Twitter Snobs or Efficient Learners?

In the past few weeks Twitter has pretty much exploded, hasn’t it?  I knew something was happening when even the boring old fuds on CBS Sunday Morning started bashing my favorite learning tool!

The conversations have continued in my own professional circles as teachers try to figure out exactly what Twitter means for them.  One interesting bit was written by a guy I’ve started following named Mike Arsenault.

What Mike wonders while studying the statistics of the top tech teacher Twits is whether or not there is an etiquette around the “following” process.

He asks:

I would imagine most Twitterers have reasons for who they follow and who they do not follow. I personally do not follow everyone that follows me. I tend to look at a users’ profile and if they do have similar interest (education, technology use in schools, social media, etc.) I follow them.

As you look at the data [on the leading Ed Twits] almost half of these people have approximately 4 times more followers than people they follow or worse.

Is this a bad thing?

Author Brett Borders—who Mike cites in his bit—-goes even further, calling people with an unbalanced follower to following ratio “noobs” and “snobs:”

You might think that non-reciprocation makes you look like an “influential thought leader,” but to me it looks like:

  1. You’re kind of a noob. Your name might be “big,” but your social media interaction and filtering skills are small.
  2. You’re kind of a snob. You’re more concerned with appearing “popular” than listening and learning from people.

Here’s my take:  As a Twit (@plugusin) I definitely don’t follow everyone who follows me—in fact, my following ratio would rate pretty low when compared to the teachers Mike studies in his post—but that has nothing to do with trying to appear like an “influential thought leader.”

Instead, it has everything to do with wanting to be able to have meaningful conversations with people. I’ve found that whenever the number of people that I’m following grows to more than 200, I simply get lost in the streams of information that come through my Twitter feed.

At that point, Twitter becomes useless, doesn’t it?

After all, I’m trying to learn from the people that I’m following, and that’s hard to do when good ideas are buried under piles and piles of messages.  My decision to follow a small handful of people—instead of everyone who follows me—is about information management, not arrogance.

And in my opinion, managing the tidal wave of information at their fingertips is probably THE most important skill for 21st Century learners—whether they be adults or kids—to master.  Just because I can follow a thousand people doesn’t mean I should!

I think the trap that we fall into when we use any social networking application for professional work is forgetting that the tool is about facilitating learning, not being popular.  Judging one’s influence through numbers overlooks the real purpose for jumping into any digital conversation.

In the end, I couldn’t care less how many people I’m followed by or how many people that I’m following. What I care about is connecting to a managable network of likeminded colleagues that I can learn from.

Does this make any sense?

14 thoughts on “Twitter Snobs or Efficient Learners?

  1. Bill Ferriter

    I can certainly respect your use of Twitter because you’ve created a system of learning that works for you.
    The beauty of digital tools is that they evolve over time as people find new uses—-and individuals can customize their uses based on their own personal learning preferences.
    I think what we’re talking about here is avoiding the impulse to judge other people because they use a tool differently than you do. Just because others have decided not to follow “a couple thousand people” doesn’t mean they’re “snobs” or “noobs” as you suggested in your article.
    Does this make any sense?

  2. Brett Borders

    I follow a couple thousand people on Twitter, but my stream doesn’t become “meaningless” – I just don’t follow every single Tweet and I get lots of valuable information from all over the world… and I am able to track my close friends’ updates in a Tweetdeck group so I don’t miss anything.

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Lee wrote:
    When you have a few thousand people follow you, you can manage them in a 3rd party app (like TweetDeck), and only read those you want to see, but then what’s the point? JUST to make everyone feel better? In that case, If you’re not going to read them, following all is the same as following none.
    Good point, Lee. I think there is a measure of “making people feel good” in the suggestion that Twitter users should follow everyone back….
    We probably shouldn’t be surprised by that—we are educators, after all! Our profession has a long history of worrying more about feelings than anything else.
    But I’m with you: Anyone who expands a network to a ridiculous size and never interacts with those who are a part of that network really doesn’t have a “network,” do they?
    On an unrelated note, does anyone else have a problem with the term “followers?”
    I’m not sure that I could come up with anything better, but it carries implications that I’m not totally comfortable with!
    Rock on,

  4. Lee Kolbert

    Hi Bill,
    Twitter for me is a personal and professional learning network. I like to follow those with whom I know in real life, I’ve met at conferences or with whom I’ve formed some type of online relationship (like you, Bill). People who @me will catch my attention as well and often times I will check them out that way. I’m guilty of thinking I am following someone with whom I’ve been conversing though, only to realize when I do go to their profile, that I’ve not been following them.
    And sometimes, real life happens…
    I can’t manage sifting through 1000+ tweets to follow the conversations that I’m interested in. So, no, I don’t plan to automatically follow every educator who follows me.
    The blogpost by Mike, that you refer to, calls me a snob and infers that in order not to be a snob you should follow most of those who follow you. When you have a few thousand people follow you, you can manage them in a 3rd party app (like TweetDeck), and only read those you want to see, but then what’s the point? JUST to make everyone feel better? In that case, If you’re not going to read them, following all is the same as following none.
    I think it’s good to learn how others choose who to follow since learning how to build your network on a site like Twitter can be tricky.
    Like you, Twitter is one of my favorite PLN tools and I recommend it all the time. As with everything, people should be tolerant of how others see it best fits their life/learning styles.

