In any profession, it behooves us to have a group of professionals with whom to share our knowledge. This sometimes known as a Professional Learning Network (PLN). Most of us already have an “informal” PLN within our companies. Think about it. Have you ever done an amazing project and rushed off to tell everyone how they could use it? Have you ever had a coworker come to you with an innovative idea they were excited to share?
Many times our coworkers are a wonderful source for professional development. However, there are many electronic options to help expand your PLN beyond the four walls of your office. One of the most used is LinkedIn, but sites like Twitter are a viable LinkedIn alternative to growing your Professional Learning Network.
LinkedIn Alternatives: Enter the Twittersphere
Now don’t go running off just because Twitter is a social media platform. In fact, many social media platforms have been evolving and as a result have become feasible options for digital PLNs. One of the biggest advantages to using Twitter specifically is its vast reach. Not only does it expand your contacts beyond your geographical area, but Twitter also allows for expansion across generations. Whether you have been in a profession for thirty years or three months there is always something to learn and tapping in to all of your resources is the best policy. The diverse experience levels of Twitter users can help you integrate both innovative and tried-and-true methods into your workplace.
Another advantage to using Twitter is the brevity of the posts. Only 140 characters may not seem like much, but a fair amount of information can be conveyed in a Tweet. Many times Twitter users will post articles that you have the option of reading, but their initial post in your Twitter feed is still limited to 140 characters. Think of it as “headlines.” So on your commute or when you first get to work, you can peruse Tweets looking for relevant information and absorb some professional development “snippets.” Because really, who has hours to spend searching for professional development material?
Now, if you already have a personal Twitter account that you use for family and friends, you will be familiar with how to find people to follow. Yet, you may want to create a new account that is strictly professional. This will allow for the people in your professional network to see the professional content that would be useful to them without needing to sift through your personal content (some of which you may not want professional colleagues to see).
Once you sign into your account, you can search for your profession in the search bar at the top of the screen or you can search for well-known professionals in your line of work. After locating a feed that you would like to follow simply click the “Follow” button and then their feed will show up on your homepage. You can also search for people to follow by clicking the “# Discover” button at the top of the page. Here, Twitter gives you suggestions of people and companies to follow based on the people you are following and the tweets you have favorited and retweeted. Don’t worry, if a feed is unhelpful you can alway unfollow it.
Now that you are in Twitter and following a few people, what do you do? Well, it is perfectly acceptable to just lurk and read what others are posting until you feel comfortable enough to post yourself. Once you feel comfortable with the platform then you can begin to contribute your own content and gain followers of your own. Remember, as with anything, being a part of a PLN whether in person or digitally requires give and take. You have knowledge that others could benefit from just as you’re benefitting from theirs.
One way to share your knowledge, or find others sharing knowledge, is to search out a hashtag. This phrase is becoming more and more prevalent in current society, but do you know what it actually is. A hashtag is a way to archive posts of a similar nature. For example, if you were posting about an educational issue, you might put #edchat. Once you add the hashtag to your post it is grouped with other posts with the same hashtag. Think of it as a label. You can search for content through these hashtags and through applications, such as Tweetdeck, you can watch a running feed of Tweets with that hashtag in real time. As far as your PLN is concerned hashtags are a great way to search for relevant content, and you will be exposed to many different viewpoints on that particular subject.
Once you get comfortable following hashtags, you can participate in a Tweetup. Basically, a Tweetup is just a meeting through Twitter. To facilitate, or participate, in one all you need is a unique hashtag. Once your hashtag is set, simply tell people if they would like to participate post questions or responses that include your unique hashtag. If someone asks a question that you would like to respond to, simply click the reply button and it will send the response to the inquisitor and by adding the hashtag, the rest of the group involved can benefit from your response as well.
One of the major advantages to meeting in this fashion as opposed to in person is the restriction of 140 characters. We all know how face-to-face meetings can easily devolve and lose sight of the issue. However, being limited by your character count helps people stay on point and can contribute to more productive meetings.
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