Web 2.0: To Twitter, Or Not To Twitter, That is The Question...

Note: This post was created for a graduate level class at the University of Alberta: EDES 501 Web 2.0 for Libraries.
Are you a twit? Have you ever tweeted? Do you know any Tweeple?
Why the strange vocabulary you ask? It's not strange, its...

What is Twitter?
Twitter began in 2006, and has since grown into a world wide social networking service. It can be described as microblogging, because its function is the same as blogging services, but there is a small character limit. Sodt & Summery (2009) cite it as "a great way for people to share information quickly and with a wide audience" because it "provides a quick and simple way to share a variety of different information."

Twitter Search is a popular related service. It allows you to search words in real time, and is useful for finding trends or topics of interest. Many Twitter topics become hashtags, which are metadata added to categorize and organize 'tweets' (a posted message). Hashtags are words with a #prefix. For example, #yeg (our airport code) is the Edmonton hashtag, and will show you all the posts users have written about Edmonton, as long as they have included the hashtag. Hashtags can be saved as favourite searches and followed at your convenience. To find out about popular hashtags, check out Hashtags.org.

Sysomos posted an interesting report about Twitter in June, 2009 that included the following statistics:
  • 72.5% of all users joining during the first five months of 2009.
  • 85.3% of all Twitter users post less than one update/day
  • 21% of users have never posted a Tweet
  • 93.6% of users have less than 100 followers, while 92.4% follow less than 100 people.
  • 5% of Twitter users account for 75% of all activity
  • More than 50% of all updates are published using tools, mobile and Web-based, other than Twitter.com. TweetDeck is the most popular non-Twitter.com tool with 19.7% market share.
  • There are more women on Twitter (53%) than men (47%)
These trend show that most Twitter users are young Americans, and that Twitter use is actually down from the start of the year. Twitter doesn't release account numbers, but estimates I've seen run from 1-5 million users. It will certainly be interesting to see if Twitter popularity will rival Facebook, and how it will evolve in the near future.
Still confused about what Twitter is? Watch as Kevin Spacey teaches David Letterman:


Do you agree with David Letterman? I used to, but have changed my mind...


My Experiences
I was against Twitter for a long time. I am a busy person: I have school and work and Facebook and blogs to follow. I did not think I had time to follow more online content. However, shortly before taking this class I decided to join Twitter for five reasons, which I discussed in June on my blog. I came to realize Twitter is about one of the few things I liked following on Facebook: the status updates. I also became aware of certain celebrities on Twitter and I wanted to follow them, as well as local news media because I am a bit of a news junkie. So I jumped on the bandwagon.

I always do my research before joining something online, and Twitter was no different. I posted a list of links I used to get familiar with twitter to my blog shortly after joining. Joining was super easy, and the interface is very simple and intuitive. I was able to easily personalize my page. I also found it easy to find people I already knew, as it could be tied to my gmail account. I followed guidelines from a variety of sources (eg Mashable) in order to find people I already know, local users, and users in my field of work. I started following a few celebrities, and often follow people who follow me. The only downside to this is the amount of spam followers that pop up.

I set up a Twitterfeed account so that every time I update my blog, it uses the RSS to send a tweet from my account. I have noticed that hits on my blog since configuring this have increased an average of 10 per post. I also have made use of a URL shortener, bit.ly and found a service for posting pictures, Twitpic. I have been using a desktop application, TweetDeck, to keep track of my growing list of followings and really like it. I can organize the people I follow into groups and can delete tweets I have already read so that I can stay on top of new content. It shows me Facebook updates as well, and will allow me to publish a tweet to Twitter as well as to my Facebook status. It is also useful for easily retweeting or replying to others.

I also follow a couple hashtags. I often read the #yeg Edmonton hashtag for local content. During the recent storm on July 18, 2009, it was my only source of up to the minute news. The #yeg tag went all the way to 6th on the trending list of the most talked about subjects in the world! I've never used social media in this way before, but getting a minute by minute account of what was going on was amazing. Mastermaq has a great blog post here summing up the #yeg Twitter Storm. A similar situation occurred on August 1, 2009, as the #bvj hashtag (Big Valley Jamboree, the annual country music festival in Camrose, Alberta) trended after the huge storm tore through the festival grounds.

Actually, getting to know the local Edmonton community has been the best part of joining Twitter. I hope to one day attend an Edmonton Tweetup to meet a few people in person!
TweetStats will show you personal graphs, charts and content clouds for your twitter activity. It's definitely worth checking out. It showed me I post mostly during the morning or evening, who I reply to and retweet the most, and that my most commonly used hashtag by far is #yeg. Here is my tweet cloud:

Check out my page and follow me!


