Almost two years ago, I wrote a post called “Teaching Twitter to Higher Education Colleagues” as a way to help people understand the self-proclaimed “information network.” Surprisingly, it continues to be my most viewed post with (15,000+)! From the feedback I’ve gotten, many folks felt that it helped simplify Twitter and get them thinking about it NOT with a “Facebook” brain. Since then, Twitter has changed its user-interface twice, once this past summer and once again this past week, which has garnered many different opinions as it slowly rolls out! Today, I wanted to share some thoughts on the new interface and why I think that there are no longer any excuses why anyone who works in Higher Education shouldn’t be on Twitter connecting with students and colleagues alike.
1. New Twitter Looks … Familiar
If anyone has ever told you, “Twitter is way too complicated” or “I just don’t get it”, they will be quite pleased with Twitter’s new user interface because it feels like Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. By making it “look and feel” familiar, new users may not feel as intimidated as they start using Twitter. This is a smart move on Twitter’s part as they continue to grow and find ways to monetize their product. Truthfully, I didn’t like the new interface that much when I first saw it, but I realized quickly that this wasn’t targeted for me, it was targeted for new and future users.
2. Twitter Lexicon is Simplified
Home: The home screen is simplified to include what’s important to the general user: Profile Overview, Tweet Box, Twitter Timeline, Suggestions on Who to Follow, and current trends. What’s more is how you experience on Twitter via the web will be the same as you experience on the Twitter via mobile apps. The new Twitter app for Android and iPhone has even built in multiple account support to lure you away from apps like Seesmic, Osfoora, Plume, etc. Again, this is done to simplify and grow consistency for the new user. Conversations, pictures, and videos are all part of each “tweet” by simply clicking on it within the Twitter timeline. You may have also noticed that Twitter accounts, links, and hashtags are colored grey, while everything else in the Tweet is in black. I suspect this is to help new users still read and understand the tweet content without getting confused with some of Twitter’s other lexicon. Oh, and kudos to Twitter for using a birdhouse for the “home” icon
For advanced users or those who still want to view multiple Twitter columns/feeds, “Twitter Pro” is being connected to long time favorite, Tweetdeck which is still available after Twitter purchased it last May.
Connect: The old “mentions” and subsequent “activity” tab has been replaced with the more appropriate “connect” link which houses all the tweets that contain your Twitter username as well as anyone interacting with your tweets via retweets, replies, tweets that have been ‘favorited’, what ‘Lists’ you have been added to, and who your new followers are. This centralizes all the Twitter connection pieces quite nicely and focuses your Twitter experience on THE CONVERSATION. I am disappointed that the numbers associated with Lists have now gone away and are now less important in this iteration of Twitter.
Discover: Twitter promotes the new “Discover” link as “Simplicity Meets Serendipity.” I’m not sure how much I believe this description of the revamped “hashtag,” but certainly this is Twitter’s way of centralizing trending “stories”, twitter follower activities, who to follow, and what categories are trending, beyond topics. I can see new users finding this section interesting as they build their follower base and lurk versus engage.
3. Revamped Twitter Profiles
The new layout of your Twitter profile puts more emphasis on describing who you are, making your picture, bio, and website front and center. Everything else is streamlined, making the experience a bit more intuitive for users of all levels. The old twitter profile focused more on the Tweets. While these are important, Twitter recognizes that the Tweets are only as important as the person sending them. On Twitter, trust is built between users by building a profile that does a good job describing one’s interests and who they are looking to connect with. I do wish that DMs and Lists were still easily accessible, but now they are located one click away under the profile icon. My guess is that Twitter wants to direct more of the conversation public versus via direct message.
4. Embed Tweets Anywhere, Easier
As someone who likes to share content from Twitter, this new feature makes it easier to do so. By clicking on a specific tweet in your Twitter timeline, you will notice a “details” link which takes you its specific URL. From here, click on the “embed this tweet” link and it gives you choices on how (e.g. via email, webpage, blog, etc.)
The neat thing is that embedding tweets now allow for real time interaction without having to leave your webpage or blog. So if you embed a tweet, you can now reply, retweet, or favorite the tweet right from it (very cool!)
Twitter also took a step forward in Twitter button development. Now, you can create buttons for your blog or website that easily helps people Tweet a link, follow you, share hashtag conversations, and mention you in a Tweet with a single click.
Implications for Higher Education
1. Call to Action: Share Your Twitter Story with a Friend or Colleague
With “New, New Twitter” being more “familiar” and easier to understand and with more Higher Education colleagues on it, now is the time to join, lurk, and engage. If you have been on Twitter for a while, encourage others around you to create an account and jump in. Support them through their initial learning curve, which should now be minimal, especially if they are used to other online networks. Breakdown negative stereotypes about about Twitter by showing them how incredibly useful and powerful it can be by sharing your Twitter story and what made you go, “I get it now!”
2. Use Twitter Beyond Conferences
This year, during professional conferences, I noticed an unbelievable spike in new Higher Education Twitter users. Unfortunately, after the conferences were over, most of those new “Tweeps” no longer engaged in conversations. Encourage those who are new-er to Twitter to reengage and find people and/or topics they really want to learn more about. Suggest Twitter as a “personalized Google/Bing search” where answers to questions are human responses as opposed to search engine automated, page-ranked responses. If they have a smartphone, encourage them to download a Twitter app and continue their participation on the go
3. Find a Use for Twitter in Your Next Department Program, Academic Class, or Current Service
If you haven’t used Twitter yet for your administrative or academic area, find a way to do so. The best way to broaden one’s understanding is to implement Twitter however you can. Some ways to do this are:
a. Creating Hashtags for Campus Conversations, Classes, or Services (e.g. #bsulife, #comm240, #bsucommutes)
b. Gather Data Using Twtpoll (e.g. Halloween Costume Contest)
c. Share Pictures and Videos from Events
d. Provide timely customer service and solicit feedback for future events.
e. … and many more (just ask Student Affairs Chat!)
4. Encourage Your Students To Join and Engage in Twitter
If the students in your area are not on Twitter, encourage them to join once you are well acclimated. Teach them how to use it for professional networking and centralizing news/other information important to them, as their natural inclination will be to use it like Facebook. If they are already on Twitter, connect with them (follow them, mention them in tweets, add them to lists, etc.) and if their Tweets are “protected,” engage in conversation with them as to why (e.g. for class, for personal reasons, etc.) In either way, its a great way to start Digital Identity conversations, which we must do more of in 2012.
What do you think of “new, new Twitter” and how will you use it to engage students, staff, and faculty alike?