Academic Digital

Getting in on the Twitter Action? Using Social Media to Build Your Professional Network #altc2011 Broad Tents & Strange Bedfellows; Making Things Happen (ALTC11)

This paper has been accepted.

This paper reports on attempts by a digital steward (Wenger, White and Smith 2009) within a university to increase her expertise in the deployment of social media for education (Conole and Alevizo 2010), through collaboration by means of social media with digital stewards in other institutions. The development of collaborative communities can be described with the framework of ideas associated with the notion of a Community of Practice (CoP). It was envisaged that a CoP of utility to a digital steward might be established through intensive activity with a social media tool and for this Twitter was chosen.

This activity has continued for some two years and has latterly been cast as an action research project with the aim of learning lessons of help to others similarly placed having a need to promote digital technology with limited resources. Data has been collected about the extent of various types of interaction through Twitter. Observations have also been made of the cross-linking between social media tools that arises organically as one tries to make effective use of a single tool.

Several categories of data relating to Twitter use have been analysed in order to find indications of community formation. For example the similarity to the stated interests of the observed Twitter account of the interests of the account’s followers characterises the commonality (or lack of) purpose of the group. Further insight has been gained through examination of the extent of: interaction, both electronic and non-electronic, with followers; the retweeting of tweets by the account holder and the followers; and the accessing of linked material on other social media sites.

One implication of this work is that in an era of readily accessible social media there will be less utility for people to come together in a defined social space, but that they will rather start by using these facilities to create what might be called a personal CoP. Secondly it has been found that one social media tool by itself is unlikely to be adequate to create an effective social network; rather, several interlinked media must be used.


Conole, G. and Alevizo, P. (2010) A literature review of the use of Web 2.0 tools in Higher Education, Available from [Accessed 30/9/2010]

Wenger, E., White, N. and Smith, J. (2009) Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities Portland, Oregon, CPsquare.

By Digital Fingerprint

Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture  in the third sector (especially faith). Author of 'Raising Children in a Digital Age', regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.

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