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Twitter, the bird-themed micro-blogging website, has been taking the world by storm since the first Tweet was posted in 2006. MSU is certainly no exception; there are many ways in which students and faculty are utilizing the social media website both inside and outside of the classroom and everywhere in between. Here are a few instances of how Twitter is changing the way people and organizations think and do different things.

Twitter in the Classroom

Jeffery Elsworth, hospitality business professor, has his students use Twitter in almost every class he teaches, mostly as a way for him to post interesting articles related to class discussion.

“I tried other formats like Angel and Facebook, but I found that students either didn’t check Angel regularly or their newsfeeds would fill up and they wouldn’t know that I had posted anything,” Elsworth said. “With Twitter, each class could have its own place where I could post different items and that students would be able to find and access easily.”

Elsworth will occasionally have an in-class quiz to ensure that students are actually paying attention to the materials he puts on Twitter.

“Most HB students will have me as a professor at least once during their undergrad years,” he said. “After they’ve had me for one class they’ll know to at least marginally pay attention to Twitter in regards to what we’re talking about in class, otherwise they’ll miss important information.”

When he first started using Twitter a few years ago, Elsworth said he would get a handful of students at the beginning of the semester that knew about and/or were using the site. Now, roughly three quarters of his students in a given class knows what Twitter is and roughly half of them actually have accounts.

No matter what class Elsworth is teaching, he stresses the importance of using Twitter in the real world.

“If you’re interested in working for a specific company, follow their Twitter feed,” he said. “It’s a great way to learn more about the company and could potentially give you specific situations or events that you could discuss in an interview.”

Journalism professor Karl Gude doesn’t just encourage his students to use Twitter – he requires it. Twitter is a major component of his JRN 203: Visualizing Information class. Gude uses the social media platform to post assignments and only allows students to ask questions about grades, projects and other class-related topics through tweets on the class’s Twitter page. Despite the necessity of making a Twitter account Gude said he still has a few students that don’t seem very interested in using it.

“One of the best ways I’ve found to provide students with a powerful argument for why Twitter is effective is when I post information that only students following the class’s account will know about,” said Gude. “For example, I tweeted that whenever I say the phrase ‘What’s for dinner?’ in class, all of the students should stand up. So the next day in class when a student had a question about the relevance of Twitter, I said ‘What’s for dinner?’ and at least three quarters of the class stood up; the girl who asked the question has since been actively tweeting about JRN 203.”

Gude said that Twitter and other social media platforms are changing the way that journalism and other industries function. He even went so far as to say that a student or faculty member’s refusal to use social media either in the present or the near future would ultimately be their demise – “You can’t dwell on the past,” said Gude. “You won’t get a job.”

How to use Twitter

According to Gude, there are essentially two ways in which Twitter is used. First is the personal level, where an individual has their own account where they post tweets similar to Facebook statuses. The difference from Facebook is that while there is a 140 character limit on tweets, the tweets can be about virtually anything and can be seen by virtually anyone – in other words, there’s a much wider audience and less privacy.

Photo credit: Kaleigh Robichaud

There is also the option of retweeting what other users have said and different individuals, organizations or businesses can be tagged in the tweet. In this way, something that was posted on one account will show up in the newsfeed of another account. This allows the post to be seen by a larger or more diverse group of followers than the original account may have had. Examples of this way of using Twitter include celebrity accounts like Ashton Kutcher and Conan O’Brien as well as business accounts where a company representative tweets about events or news updates related to the company or something in which the company has an interest.

The other main way to use Twitter is as a means of mass communication. With retweets and the use of hash tags (such as #MSU or #JRN203), Twitter can be used to send out information about events or promotions quickly and conveniently. In addition, tweets don’t require a professional demeanor.

Students Who use Twitter

Lauren Montemurri, a professional writing senior who uses Twitter both for personal and professional purposes.

“I was encouraged to use Twitter over the summer by the professors of my study abroad program in London, Mass Media in the UK,” said Montemurri. “Now I use it all the time to post things that interest me such as really cool photo shoots and fashion ideas.”

