Twitter and the Promotional Style

twitter-shoutingI’m somewhat conflicted in writing this post. On one hand, I really do feel that twitter is the single most powerful tool in a practicing teacher’s kit for broadening his/her professional learning network. Thousands of teachers from all over the world are around, and want to talk to you about whatever teaching topic you want to discuss, right now, for free. I know that in my own practice, the use of twitter as PD networking tool has been invaluable. I don’t know what I would do without it. I mean, I’m deliberately uncapitalizing the noun here. I consider myself a conscious twitter-using educator. I don’t have the personal inclination to aggregate tweets on different topics (I’ve always found the search function in twitter and its official iOS apps have been more than sufficient to let me participate in chats). Between twitter, pocket, and evernote, I don’t need much more to make efficient and effective use of the tool. I always try to make sure that I’m following more folks than are following me (a good general practice for everyone who isn’t part of the super-elite twitterati). As an educator, I get twitter.

Which is maybe why I find myself more and more bothered by a certain stripe of twitter usage that I see in the tweeting-educator community. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll refer to this mode as the “promotional style”. I think the promotional style of twitter usage is unpleasant, maybe even downright obnoxious. More than that, I think that it short-circuits meaningful conversation about education, and it seems to be an obstacle that I find myself having to deal with more and more often.

Before we go too much farther, a disclaimer: I’m not suggesting that my perspective on this topic is the only valid one, or that I’m even, necessarily, advancing a point of view that is not as effete in its perspective as the one that I am arguing with. Similarly, I imagine that a good bit of what follows will read like sour grapes. To this later point, I’ll trust that my own interactions within the larger teaching communities that I participate in will demonstrate that I’m at least consistent in my practice and my philosophy, if nothing else. I don’t think that I’m a major promotionalist, but maybe my self-knowledge is off base. Stranger things have happened.

I’m hesitant to outline the traits that I view as comprising the promotional style, but I don’t know that the conversation can proceed without it. Here then is a list of traits that I think point to a person dealing from the promotional style in his or her twitterings (I don’t suggest that this list is exhaustive, or that the traits on offer are de facto evidence of a promotionalist ethos on the part of those who display them):

  • Superlatives in twitter bios: Referring to yourself as a “pioneer” or a “visionary” in your twitter biography is silly, if for no other reason than the fact that I am hard pressed to find examples of actual pioneers or visionaries who engaged in such self-designation. It’s a bit like back in 2008, when everyone gave John McCain crap for referring to himself as a “maverick”. What does such a self-assessment say about the assessor? To me, it suggests that the individual is more interested in how they appear to everyone else than in what they have to say to us all.
  • Mini-Resumes in Twitter bios: I expect that we’re all going to say some things about who we are in our twitter biographies. But, I don’t know that your twitter biography should be entirely filled with your credentials. You are on twitter, presumably to talk to the rest of us. Tell us who you are mainly by talking to us. It’s totally cool if you think that the fact that you are a Google Certified Teacher/Apple Distinguished Educator/Professional Development Czar/Knowles Fellow/GTAAntarctica Alumnus/MacArthur Genius Grant Award Recipient/Mayberry County Librarian of the Year for 2011/Whatever else is so important that we all need to know it, but I think it’s important to remember that you are putting those credentials in your biography because you think they are important, not because anyone else will. Credentials do not, after all, give you any greater authority to speak on a topic in and of themselves. Similarly, there are questions of economy. You have 140 characters to tell us a little something about yourself, why not lead with what you believe, or how you feel, or anything other than your credentials, which are arguably the least important thing about you as a teacher?
  • Excessively self-promotional tweeting: We all like to talk about what we are doing and when we are doing it. The problem is when that becomes the only thing that we tweet about. I’m glad you’re running a session on Snargle Bargles at #edcamp3000, or trying to win the Webby for “Most likely to win a Webby”, or that your website was voted “Best Hair”, or any of the rest of it, but that’s not all I want to know about you. What do you think about the questions I have? What questions do you have? What cool stuff have you made to share with me? What can I share with you? These are the seeds of conversation and relationship building. Who you are talking to Wednesday at 2:30 pm…not so much. Put another way; in those moments in my own professional life when I’ve used twitter to raise money for a project, or flog a particular PD session, I’ve felt somewhat embarrassed by it. I want to get the feeling like you do, too.
  • Superficial conversation: I’m not all that interested in how well you can sling a buzzword. I want to know what you think. I don’t need you to steer the conversation around to your favorite topic every time we talk. Engage with me. Challenge my assumptions. Make me think. We have the greatest professional development tool ever, and you’re just giving me inane pabulum. Let’s get to know each other, and what we really think. By all means, tell me about things you think I’ll be interested in, but try to keep away from telling me what I should be interested in.

These are a few of the major hallmarks of the promotional style. Again, I don’t suggest that everyone who engages in the above is “clogging the feed”, but I do find that the majority of tweets that I find less than useful demonstrate many of the points that I’ve mentioned. Certainly, my list is going to be a product of my own biases. I’m also NOT trying to suggest that all of us aren’t guilty of a bit of self-promotion from time to time. That noted, it does seem that twitter, more than other modes of discourse, makes it really easy to slip in to a promotionalist mode of operation. But the promotional style isn’t a style that says anything interesting. Instead of talking to me, you are talking at me, and I’ve stopped being interested in such things. I just want to talk to educators about education (and more generally talk to people about being people). If you’re interested in that conversation, then I’m your man.

Unless, of course, you are using twitter to promote yourself. In which case, let me know so I can take you off my feed. Because that crap is booooring.