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Nigel Paine

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Twitter: too hot to handle?


Why would a learning and development professional go near Twitter? Isn't it too hot to handle? For those still on the fringes here are a few ways it can work for you as an individual and can work for your organisation.

In a recent TrainingZone article written by Charles Jennings, George Siemens is quoted as saying:
'There is a growing demand for the ability to connect to others. It is with each other that we can make sense, and this is social. Organisations, in order to function, need to encourage social exchanges and social learning due to faster rates of business and technological changes. Social experience is adaptive by nature and a social learning mindset enables better feedback on environmental changes back to the organisation.'
In a way the rest of this article will expand upon that statement, and I hope, give those wavering the courage to plunge in and see what the water is like.
Why use Twitter? As an individual I know hundreds of people who have built personal networks on Twitter that really matter to them. Forget about the meaningless: 'I am about to drink my first coffee' tweets, they have been largely replaced by 'what's happening?' statements and what's happening - if you pick the people you follow carefully- is a mass of relevant information from an interlinking network. This will comprise people you know, people you have heard of, and people you have not. What they share is a common interest and passion. They will point you in the direction of other people, articles, websites, events, ideas and so on. It is a simple metaphor for knowledge gathering, application and dissemination. 
"Having millions of followers is about as useful as having none, unless you are into massive self-promotion."
But how do you find these people? Well, like all great journeys you take the first step and find one person you know and respect: but not Stephen Fry! Having millions of followers is about as useful as having none, unless you are into massive self-promotion. Find one person, list the people they follow and the people that follow them and begin the journey. Follow key people in their list, check they are key by examining their brief biographies. Take some time, build your network: having Britney Spears and Barack Obama on your list won't do much for your career or L&D network! 
Think about this. Go slowly and systematically and get your first 50 people. They will tweet, they will suggest links, other people will comment, you get links to other people. Read what is said and then, when you are ready, add your own comments. Retweeting what someone else says is a good way to start. Then your own comments. These will be picked up, other people will begin to follow you, and you have not just a network but an active network. It is crucial that you accept that Twitter is an endless stream of information. You do not, cannot, read everything. Dip your toe in the water when you feel like it. Let things flow by.
When you have something good going you can let your work team know. Get them to follow you, send links to individual users directly and exclusively (direct messaging). Get them to let you know if they find anything. You have an active learning community build around Twitter. And then there will be big issues that you might want to forward on to relevant staff, you become a part of a hub. People recognise that role.
Add in your suppliers, or potential suppliers, ask them questions, find out what other users think of x or y. Ask if there is anything better out there. Make comments directly into the supplier community. Companies that tweet are, almost by definition, responsive. Share product ideas, large numbers of product improvements are now generated by product users tweeting to each other and to the company concerned. Free advice, free feedback and free ideas, and through all of this you 'meet' new people. 
"as you consume, what you produce becomes better, more confident and more aligned, and you develop your own distinct online personality."
Build up your network to the point where you need to split up and group the people you follow. Use one of the many Twitter apps to do this. I use TweetDeck but there are others. Have a column around a supplier, around your L&D network, around leadership. Who knows? So you can keep better track of that flow. None of this is complicated or hard to manage and the beauty of the world in 140 characters is that it keeps you moving fast. And as you consume, what you produce becomes better, more confident and more aligned, and you develop your own distinct online personality. More people will retweet you, link to you and your network will grow and grow. You go to conferences and you meet the people behind the Twitter name: perfect excuse to go and talk to them. That makes it more real the next time you go on line.
Now you have twitter on your laptop, your phone, your iPad. You share insights at conferences, from books or articles even phone conversations. Twitter links to Linked In and Facebook. But still work-focussed and professionally exhilarating, and you still don't follow Stephen Fry!
And finally, that George Siemens quotation; how did I find it? On Twitter of course. The article was flagged up to me and I clicked the link. In the same way I do a hundred times a day. Twitter is a critical part of my personal network, my information space and my way of keeping in touch wherever I happen to be in the world.
Nigel Paine is a coach, mentor, writer, broadcaster and keynote speaker of international acclaim. He is currently working in Europe, Brazil,  the US and Australia on a variety of assignments, that hinge around making work more creative, innovative and aspirational and making workplaces more conversational, team-based and knowledge sharing. You can read his blog at or follow him on Twitter:

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