Introduction to using Twitter

CC BY NC SA Flickr User Paul Snelling

CC BY NC SA Flickr User Paul Snelling


I was asked recently to run a session on Twitter for colleagues in the School of Health Sciences, so I thought I’d share the slides up here for those interested.

This was aimed at a introductory level for colleagues new to Twitter, and the discussion we had probably provided a richer experience than the slides might suggest but there are still some interesting examples in there.

I spoke about examples from my own experience of using Twitter with undergraduate students, so if you’re interested in that you could always follow through to the journal article I published last year in Research in Learning Technology.

Otherwise, here are the slides embedded below. Slides themselves might not say much, but I’ve included the associated notes for each slide below.



This slide asks if there any participants in the room that already use Twitter.
Why or how do people currently use Twitter, or want to use twitter?
What do you want from today’s session?

Today we’ll cover an intro to Twitter, terminology associated with twitter, why ‘people’ use twitter; who uses twitter and how you can use Twitter.

Twitter is technically known as a Micro Blog in that it only allows ‘tweets’ of 140 characters or fewer. This can be restrictive at times, but over time you do get used to it.

Twitter generally works by people ‘following’, or being ‘followed’, by other users.

Over time other functionalities have been added, such as the use of Lists to help organise or categorise the people you follow.

For me, Twitter is about making connections. I personally use Twitter in 3 ways;
i) To keep in touch with family and friends (although my 14 year old nephew has ceased engaging since I’m the ‘Twitter-police’ when he posts inappropriate content.
ii) To follow and engage with people with shared interests. I always relate back to my diverse follower base – a split between colleagues interested in higher education or technology enhanced learning, and the group of Everton fans who regularly tweet about football issues. This can prove a tricky task in balancing my tweets but I’ve started to focus more on professional uses and tweet less often about football.
iii) I also follow people that I might like to know – or perhaps people that I might be interested in. So this might still include people from the elearning field, but it might be football players or celebrities such as Stephen Fry.

Over 500 million people use Twitter – I use it both on my work computer and iPad as well as my personal laptop and iPhone. I’m always connected, and so can you be!

Twitter has started to emerge as a news reporting service, as regular passers-by tweet the news live. This is much faster (and probably a more accurate representation) than news services responding and scrambling to scenes to report news. One of the most famous examples was the ‘miracle on the hudson’ where passers-by tweeted as the plane was landing on the Hudson river in New York.

I came across an infographic demonstrating the top brands on Twitter – some you may have heard of and some you will not. But Twitter is becoming a huge platform for companies to engage in consumers.

Two of the companies I follow include Mr Porter (a high end online fashion retailer) and Sky News (a very popular news reporting account). You can see by the number of followers in the sky account that they really are engaging with ‘customers’ (in a different sense of the word I suppose). People can access the news wherever they are when they follow an account like this, or people could live report incidents and include Sky News in the tweets. Lots of potential in this area.

Many companies use twitter as an effective customer services channel – take this example (start at the top). A passenger is angry at his delayed flight and the airline (obviously monitoring any tweets mentioning their name) respond to de-escalate the situation.

And this nice example of one of the people I follow providing feedback to Virgin Trains.

So given these examples, how might we use Twitter to support our professional roles?

Here are some examples of UoL Twitter accounts and their uses


I like this example of a conversation between the school of Dentistry and a potential student

And this example from the University computing services account engaging with a future student about the wifi availability in halls of residence

These are two other accounts I follow from colleagues at the university – lots of people are active so it’s worth looking at Twitter’s recommended people to follow feature…. It’s based on an algorithm that looks for people that are followed by the people you follow (if that makes sense).

But there’s more theoretical underpinning to using Twitter than mindless sharing of nonsense. Chickering and Gamson’s principles for good practice in UG education can be applied.
We’ve already seen examples of #1 – student—faculty contact, but having used Twitter to support my teaching in various module, I can attest to it’s suitability to the other principles as well.

Every piece of research around the use of twitter in higher education has been positive. I like this quote from Ray junco (an active researcher of social media in HE)

And these are some of the quotes from my own students – comments like ‘Tutor on Demand’ and ‘it’s better than email’.
Sure, you need to manage expectations, but all of my students who engaged with twitter reported positive benefits. I’ve published this work in Research in Learning Technology, so if you want to learn more head over

Of course there are some downfalls or cautions to be aware of.

I suppose in my own teaching I’ve seen students expecting a 24/7 service, but is that any different from email?
I think we also need to be mindful of professional identities of students, as well as ourselves and our professional/corporate identities

Recognise this guy?

He’s the chief executive of a cash strapped NHS organisation, who, whilst making severe cuts, etc, tweeted about buying a new boat. Sensitive much?

But despite the scary stories, most of the time you just need to think about what you’re doing and apply some common sense.

The university also produce some guidelines to help staff think about their twitter use.

Rheingold identifies 5 key literacies in order thrive online.

1. Attention
2. Crap Detection
3. Participation
4. Collaboration
5. Network know-how

(Rheingold, 2012: How to thrive online).

These are important when we think of information overload, and some believe this information overload is actually filter failure.



This is my page when I log in

This is me, who I follow, etc

And this is where the tweets appear from all the people I follow

You will need to be mindful of some terminology though

We need to include a user’s twitter ‘handle’ (username) if we want to send them a tweet. So if you want to tweet me, you’ll need to include @reedyreedles
I will then receive a notification to say you’ve tweeted me. Be careful though, everyone can see what you’ve tweeted

The retweet is pretty self explanatory. It allows you to share something that another user has tweeted i.e. re tweet it.

A modified tweet (MT) has evolved from the RT so you can still retweet something but you might want to add a comment to it, etc.

Hashtags are a great way to use a keyword or categorise/search tweets. These are popping up everywhere now, even at the beginning of tv programmes.

So my advice is to figure out how and why you want to use twitter and jump in . Don’t forget to follow people otherwise it might get a bit lonely.

Remember, there are more online services you can use to develop and manage your online identity. It’s important our students realise this too – Facebook is notorious for bad practice, and linkedin is growing from a professional identity perspective


2 responses to “Introduction to using Twitter

  1. Hi Peter

    We’ve also seen an increasing interest in using Twitter here at YSJ too, so much so that we ran an online ’10 Days of Twitter’ ‘non-course’ from our blog:

    First iteration was pretty small-scale (~60 registered participants & ~30 truly active participants) but it seemed to be a success, and feedback was positive.

    Credit to Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat) for the original idea & resources.


    • Hi Phil,
      I think the 10 days of Twitter sounds like an amazing little project. I think I could probably reuse the idea to get people tweeting – generally you need that kickstart to get going and something like this could be useful for academic staff just starting out!
      That Helen sure is full of good ideas!

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