Uses for Libraries
Like other forms of social networking (LINK to me), Twitter has numerous uses for libraries. Libraries can tweet about:
  • library or local area news
  • upcoming events, workshops or teaching sessions
  • upcoming service disruptions or changes
  • academic or other deadlines for students
  • new books
  • recommended books or book lists
  • recently posted bookmarks, photos or videos
  • recent blog posts
  • news from library related organizations (Young Adult Library Services Association/YALSA)
  • questions and answers for reference services (NLC Reference, also see discussion here)
Libraries could consider starting Twitter book clubs (@thebookclub, @atwossybookclub, #yeg book club). Twitter is also a good forum to solicit feedback and opinions about your library from users/followers. Embedding a Twitter feed or widget onto the main library website is also recommended.

Similar to institutional use, librarians are also active on Twitter, both personally and professionally. Librarians can use twitter to:
  • keep in touch will colleagues and other professionals
  • share ideas and stories
  • share useful links or resources
  • link to resources or content they've created (for the library or professionally)
  • keep others involved when attending conferences
  • use twitter search to keep on top of trends
  • ask questions or offer advice
  • stay on top of news
  • use twitter search to follow your institution or liason area trends (see Re:Generation discussion)
Twitter 101 For Businesses has some great guidelines for twitter use that I think applies to libraries (and individual users) as well:
  • think about twitter as a place to build relationships
  • include a bio and custom background
  • search for comments/complaints about your organization and address them, offer support, or praise
  • use a casual friendly tone
  • respond to questions and comments directed to your account
  • retweet messages you like, or ones that speak kindly of your organization
  • link to articles and sites you find interesting
  • twitter valuable knowledge
  • don't spam people
Though it takes awhile to figure out Twitter Etiquette (see the Twitter Etiquette Wiki, or just google the phrase), Twitter can indeed be an easy way to keep in touch with users and professional and personal connections.


Issues Regarding Twitter Use
If a librarian chooses to use Twitter, the must be mindful of privacy issues like those present in any social networking (LINK) environment. Whatever you post can be seen by everyone, and if posting as a professional, librarians must be sure to put forth a positive professional image. Milstein (2009) suggests thinking carefully about if you are going to name the library you work for, as this may affect its image, and may be troublesome to the employer/employee relationship. David Lee King (2007) suggests "when interviewing someone for a job, check to see if they twitter – then check their twitter feed just like you’d google them and check their blog (if they had one)", and this in itself can be an invasion of privacy, one that is commonplace in today's online climate. Thus it is necessary to be vigilant about what you post on personal and professional accounts.

If a library has an institution account, they must also be aware of certain implications regarding Twitter use. First, while it is free to use on the web, it costs to receive updates by text. Thus, users might hesitate to add the library if it updates a lot. The library must ensure it's updates contain valuable information and not just meaningless, distracting content. The library also will need to keep its account up to date, as users will not follow a user with old posts and no new updates. There are a lot of users to follow, and if a library wants to keep its followers, it must be mindful of etiquette.

Another faux pas is posting, but not following the people who follow you. Phil Bradley (2009) suggests "that's akin to standing in a room talking without listening." It shows that the library is disengaged, and not open to discourse or a relationship with users or other clientele. Following users is a "sign that they're interested in talking to you; when you follow them back, you're signaling mutual interest and providing an important connection for many of your constituents." (Milstein, 2009, p. 18). While a library does not necessarily have to follow everyone, it must be seen as a dynamic and friendly organization. There is also no point in setting a library's profile to private (Phil Bradley, 2009; David Lee King, 2007) as this further alienates followers.

Milstein (2009) notes some best practice examples of library Twitter use. Ideally, "libraries on Twitter should encourage followers to interact with the library--ask questions, share links, re-Tweet interesting posts from others, and reply when people message you" (p. 18). Twitter use should be thought of as a conversations, not a broadcasts. Direct messages, that are private, can be sent over Twitter, and these are useful for customer service transactions between the library and a user with specific needs. Besides following patrons and maintaining an up to date page, this is just another way to encourage open dialogue and a positive relationship between users and their library. It will go a long way in attracting patrons to the physical building.

Do you follow your library? Does your library encourage conversation and community interaction?

References
Bradley, Phil. (2009). Using Twitter in Libraries. Phil Bradley's Weblog http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2009/01/using-twitter-in-libraries.html.
Cole, S. (2009). 20 ways for librarians to use twitter. Library Journal, 134(11), 25-25.
King, David Lee. (2007 ). Twitter Explained for Librarians. David Lee King's Blog http://www.davidleeking.com/2007/03/10/twtter-explained-for-librarians-or-10-ways-to-use-twitter/.
Milstein, S. (2009). Twitter for libraries (and librarians). Computers in Libraries, 29(5), 17-18.
Sodt, Jill M. and Summey, Terri Pederson. (2009). Beyond the Library's Walls: Using Library 2.0 Tools to Reach Out to All Users. Journal of Library Administration, 49(1-2): 97-109
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