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Patty,
    What’s your Twitter name? I’ll follow ya!
    Tried to find you in the Twitter directory, but there were three different Patty Jordans.
    Or you can go and follow me (plugusin) and I’ll follow back.
    Building your network is job one in Twitter. Otherwise, you’re Tweeting alone.

  6. Patty Jordan

    Did you see the comments about Twitter on CommonCraft?
    I am very new to Twitter and am trying to learn. right now I follow snbeach, Toby Keith, and a montessori publication. I would like to follow you if available! One day in the future somebody may wish to follow me!

  7. Bill Ferriter

    I’m enjoying this conversation, y’all!
    I wanted to tackle something Claus said. He wrote:
    If you don’t have a well-established network of followers, you desperately “tweet” questions or comments into a black hole. That gets demoralizing–and your tweeting becomes especially contrived.
    That’s the key, Claus—if you can’t find a network of people to follow and interact with, Twitter is definitely worthless!
    I always recommend that users start by joining Twitter with a group of colleagues that they currently work with—teachers on the hallway, members of their local union, colleagues from the state department etc.—-so that you KNOW you’re going to get replies to your requests for help.
    In that sense, Twitter’s nothing more than an efficient tool for communicating between existing colleagues.
    Over time, you can start to add people that you don’t “know” to your network. If you start that way, though, things can be lonely.
    When you ask whether or not everyone HAS to be on Twitter, of course the answer is no!
    What I will say, though, is that the most prepared learners in our world will have a “network” of people to learn from quickly.
    That network might be supported by a tool like Twitter, but it could also be maintained through email, through reading and commenting on blogs, through discussion boards, or through regular meetings in the workroom!
    Twitter just allows you to have a global network that is instant, free and easy!
    I find invitations to web conferences, I read articles that others point out, I find new tools to try in my room, I get answers to questions that I need answered…..
    As long as people find ways to do that, the specific tool is irrelevant!
    Does this make sense?

  8. Dave

    From that quote, Brett sounds more interested in creating drama than having a fruitful discussion. There are some pretty obvious benevolent causes for an unbalanced follow ratio, led by the one you give: it just doesn’t make sense to follow more people than you can keep track of.
    Brett seems to think that online tools are some magical universe with new rules, but the reality is that they tend to work similarly to everything else. Do newsletters survey every reader about their personal interests? No, some newsletters, magazines, newspapers, books, etc are read by many more people than their authors consulted (or could possible consult) during the work’s creation.
    Maybe Brett Borders just takes issue with popular people? Maybe he jumps to conclusions without thinking about them? Maybe he’s just saying sensational things to try to be popular himself? Maybe he was quoted out of context? Who knows and who cares? He’s saying silly things, and until he finds a way to solve that problem, it’s one less person to have to listen to.

  9. Claus

    Perhaps the problem is that everyone–yes everyone–has been encouraged to get on Twitter or else sink into obscurity and irrelevance. Those neophytes who aren’t exactly sure why they’re there have a pretty lousy experience. If you don’t have a well-established network of followers, you desperately “tweet” questions or comments into a black hole. That gets demoralizing–and your tweeting becomes especially contrived.
    It’s difficult to form that community–especially for people who aren’t already tied in to the Ed tech world. So the question is, should everyone REALLY be on Twitter?

  10. Matt T.

    Right on, Bill. I avoided Twitter for quite some time due to so many myths that you allude to above. I’m not interested in reading about others’ spring break trips to the Bahamas or what they’re up to on the weekend. I follow others (and tweet myself) for the same reason I blog and comment on others’ blogs…for the sake of learning. A virtual colleague I had a conversation last night about this very topic. Twitter has it’s “spam” via solicitors who follow with the hope of being followed. “Connecting” is the key with Twitter – I couldn’t agree more!

  11. Joe Henderson

    I think this is about right. I’ve avoided Twitter for exactly the reasons you express here. There’s a big amount of egocasting going on there, and it really turned me off. I like Facebook more as it now allows you to prioritize the updates that you read and to hide ones that are less important to you.
    But ultimately, it’s about information management. I’m sitting here right now watching my 8th graders sort through websites for some research they’re doing on astronomy. But what is a “trusted” resource. They think you can just go to google and get an easy answer. It’s the same with Twitter really.
    Thanks for this post. It just brought many things together for me.

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