Tweeting to #succeed

University social media experts offer advice to students using Twitter.

by Jeff Hargarten

At the University of MinnesotaâÄôs College of Science and Engineering, faculty often integrate Twitter into their courses and projects, offering advice to students trying to establish an online presence.

âÄúOn Twitter, you can ask the world a question,âÄù said Aaron Halfaker, a research assistant at CSE.

The University was among the first schools to start using social media and is aiming to expand its efforts. Many University departments have Twitter and Facebook accounts. But at CSE, professors see the benefit beyond a publicity tool.

Crowd-sourcing and the âÄúmany eyes principleâÄù make social media tools like Twitter valuable for research and networking, Halfaker said.

Professors like Loren Terveen teach students the best ways to make use of Twitter to find jobs, research or collaborate on projects âÄî all while increasing the number of followers.

TerveenâÄôs own use of Twitter to publicize Cyclopath âÄî a route-sharing website he developed along with a team of researchers âÄî led to funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation for a statewide expansion.

For students looking to make an impact on Twitter, finding more followers is critical to making effective use of social media, said Nate Anderson, a student who oversaw University President Eric KalerâÄôs Twitter account during his inauguration.

Sticking to a particular set of topics can help develop a solid base of followers, Anderson said.

âÄúIf youâÄôre a doctor, youâÄôll probably want to sound like a doctor. If youâÄôre a musician, youâÄôll probably want to mention music every now and then,âÄù he said.

ItâÄôs possible to tweet too much and too little, and itâÄôs important to avoid spamming, he said.

âÄúPeople who talk too much get listened to less, and each thing they say becomes decreasingly prominent.âÄù

Tweeting live events is a great way to draw attention, as it gives followers real-time information and a reason to check Twitter updates.

Live multimedia adds variety to a Twitter feed, and most smartphones have built-in cameras and Twitter applications allowing for quick and easy content sharing.

In May, Sohaib Athara, a tweeter running the account @ReallyVirtual, started posting updates about a nearby military chopper crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

It turned out the crash was involved with the U.S. military raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and AtharaâÄôs followers increased significantly.

ItâÄôs also important to remain professional and sensible when posting updates to Twitter.

âÄúBe careful what you say,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúCould this have the potential to embarrass my parents or my future children? What would an employer think about this?âÄù

Mix it up

DonâÄôt rely entirely on certain kinds of posts. Good Twitter accounts are a mixture of creative posts, personalized content and relevant retweets from other users.

Integrate blogs and profiles

Tying a Twitter account to personal blogs and social media profiles can increase followers and visibility.

Follow accounts that follow back

Following Twitter accounts in a particular field of interest or industry can bring prompt users to follow back, providing additional exposure within certain communities. Following accounts promoted by Twitter, such as @Starbucks and @BarackObama, can add followers for a short period of time, tying an account to the most popular users on the network.

Master the hashtag

Hashtags organize Twitter posts into topics and make them visible in related search results. Hashtags like âÄú#UMNâÄù cause posts to appear for those who search the âÄúUniversity of Minnesota.âÄù Trending topics, which are listed on TwitterâÄôs right sidebar, can attract followers by highlighting popular hashtags. For example, âÄú@Lord_Voldemort7,âÄù a popular Twitter account with nearly 2 million followers, posts mostly in trending topics using Harry Potter references.

Beware of fake followers

Avoid subscribing to services promising thousands of followers for a price. These accounts are usually fake or automated spambots. In August, it was revealed that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had amassed nearly a million fake followers to his Twitter account, according to a report from social media analysis website PeekYou .