February 27, 2009

Twitter on ALA and Some Advice

Filed under: precat — Tags: , , , — tsladmin @ 9:50 am

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.


  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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