Beki Grinter

Twitter Question

In social media on November 15, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I developed an important portion of my “friending” policy for social media after I made a mistake on flickr. I made a connection to a student in the spirit of having enjoyed my interactions with that student. I didn’t think. A faculty member reaching out meant that the student rapidly reorganized their photographic collection. Thankfully they told me that they had taken these steps. I realised what I had done.

In light of that, my policy w.r.t. to students is that I will friend anyone who seeks me out on social media, as long as I know the person through our shared invisible college, visible college or some other connection. But, I do not reach out. That’s my way of respecting a student’s privacy and not putting them in a situation where they potentially feel they have to edit their content. I guess the counter-argument might be that it means they have to work harder to network with me.

I have a question. Twitter. I am followed by a student whose tweets (which while I do not see in my feed since I do not follow them) I enjoy. Is it appropriate to follow them. If I am followed, may I follow in return? How does that work? What do people feel comfortable with?

  1. I see Twitter as having much more public norms than something like Facebook or Flickr, and I treat my tweets as public utterances. For me, Twitter is where my academic social media discussions happen, and it’s a great way to keep up with colleagues and notables without the bidirectional friendship model implied by Facebook. I try to keep the slightly uncouth or overly non-academic tweets to @ replies, but even those I try to ensure would be fairly appropriate for public consumption. In this spirit, I’ve actually posted my Twitter stream on my homepage. As a PhD student, I’m fine with having a Twitter relationship with faculty, and I see Twitter as a tool for reinforcing my own personal invisible college. I’d say go for it, as long as the person’s tweets aren’t “private.” In that case, might as well ask.

  2. I don’t know of any grad students who don’t want faculty following them (on Twitter). In fact, most feel honored. The exception to that is a very small number of students who are intentionally private who I would not ask to follow unless you know other faculty are already following them. Besides, all grad students should know full well that what they tweet is public. 🙂

  3. Thanks Andrew, Sarita, I am curious how other students, both at Georgia Tech and elsewhere think. I really don’t want to cause *anyone* to redo their twitter equivalent of their photo library 🙂

  4. Maybe the fact that we sit one lab to her left and one lab to her right means we’re not so representative. I’ll tweet it. 🙂

  5. So apparently social media is my opportunity to screw up right, left and centre. Sorry!

    What I meant was that I would like to hear from people outside of GT too, or at GT not in a PhD program that I have an association with, I dunno, just a range of perspectives. Perhaps I am less likely to hear those anyway, I hope there’s some sort of anonymous function for commenting.

  6. I would have no problem if you followed me on Twitter. Other faculty and “higher-ups” follow me and I don’t change the way I tweet. I would like to believe that I am online as I am offline, tactfully honest.

  7. I think Andrew summed up my feelings nicely as well. Though at the very least, I would think it appropriate for faculty to follow a student who has followed them first – if the student doesn’t intend their feed to be public-facing then they wouldn’t draw attention to it by adding their professors.

  8. I see a difference between Twitter and FB (and for that matter, an obvious difference between FB and LinkedIn). They serve different purposes (for me) hence the difference in ties and friending styles. Twitter is fair game – it’s (almost) completely public, automatically influencing the nature of tweets. FB is a bit more private, but that doesn’t prevent me from having faculty as friends(well, all of my committee members are my FB buddies…hence no public complaints about them ;-)). It does mean a different kind of private/public choreography when posting (not necessarily a bad thing).

    And maybe it’s time to introduce myself – frequent lurker, first time responder 😉

  9. (Coming in via Sarita’s tweet:)
    I completely agree with Sarita. My reaction when a professor I respect follows me is a mix of excitement and humility. I’ve really enjoyed interacting with senior researchers and other graduate students on Twitter, especially because MIT has fewer social media folks than GVU.

    I have had one situation where I made an undergraduate in my research group (a UROP) feel uncomfortable by following him on Twitter. His Twitter account was a different slice of his life than the one he shared with me. So, I see where you’re coming from. Moving forward, I will probably look at the Twitter feed, and if the content reflects the kinds of conversations we usually have (like technology, HCI or MIT), I’ll follow. If it’s speaking to a different audience, I’ll stay away.

    Generally, though, we graduate students tend to tweet about research and research-life, so it’s totally in bounds.

  10. Assuming their content is already public and interesting to you, I think you can follow them regardless of whether they’re already following you. It’s no different than having a public blog.

    For me, relationships on Twitter are a bit different than those on Facebook. While it is about people too, on Twitter I self-select the content I’m interested in. This means that there are some people I know in real life who I don’t follow on Twitter, simply because I’m not interested in what they’re saying — often this is because they only tweet about the mundane details of their lives. On the other hand, I’ve followed and am followed by friends, co-workers, professors, managers, and many people I don’t know, even if the interest isn’t mutual. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) affect the things I tweet about.

    In the Flickr example you started with, I can see why you feel bad, but it might have been a valuable reminder to the student that their photos were public to begin with. After all, it is very possible that you were looking at the photos before explicitly adding them as a content.

  11. I respect the sensitivity here. But I’m guessing that 99.9% of grad students would be happy if you thought enough of them to listen to what they decide to say on twitter. I certainly don’t know anyone who would mind, including myself. If you’re overly concerned, and they’re following you, you can always just direct message them to ask.


    (btw, the cheers is in the hopes that Kurt sees it 😉 )

  12. I also agree with the majority opinion: being followed by faculty is an honor. But at the same time, being followed by faculty (and even other grad students) has changed the way I tweet. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do naturally tend to tailor my tweets to the subset of my audience I have the most professional respect for (not that I disrespect my other followers!) or to those I’m trying to make a good impression on, which is a pretty big deal for me right now because I’m applying to school.

    Personally, I think it represents more of a professionalization of my tweets that was spurred by being followed by more professional-type contacts rather than self-sensorship. But that’s mitigated in large part by my “secret” second account that I don’t want y’all following, and, trust me, you don’t want to follow it. If my main account had the kind of personal BS that’s reserved for my other account, I’d be a little freaked out if you started following it, but it’d be my fault for making it public. If someone is that concerned about who is following them, they should make their account private.

    What gets more awkward for me is whom to follow back. My general rule is that if I know you in a context outside of Twitter, I’ll follow you back, otherwise you get listed. I was recently followed by a pretty big name in the field (who I’ve been following on my academics-researchers list), but I haven’t actually met him, so while I am honored, I haven’t followed him back, though I feel somewhat obligated to. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do about that one. (Sarita, you’re an exception because your tweets used to be protected, so I had to follow you!)

  13. If I minded faculty following me, I’d probably protect my tweets. As an undergrad I probably would have found it a little weird, but as a grad student in a fairly small department, they know me well enough that they’re not hearing anything new, and given how much I like all the faculty, that extra interaction doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, sometimes, being able to ask a quick, 140 character question is very, very useful…

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