February 27, 2009

Twitter on ALA and Some Advice

Going into ALA’s Mid­win­ter Meet­ing last month, I knew Twit­ter was going to play a much more promi­nent role than it had in the past. It’s been used heav­ily at other librar­ian con­fer­ences, but usu­ally in a more social way or as com­men­tary on con­tent dur­ing the event. How­ever, Mid­win­ter is a dif­fer­ent beast, as it’s pri­mar­ily a busi­ness meet­ing for the Asso­ci­a­tion, so I won­dered how much of that work would hap­pen on Twit­ter this time around.

Most of the peo­ple on ALA’s staff, like most peo­ple any­where, have never heard of Twit­ter, let alone used it, so I wanted to give them a heads up in case it came up in meet­ings or in con­ver­sa­tions. A cou­ple of years ago, the IT depart­ment at ALA imple­mented monthly update meet­ings open to all staff, and since we had one sched­uled right before Mid­win­ter, I took advan­tage of the oppor­tu­nity to high­light Twit­ter, what it is, and how a few units are using it.

And then we all headed to Denver.

And wow did Twit­ter play a big part. Ken­ley Neufeld sums it up pretty well, and even notes how fun the expe­ri­ence was. If you had asked me, I wouldn’t have pre­dicted that four coun­cilors would tweet from the floor dur­ing coun­cil ses­sions, thereby pro­vid­ing an effec­tive, real-time tran­script of what was hap­pen­ing. Even beyond that, though, I got to par­tic­i­pate in meet­ings I wasn’t phys­i­cally at (from within other meet­ings), as did peo­ple who weren’t even in Den­ver. And good things came from all of it (includ­ing a help­ful guide for what *not* to do).

So when we got back, I decided to do a pre­sen­ta­tion at the Feb­ru­ary ITTS Update meet­ing about Twit­ter on ALA. Not ALA on Twit­ter, but Twitter’s effect on the Asso­ci­a­tion and the story of Mid­win­ter that Twit­ter pro­duced. Luck­ily, many of the peo­ple who tweet about us have a sense of humor, so there were some good laughs in the screen­shots, espe­cially about our con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem (Col­lage). So thank you to every­one who pub­licly tweeted about us in Jan­u­ary, espe­cially at Mid­win­ter, because you helped me illus­trate a moment in time when some­thing changed for ALA. I def­i­nitely think com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­fer­ences will never be the same for our orga­ni­za­tion, and I’m fas­ci­nated to see where this all leads.

The only prob­lem with doing these two talks for staff is that I’m so buried in work on launch­ing ALA Con­nect that I don’t have time to do any train­ing right now. Ear­lier this month, Tim­o­thy Vollmer, an ALA employee at our Wash­ing­ton Office tweeted, “in hor­ri­ble ironic moment, U.S. Con­gress is mov­ing faster than ALA.”

For the last month, that’s how I’ve felt at ALA. Units are mov­ing faster than I can, and sev­eral have started new Twit­ter accounts. On the one hand, huz­zah! On the other hand, they’re fly­ing a lit­tle blind (so please cut them a lit­tle slack while they get their Twit­ter sea legs).

Since I really don’t have time to do train­ing right now, I wanted to pull together a few resources to point my co-workers to until we can do some­thing more for­mal. I’m also includ­ing some expla­na­tions for how I track ALA on Twit­ter in case oth­ers want to try these strate­gies, too.

Since I think it could be use­ful to oth­ers, I’m post­ing the list here, rather than just send­ing the infor­ma­tion out in an email to staff. If you have addi­tional sug­ges­tions, please include them in the comments.

