Friday, February 20, 2015

How and why I use Twitter; An Ag Agent’s Perspective

This was originally posted in May 2013, but it appears the original link has disappeared so I am reposting.

Have you wondered if Twitter might be a good tool for your job? I’ve been tweeting for around two years now and find it quite useful. When I first started, I had no idea about it’s utility, but just decided to jump in since that’s where all the cool kids hang out. Here I’ll share what I’ve learned:

First, I’ll admit that Twitter does not accomplish for me what I hoped it would. I thought it would be a good method to market my programs and events. It’s not. My target audience simply does not use Twitter. In another county (especially an urban one) or for a different audience, that may be different.

But it accomplishes things for me that I didn’t expect.

  • It has connected me with some smart Extension people around the country who have interesting ideas and programs.
  • It keeps me abreast of news about pests outbreaks.
  • It’s a great way to keep up with the fast-changing world of technology.
  • I learn about new resources available that can help me do my job.
  • It provides me with a “news-ticker” so I can see what’s happening in my community, state and around the world.
  • It provides a platform for me to share my own ideas, successes and observations.
  • Lastly, it provides another communication line to people that can help me.

There are plenty of other uses for Twitter, but these are the ones that are important for me.

And that’s the “why”. If you are convinced it could be valuable for you, then you’ll need to know the “how”.

You start, of course, by signing up for an account and picking a username (mine is @pgmckenzie). You will also want to upload a profile picture. I recommend using a good close up head shot, maybe with some bright color (e.g. a shirt or hat) to make your picture stand out.

Next, you will want to start “following” people. You might start by following NC Extension people, such as @growsmallfarms (Debbie Roos) or @jeanineNCSU (Jeanine Davis). You can also look at who they are following to find others.

You may also want to follow news organizations, celebrities, and organizations in your field.

As you start to follow people, some of them will follow you back (basic Twitter courtesy). So now you’ll need to start tweeting!

I try to do at least one tweet every day, but others do it much more or much less. You can tweet about an upcoming program, a bright idea, something you’ve read, a picture you took, or a link to an interesting site. Just remember that ALL of your followers can read ALL of your tweets (and the general public as well).

Now here’s the tricky part. You need to follow lots of people to build up your own followers. That’s how Twitter becomes useful and interesting, when there’s lots of information flowing back and forth. But if you follow 50 or 100 people, it will be hard to keep up with all of their tweets. You do, after all, have a job to do besides reading tweets all day!

And this is where a web service like TweetDeck can come in handy. TweetDeck (and other similar services) allow you to organize your “feed”.

In my case, I have TweetDeck organized into three columns. The first column consists of my favorite tweeters. These are people and organizations who provide information that is especially relevant and useful to me. I don’t want to miss their tweets.

The second column contains the tweets of ALL the people I follow. It’s impossible to keep up with all of it, but I glance at it several times a day to see if anything catches my eye.

The third column contains my own tweets. That helps me keep up with how often I’m tweeting.

And that’s really what you need to know to get started. I hope you’ll give it a try. I would love to see more NC Extension Agents using Twitter, as it would be a wonderful platform for us to have an ongoing and useful conversation about the great work we all do.

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