How many tweets does it take to get to the center of Twitter?

Tootsie

ISTE 2015 has been a whirlwind of discovery!  One of my key takeaways from that conference was the power of networking through Twitter.  But this blog is not about my professional growth at ISTE (that, I will write about later).  Instead, I want to talk about the learning that took place after the conference.

Not one to do well with jet lag, I gave myself another a week in the same timezone (Toronto) before heading back to Hong Kong.  Hence the morning after the close of ISTE, I shuttled to Philadelphia’s domestic terminal on an Air Canada flight to Toronto, along with passengers flying to California or Texas.  (Apparently Canada is not deemed international.)  An hour before boarding the plane,  I received a tweet which eventually became the premise to this blog.

Tweet

Not far in Philadelphia’s real international terminal awaiting a flight to Hong Kong, our head of school Cameron Fox (@headofschoolais) tweeted an interesting question.  Here’s my paraphrase:  How might we run a school using Twitter?  The tweet’s link from the Guardian pointed to a Spanish community utilizing Twitter as its primary means of communication.  What a challenging idea!  Could 140 characters be an organization’s modus of operandi?

The researcher in me was intrigued by this question.  To what extent is the reach of my Twitter network?  Would this reach have an impact on others?  How can I use social media to the benefit an organization such as a school?  Thus, I was determined to experiment the extent of conversations that could be generated by Cameron’s question in the next twenty four hours.

A new tool, Twitter Analytics was invaluable to this experiment.  Twitter Analytics provided data about the frequency for viewed tweets and the number of times users clicked the tweet’s embedded links.  Best of all the information showed real time changes to Twitter data on mobile devices.  (I must admit to spending too much times watching my Twitter numbers). With my Twitter Analytics, I was up for starting some Twitter buzz.

So I pondered what could I do to make the most impact before boarding the plane.  The most obvious move was to favorite and retweet Cameron’s original tweet.  This action meant that everyone following me would see it in their timeline.  However, I had no way of knowing who saw my retweets because Twitter Analytics only reported composed tweets.

Beyond my followers, two other people’s networks were critical this experiment’s connection.   My good friend Marcie Hebert (@mrsmhebert) and my wonderful colleague, Andrew Chiu  (@chew_ed) were mentioned in Cameron’s tweet.  Their replies, favorites, and retweets would also reach to their own followers.  Having the most followers amongst the four of us, Marcie’s affirmative reply probably doubled our tweet viewers that very second.

How might we run a school using Twitter?

Nevertheless I had to compose a tweet in order to monitor the actual feedback from the Twitter audience.  I decided to embed Cameron’s tweet within my own and to include some official hashtags.  #ISTE2015 was a good one because I just attended the conference with like minded people.  Furthermore the majority of my ISTE contacts came from my Twitter network.  Next Cameron’s question begged for out-of-the-box thinking.  The #dtk12chat which stands for Design Thinking k-12 chat, already had a network of forward thinking educators.  These hashtags combined with my question “how might we run a school using Twitter“, I was sure to gain more tweets on the “Twitter street”.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 5.48.33 AM

Then I thought why not share this thought provoking question to people I knew. I broadcasted this tweet or directly messaged to all the people in my organization and social media.  My AIS “tribe” included the principals, Tanya Sweeney (@sweenytanya), Pam Smith (@pam_psmith) and Mike Wing (@wing_mwing) and some of our great teachers including Alan Lo (@MrLo_AIS), our AP Physics teacher.  I continued connecting with other educators that I’ve met or worked with before boarding the plane.  With my fingers crossed, I waited for the “magic” to begin.

Upon arriving Toronto, I was pleasantly surprised to see good conversation developed during the hour long flight.  Throughout that day,  I kept retweeting people’s responses and redirecting traffic back to Cameron’s original question.  That evening  #dtk12chat moderators Mary Cantwell (@scitechyedu), Dan Ryder (@wickeddecent), and with Alan Lo even chatted about this Twitter topic.   Thus I was pleased with the results.

At the end of the 24 hour trial, my tweet data came out to be 231 impressions with 27 engagements.  Not bad, but not as many as the tweets I did about the Pan Am Games in Toronto, which I had far less knowledge about.  (More about my Toronto Twitter experiment in a later blog).  However, I believe I’ve learned something profound about Twitter.

Twitter is all about relationships.  With 20,000 attendees at ISTE, my one tweet was lost in a sea of thoughts.  No matter how many times I retweeted or replied, those who chose to engage will continue the conversation. And those who did not will remain outside our network. The heart of Twitter really comes down to an engaging, meaningful short message that could start a relationship with other people.   The quality of our communication and our perseverance to remain in dialogue are critical to Twitter.  Let’s not take these 140 characters lightly.

As to my original inquiry, I’m still figuring out what does engaging in social media really mean to organizations such as schools.  I’m not sure I have the answer yet.  But I do know we should look again at our digital community as a viable means to building our organizations.

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