  1. Make sure you read up on some of the best prac­tices for using Twit­ter. There are many out there, such as Twit­ter 101: 8 Tips to Get Started on Twit­ter and How to Suc­ceed at Twit­ter. At bare min­i­mum, make sure you add an avatar and fill out the bio sec­tion, includ­ing a link back to your web­site.
  2. I use Twit­ter per­son­ally, and I use the ALAan­nual and ALAmw accounts for work. It’s not easy to track two accounts through­out the day. So here’s the rou­tine I’ve estab­lished to this point.
    1. First thing in the morn­ing, I search Twit­ter for ref­er­ences to ALA. If it’s some­thing I can respond to, I do. If it’s not some­thing in my area (IT), I pass along the information.
    2. I use Tweet­Deck to try to track my Twit­ter­stream through­out the day. It’s eas­ily the best tool I’ve found for two rea­sons. First, it lets me set up dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple I’m fol­low­ing, so I’ve set up a group show­ing all the ALA Twit­ter accounts and another of friends I want to track more closely. Sec­ond, it lets me do a search within groups by fil­ter­ing for a term. So a cou­ple of times a day, I’ll fil­ter every­one I’m fol­low­ing for the term “ALA.” I can usu­ally get a heads up about any­thing major just by doing this. At the end of the day, I do another search of Twit­ter just to make sure I haven’t missed any­thing. ALA staff, if you want to try Tweet­Deck, I think ITTS will have to install it for you, so con­tact us to request an install. There’s also a help­ful video explain­ing How to Tweet­deck Like a Pro.
  3. I have a NetVibes page set up to track ALA as a term across mul­ti­ple sites. For exam­ple, the Twit­ter search appears here, although I don’t find it as easy to scan as the list on the Twit­ter site or in Tweet­Deck. But I also have RSS feeds from news sites and Friend­Feed dis­play­ing on this one page, so it can be handy for a quick scan. ALA staff, if you want help set­ting up some­thing like this for your­self, please let me know.
  4. If you have a blog or other use­ful, not over­whelm­ing RSS feed, use Twit­ter­Feed to auto­mat­i­cally have noti­fi­ca­tions of new items sent to Twit­ter.
  5. If you’re not using Tweet­Deck to auto­mat­i­cally shorten URLs, you can use TinyURL or is.gd. A URL like http://www.ala.org/heading/subheading/anotherheading/anothersubheading/title/index.cfm should *never* appear in a tweet.

As I was get­ting ready to hit the “pub­lish” but­ton, I saw Phil Bradley’s post about CILIP and Twit­ter (or lack thereof). It made me real­ize how far ALA has come, and how lucky I am to work in an envi­ron­ment where I’m allowed to exper­i­ment in these spaces and help inte­grate them into the Asso­ci­a­tion. I live in a really spe­cial place right now, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally, and I don’t take that for granted.

Be Socia­ble, Share!


  1. Nice sum­mary here Jenny. In recent days, I have been fol­lowed by a few ALA staffers and assumed some­thing had hap­pened at the moth­er­ship. :-)

    An impor­tant tip when work­ing with an orga­ni­za­tional account, or one that you don’t check fre­quently, is to setup email or sms noti­fi­ca­tion when you get an @ response or a direct mes­sage response. Those types of mes­sages on Twit­ter are impor­tant to be aware of and/or respond to directly.

    Two inter­est­ing side notes, I just read yes­ter­day that a fed­eral judge is allow­ing jour­nal­ists to Tweet from the court room. Pretty unusual for the fed­eral courts. Sec­ondly, the recent bud­getary process in Cal­i­for­nia was much more trans­par­ent with the use of Twit­ter by staffers and lobbyists.


    Comment by Kenley Neufeld — February 27, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  2. Great post, Jenny! One help­ful tool I use is Tweet­Beep, which can set up alerts for spe­cific key­words on Twit­ter. Luck­ily, I track the key­word “YALSA,” but you can set up updates to run hourly if you want to (I do daily).

    Comment by Stevie — February 27, 2009 @ 11:34 am

  3. Hi Jenny, thanks for the men­tion. It’s quite dispir­it­ing to see the dif­fer­ence between the orga­ni­za­tions and I’m quite frankly envi­ous! Still, we’ll keep plug­ging away.

