One of my first assignments as the HASTAC scholar for Vanderbilt's Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities was to help enhance their social media presence. This included setting up a Twitter account where I could share about the digital humanities in general and some Warren Center events in particular.
Not having a lot of experience with social media, I was a "Twitter freshman": enthusiastic, slightly out of the loop, and occasionally awkward but well-meaning. With input from various sites and from friends, I began gaining my bearings. I learned which tweets appear in which feeds, what a "favorite" can mean, that Twitter automatically shortens URLs (after shortening several myself--who knew?), and that when linking to a post or article it is helpful to hint about the content rather than a vague statement that it exists (another freshman misstep I made).
I was still feeling rather uncertain about some aspects of my Twitter presence when I took on my first big challenge: live-tweeting. After reading up a bit on what to expect, I gave it a try at a conference honoring the Warren Center's 25th Anniversary. I am delighted to say that it went really well--even better than I had anticipated--and I learned a lot in the process. In addition, because of the intensity and focused attention I gave to Twitter over that day and a half, a few things began to stand out to me that I probably wouldn't have learned as quickly otherwise. These things are helping me reflect on my experience and on social media more broadly.
Here, then, are my observations about social media--and in the comments I'd appreciate hearing any similar or contrasting experiences that you have had, as well!
- Community participation happened, and grew more quickly than I had expected. I didn't have many followers when I started, but over the period of the conference, several people ended up seeing and sharing my posts. This growing conversation was facilitated both by personal interactions and by the networking potential of Twitter: at the conference, I met someone else interested in tweeting and shared the hashtag I'd been using, some friends watched for--and retweeted--my tweets, and I tried to do some strategic tagging. Through all these means, I gained some followers, I followed some new people, and a digital conversation developed that included not only those in attendance but also those who were interested but couldn't attend. It wasn't surprising to me that this could happen, but I was surprised at how quickly it came together. The instantaneous nature of Twitter allowed participation to grow even during the brief duration of the conference.
- I listened differently (not better, not worse, just differently). I wanted several of my tweets to include specific content from the panels, and I wanted to be faithful to the Twitter format of 140 characters (i.e. avoiding multi-part tweets). This made me listen in new ways to the speakers, which also helped me observe differences in each speaker's style of presentation. In some papers it was easy to identify several brief, memorable statements that closely related to the main theme of the paper. Yet some papers were more difficult to distill in this way than others, and I was sometimes only able to pull out a random fact or to mention a general topic within the character limit. By listening for "sound bytes" in this way, I very clearly saw the differences in presentation that different speakers used and was able to consider the ways that form influenced content. In addition, by listening for these pithy statements, it made me consider and reconsider the the relevance of different statements to the overall point of the paper. Although I do this whenever I hear a paper, the focused attention (and the knowledge that, for better or worse, I had to share something about the paper after the panel ended) made me much more aware of the nuances and structure of the papers.
- Practice. By the end of the conference, I had effectively doubled my tweet-count. And it helped: simply tweeting more made me more comfortable with the process. This intense period of tweeting made me more excited to continue tweeting and developing my use of social media in an academic setting--in general and through future live-tweeting sessions (I have one up my sleeve for later this fall!). I'm looking forward to it.