Montemurri also uses Twitter in a professional sense through her social media internship with BeSpartanGreen, a program through the Office of Campus Sustainability that works to educate the university about different environmental issues. She said the difference between a Twitter account for an organization as opposed to her own personal account is that she tweets items that she thinks would be interesting to BeSpartanGreen’s audience and tries to find different ways to get people to follow the organization.

“What’s interesting about Twitter and other social media is that the goal for the organization or company is not to sell a product but to get their audience to have a conversation with them,” said Montemurri.  “It’s two-way communication as opposed to the traditional one-way communication that most companies and organizations are used to.”

“With Twitter especially, there are very little guidelines on how to use it so it’s kind of like feeling in the dark,” Montemurri said. People are trying to make social media strategies but for now it’s mostly just trial and error.”

While Montemurri said she finds Twitter to be useful in her internship and as a way to get information out to a wide audience, she added that given the choice between Twitter and Facebook that she would stick with Facebook.

“With Twitter you get to hear a little bit about a lot of different things; Facebook is much more personal,” said Montemurri.

Another professional writing major, junior Lauren Ebelt, gave a similar answer when asked if she would pick Facebook or Twitter.

“More people I know use Facebook, and there are so many more functions on Facebook than there are on Twitter,” said Ebelt. “With Facebook, I can upload photo albums, play games, send messages to my friends, chat with people, or check out different events. With Twitter it’s just status updates over and over again.”

Ebelt has been using Twitter for approximately a month, mostly as a personal account but also as a way to network with potential employers. Despite knowing almost nothing about the site initially, she found it quick and easy to use.

“There’s a step-by-step sign-up process and they give you these goals to follow in order to set up the account,” she said. “The people at Twitter made it really user-friendly, especially for people like me who are sort of technology illiterate.”

Ebelt said she still prefers other forms of communication, but added that Twitter is slowly growing on her.

“The more you use it and the more people you follow and the more people that follow you, the more fun it is,” she said.

MSU Faculty and Students to use Twitter in Future

According to Dr. Cliff Lampe, associate professor and director of the Social Media Research Laboratory in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Twitter will probably continue to grow and fill its particular niche in the world of social media.

“For MSU students in particular, Twitter can be very useful since it is a way to follow things like politicians or organizations and receive news or information that has been filtered by these sources,” said Lampe.

Lampe added though that most of the current users of Twitter are slightly older than college students – mid- to late 20s. The reason for this, said Lampe, is that Twitter was launched at a time when it was useful for this slightly older demographic. For most college students they are not at a place in their lives where Twitter is especially useful.

“That is not to say however that MSU students are not using Twitter and using it effectively,” said Lampe. “[2009 MSU grad] Brett is an example of an incredible Twitter user who used it in relation to his work with Remind 101, a program where you send in your class schedule and receive texts about homework assignments.”

Lampe also pointed out that social media is not necessarily a new concept. “We’ve had social media for decades, but it was mainly populated by, for lack of a better term, nerds,” said Lampe. “Only recently has there been a context collapse – it’s no longer just a small group of people with similar interests. Facebook for example was originally just college students but now it’s being used by a much broader spectrum of people. Twitter is exactly the same way.”

For this reason, Lampe said it is difficult to predict if Twitter will still be useful in the next decade – things could change or a new and improved social media platform could be created that renders it obsolete.

Twitter as a Communication Tool

Despite being fairly simple to use, Twitter is in fact a fairly complex form of social media that is changing the way businesses and universities think and act. At MSU alone there are professors using it as a teaching tool and as a way to supplement more traditional ways of learning. Students are using it for personal and professional networking and as a way to keep in touch with the world outside of college.

Twitter is a news mediator, a large-scale communication tool, and a platform for promoting different events and information. It may not be used by everyone on campus, but those that are using Twitter are using it in diverse and effective ways that ultimately improves their educational experience at MSU and beyond.

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