!

    When I think of the power and potency of small groups of people (there’s a quote somewhere on a high school wall for that) like our little one at NCTE 09, It’s easy for me to put aside the masses with whom I’m not connected.

    It’s nice to have a large audience, but if you forget how to connect with a few special people then you don’t do very much.

  6. I gave up on numbers a while ago, I made lists and TweetDeck columns and every month or so I go in an cull people who haven’t tweeted in a while or who don’t engage others.

  7. I did too. I stuck to it for a long time! And I think you are right. I think things were better before I followed so many. Good food for thought.

    Awkward that I referenced you at the same time you posted. But glad! I feel like you have a lot of insights on this topic!:)

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  9. I find that what I get from Twitter is very different from what I give. I am so grateful to those who post links that I would never have found, helping me to find blogs and articles that I don’t have time to find. My contribution to the conversation is to RT the ones that I have found valuable, with some comment if I have time. I also try to reflect on the challenges and joys of using tech to support the learning that I want to happen in my class. Different styles for different strengths in the community.

    Community is what I come to Twitter for, and it is what I try to offer back. I am finding, now that I am reaching the 500 number, that I am much more hesitant to expand. I look more closely at what each person tweets, rather than simply following every educator. I love the relationships that I have developed and don’t want to be overwhelmed by chatter. Collaboration and learning only come when there is a real conversation going on.

  10. It’s interesting to hear you say that what you give is different than what you get, because I think there’s value in that. It brings up other questions in my head, “what is my role on Twitter (or any community)?” and “how do we define and change our roles?”

    Thank you Hadley!

  11. With any community, it is about making the commitment to be part of it, to do the work of a member. In a rich community, there are members each bringing their own special gifts and insights. I think the challenge, which you pointed out so well, is when all one contributes is a RT. While there is worth in the sharing a link or whatever that you find informative, it doesn’t connect you personally to the conversation.

    I am working on becoming more involved in the thinking of the people that I want to connect with, and that means reading and commenting on their blogs. That is where each of us shares own ideas. If the only way I presented my thinking is in #140, it takes awhile to say much. In a comment, I am focusing on their thinking and responding to it, even if it is just a short “Nice job!” I think we need to encourage people who want to be active members of a PLN to make comments and share who they are and what they are thinking. You are only really a part of a community if they “know” you.

  12. I almost missed your post hadn’t I peeked at my Twitter stream during a break this morning. Glad I didn’t because your post is a good one. My Twitter experience hasn’t been as long as yours or others, but it has been an important one. My purpose was to build a network of teachers I can learn from. I had no idea that after 3 months, my Twitter PLN would be my go-to people for great resources and conversation.
    So I want to throw my two cents out your way about these two words:
    RESOURCES – I love gathering good info. I have been reading fervently for the past 3+ months: blogs, recommendations, student-generated projects, books and watching/listening to: educational slide presentations, movies, & podcasts. Gathered resources are ineffective if I don’t use or share them. So I learned to open up many tabs to browse through recommended tweets and go through each of them throughout the day. I love it that I learned to use Diigo and Delicious so that I can remember to recommend to others if the right time comes. Reading original posts and RTs have helped me to be a better researcher and a smarter reader. Smarter, as in read the material throughly fast and decide if the material is will be good for my information library. Just because something’s out there it doesn’t mean it’ll be useful or meaningful to me. I have to be open so that I can have the chance to make that decision!
    This leads me to the next point, CONVERSATION:
    If I had 300+ tweeps following, but had no real conversation or community building, I would have deleted my account. Conversations, in too short 140 characters, provide the depth to the resources shared. Much like a musician who expresses through beautiful phrasing, who, also through delicate dynamic changes, gives life to the notes that are mere representation of what the composers had intended. Yes, there are a lot of talk on Twitter stream. But meaningful communities are built when people listen and respond. I love that we can tweet about: how to be a better teacher, how to teach better, and how to learn better. I’m grateful for those who listened to my tweets. I’ve learned so much from them and built great relationships. I hope to be a great listener who shares humbly and generously.
    So, Steve. I love that we can talk music, tech stuff, coffee, and about NPR programs. Keep the conversations coming!

  13. Wow, what a gift of a comment!

    Everything you’re saying shows me my teacher friends on Twitter are doing it right! I really meant this post to be a question that I asked myself and turned out for others as well. I wanted to encourage reflection and definition of this great tool we’ve come to use and love. The more we nurture our relationships through useful habits, the more we benefits there are to reap.

  14. I think because the numbers are there people will naturally look at them. However, every field has its community builders and with community building comes numbers. If every member is actively participating then real change is inspired. That is what we need in education. We need each educator to go into their schools and make a ripple. Even a small ripple makes such a lasting impact with a student, parent, educator, or administrator who in turns sends a ripple. I love that about social media so I do not believe it’s window dressing. I believe its causing ripples that are making a difference in a field that has been bombarded with bad policies and overrun by politicians who never where educators, do not have their own children in public schools, nor have spent enough time at at risk schools trying to figure out why there’s such an enormous achievement gap that hasn’t closed for decades.

  15. Pingback: Goal: Cause a Ripple | Teacher Reboot Camp

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  17. I wasn’t sure if you’d check my post again so here was my response to your comment there:


    I think it was a valid question you asked on your blog. Your wonderful and brave post started an important discussion. Moreover, it caused many of us to reflect on how we use social media.

    To add to this comment!

    Reflection is an important part of ensuring the PLN is participating and collaborating. We should be able to speak up and encourage educators to participate. Participation and action are crucial to building communities.

  18. I agree with you – it’s not about me, and it’s not about the numbers. It’s about finding those who challenge us to reflect on our practice, and whatever else. And if I do that for someone else, then that’s pretty cool.

  19. I appreciate this discussion and feel like I found it at exactly the time I needed it. I am on Twitter to learn, share, reflect and bring those experiences and resources to my fellow teachers at my school who don’t venture out into the social media world. At times I feel like a high school girl who isn’t popular when I write a blog post that no one retweets or comments on. Then I check myself and remind myself that I am on here to learn, share, give value, thank others for inspiring and refueling me. Being a passionate teacher can be lonely at times; Twitter gives me hope that others like me who care and want change are willing to do something other than sit and complain.
    Thanks for inspiring such a great dialogue.

  20. You’re exactly right, it’s about finding those who challenge us, and also it’s important to challenge ourselves. I wrote this because I felt, at times, that I was in danger of linking and passing on without proper reflection. You have to keep yourself in check and remember that a community will support you if it cares. I’m very happy to have been able to explore this question and find great responses from everyone!

  21. Still thinking…
    Wonder what would happen if for just one day everyone on twitter agreed to not send a tweet with a link in it…

    Kind of like when we go on a field trip and there are no “electronic” devises allowed. Would the twitter bus go silent? or would people actually start talking to one another?

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