    Comment by Phil Bradley — February 27, 2009 @ 11:58 am

  4. About two years ago my brother (@randelaw) got my fam­ily using twit­ter. We used it for keep­ing in touch with each other (when the Min­neapo­lis bridge went down we found we dis­cov­ered my brother was safe on twit­ter). Sud­denly I was closer with my sib­lings, linked by 140 char­ac­ters. Right around then (July 2006) the library was work­ing on its new “2.0″ web­site, and I said “I want twit­ter”. Then, every­one pooh-poohed it.

    Flash to 12/2008 and our web­site is almost finally ready to go up. I asked the assis­tant direc­tor if we could have twit­ter on the children’s dept web­site. She reluc­tantly agreed, she really didn’t under­stand the pur­pose or what the tweets would look like.

    In Jan­u­ary of this year we decided to do “library 2.0″ train­ing for staff, which is long over­due. I asked that twit­ter be included. Most peo­ple on the com­mit­tee asked me why.

    Then our direc­tor went to ALA mid-winter, and at the coun­cil meet­ings he heard the twit­ter buzz (he may have heard it other places) and he called the assisant direc­tor and asked that twit­ter be part of the 2.0 training.

    In late Jan­u­ary, we went to a sys­tem meet­ing which fea­tured Michael Stephens, who of course, was all over twit­ter. Sud­denly every­one is learn­ing it and is say­ing how much they enjoy it.And I have mixed feel­ings. Part of me wants to say “told you so” and “why didn’t you lis­ten 2 years ago?” but most of me wants to say, hooray for twit­ter and welcome!

    My expe­ri­ence is prob­a­bly not unique, it cer­tainly sounds like you’re expe­ri­ence but on a much smaller level. Read­ing your last entry “I will build a door” was encour­ag­ing… I’m a lit­tle burned out with the ideas I have being stuck in com­mit­tee. Thanks for the good words. @readingchick (and @juniorroom)

    Comment by sharon — February 27, 2009 @ 11:58 am

  5. Jenny — one sug­ges­tion for future con­fer­ences. I noticed that ALA moved from a ded­i­cated ser­vice for noti­fy­ing atten­dees of emer­gency alerts to a text pre­fix on the offi­cial twit­ter account. I don’t think that is going to work. I’m not going to sign up for deliv­ery of alamw or alaannual Twit­ter mes­sages to my mobile phone because of the expense involved in receiv­ing SMS mes­sages; oth­ers may be in the same sit­u­a­tion (or just won’t want to be bom­barded with a slew of SMS mes­sages on their phones). If ALA does decide to stick with Twit­ter as its deliv­ery mech­a­nism for emer­gency mes­sages, may I sug­gest set­ting up a dif­fer­ent account for that?

    Comment by Peter Murray — February 27, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  6. My only prob­lem with the empha­sis on Twit­ter at Mid­win­ter was the emer­gency alert sys­tem. Not every­one is as tech­no­log­i­cally savvy or enabled as you folks are. The way it was described it sounded like the only way you could get emer­gency alerts was through Twit­ter — not good if that’s the truth.

    Comment by Liz — February 27, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  7. @Kenley — Thanks for the heads up about the two uses of Twit­ter. I’ll be inter­ested to hear your thoughts on Twit­ter at Annual after the fact.

    @Stevie — I wasn’t using Tweet­Beep because the term “ALA” is so generic, but after you men­tioned it, I decided to set up alerts for @shifted, @alaannual, and @alamw. We’re imple­ment­ing a more fool­proof method, but thanks for the nudge.

    @Phil — Def­i­nitely keep plug­ging away. The thought­ful pushes from the out­side def­i­nitely help, and CILIP will get there.

    @Peter & @Liz — I didn’t real­ize the text ser­vice at #alamw09 was solely based on Twit­ter. I’ll take that back and bring this up inter­nally. Thanks for the heads up on that.

    @Sharon — I know *exactly* how you feel, but the impor­tant thing is that the Library is mov­ing for­ward at all. You know how you’ll try to open a jar, you can’t, you hand it to some­one else, they eas­ily open it, and you say, “I loos­ened it?” Well, you loos­ened DGPL. You’ll always have good days and bad, but keep loos­en­ing. :)

    Comment by jenny — March 2, 2009 @ 6:46 am

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