A museum registrar friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that she would like to use Twitter, but didn't really understand it. It launched me to comment on the value I see in Twitter as a social media outlet for cultural heritage professionals and how one would use it to one's advantage. The following is a list of some of the things I value about this unique form of social media. I hope that my observations and comments will encourage others in the field to consider how Twitter might boost their personal online presence or that of their cultural heritage institution.
How to use Twitter (in brief)
Twitter allows you to "follow" people and to keep your eye on conversations revolving around different subjects. The site recommends people who may interest you and you can seek people who are talking about specific topics you seek. If you are looking for a topic, search with # and then enter a term. I always have a window up that tells me what people are posting for "#archives." I periodically check in on other things that interest me.
Find interesting things happening in your field or interesting things happening in your day to "tweet." Retweet what others say. Respond to what others say. Use hashtags in your own tweets to highlight topics. People will start to follow you if you have interesting things to say. In the beginning I posted short "tips" about managing records. It took me a few weeks to catch on and then I started having short conversations with people. Most of my posts center on diverse cultural heritage, collaborative cultural heritage and documentation projects.
Twitter events such as "AskaCurator" and "Save Libraries" are just the tip of the iceberg for Twitter's potential for cultural heritage. Explore ways the medium can promote the value of what you do.
The Value of Tweeting
1. Networking - Twitter has allowed me to meet colleagues from all over the world who share my interests. By posting what interests me, highlighting relevant terms with hashtags (#), and seeking out others who "tweet" about topics that I find noteworthy I have been able to build a network of fascinating individuals in related fields.
2. Expanded Perspective - Twitter has expanded my understanding of my field by connecting me to people in archives related professions such as oral history, genealogy, archaeology, architecture, and more. It has also given me a more global perspective by making it as easy to "meet" people who live on the other side of the world as it is to meet people in my own state. Furthermore, it has encouraged me to make a habit of reading the news in my field every day, so I can share what I've found and explore diverse perspectives.
3. Support - Some in this network of people have become personal friends to me. Others have become online friends. We support each other by sharing ideas through Twitter. We also support each other's projects and serve as information resources for one another. If an online friend has an archives question, they can come to me. If I'm looking for a genealogist who knows about Polish history, I have easy access to someone with that information. If someone in the network is promoting a fabulous documentation project (such as Linda Norris' interesting "Pickle Project,") I'll re-tweet what she has to say.
4. Piece of Social Media Puzzle - Twitter serves as one piece of a social networking puzzle. I use Twitter to make short statements about my own projects and refer people to my web sites, Facebooks pages, and blog when appropriate. (Be careful when you tweet not to focus on yourself though. I find it off-putting when people do this. Twitter is about sharing information and not spamming people about you and your work.) I use Twitter to relate other people's projects to my own work and to promote colleagues. Through Twitter, I have invited people to write blog posts for my blog and I try to help promote them through all my social networking sites. (I have been asked to blog for others this way as well.) Collaborative promotion across platforms is good for cultural heritage in general. Boosting others on the long run helps both you and your profession.
5. Promotion - Using Twitter has helped me better shape my personal "brand." Branding is one of the key components of professional life in our society today. Twitter allows me to speak out in a crowd. I try to do it at least a few times a day. When I post about things related to the work I do, people get a better idea of what that work is. As they read my postings, consider re-tweeting what I say, and I re-tweet what others say, my brand is becoming linked to their brand. People can get a good idea of who you are, what you do, and how your work can benefit them through Twitter.
6. Collaboration - Twitter is transferable to real life. By finding like-minded people and people who have skill sets that complement my own, we have begun to transfer our online ideas to create collaborative projects in the form of workshops and community preservation work. Twitter provides a great platform for melding ideas and is a natural fit for collaboration.
So, give Twitter a try and stick with it for awhile. Find people to whom you can reach out. Consider how their work relates to yours. Think about how this can benefit the cultural heritage community. See Twitter as a part of your working life. Use it as an outreach and networking tool. As the world relies more and more on digital environments, your time to start tweeting is now. Help develop the use of the technology to benefit our profession so that it can best suit your needs.