Twitter for Choirs
Date: July 27, 2012
If you've been using Twitter to broadcast what you had for lunch (or avoiding it because that's all you think that it's good for), it's time to reconsider. Twitter is an immensely powerful tool for both your own professional interests and communicating with your groups. Let me show you three steps to become a Tweet master.
First, a little background
Twitter goes by all sorts of "techo" titles, but let's simplify and call it a messenging service. You get 142 characters to say something brief and broadcast it to the world. Anybody "following" you (which users do themselves) can see your message in their "stream." A user's Twitter handle looks like this: @jefftillinghast (Me), @EricWhitacre (Eric Whitacre), @TimothySharp (Tim Sharp). So, for example, if I create a free Twitter account and follow @TimothySharp, then anything that Tim posts from his account appears in my stream. I can view that stream in many ways: go to Twitter.com, use another website or use an app for my tablet or phone like TweetDeck (for example). If I want, I can forward that message to all my followers ("re-tweet") or reply to the message. The medium is important, and it's one of the reasons why Twitter is so great for quick communication-- your group members can choose whether they want to get updates through e-mail, check Twitter online, or get messages on their phones or tablets.
In reality, the much feared 142 character limit is a little misleading. For example, links are automatically shortened so that they fit. In other words, if I want to send an article, YouTube clip, etc., I can copy and paste that link into a tweet and Twitter will automatically make it a short version that fits under the character limit. This means that you really get to use Twitter for two separate (but equally important) purposes: first, you can quickly get a message out to everyone in your group (assuming that they have a Twitter account) through their preferred communication method, and secondly you can share documents, files and media very easily and quickly.
Now, the three steps to Twitter mastery
Stay on target!
Yes, much of what happens on Twitter is utterly banal. That happens in real-life, too, but we get used to tuning out the noise that we don't need to pay attention to. The great thing about Twitter, though, is that you can follow only those people who are useful to you, which gives you complete control over the content incoming to you. Many teachers, professionals and artists have adopted a very hard stance between personal sharing (which belongs in a service such as Facebook) and professional sharing in Twitter. Educational speaker and author Meg Ormison (@Megormi) constantly edits her list with one standard: "The minute you tell me what you had for lunch, you're out!" If someone starts posting things that aren't interesting to you, you can drop them.
This means that you can build your list of professionals sharing useful articles, media, questions and thoughts targeted to your interests. This is the first key to Twitter mastery: only use it for what you want, and only follow people who give you interesting things. Even if you eventually end up with only 50 people that you follow at the beginning, you'll be exposed to a wealth of great information online to inspire you.
In the same way, if your choir members are always following you, then anything that you post (videos, rehearsal notes, scheduling info) will instantly appear in their streams.
Master the #hashtag.
The hashtag (#) is one of the most powerful and underutilized features of Twitter. Think of # as a label or tag for your tweet. If my tag relates to choirs in general, I might put #choir in the text of the message. That way, anyone who wants to see what people are saying about choir today can search for "#choir" and my tweet will appear on their list. (Go ahead and try it now! We'll wait.) Try some other ones: #bach #opera #singing
Hashtags don't have to be "created" or "registered" to use them-- they become functional the minute someone uses it for the first time. If I wanted to create a hashtag for all of my choir members to follow, so that I could send them quick notes, I'd just type #my_choir #CHOIRNAME or #SAMPLEHS_Choir (replace all those with the names of your group) and tell my members to be following those hashtags. Unfortunately, hashtags do count against your character limit, so avoid #This_is_the_name_of_Maestro_Tillinghast's_Choir.
Here's a key point, though: anything that gets sent out with a #hashtag is still visible to the world. In other words, if I'm following you, and you send out a note about tonight's rehearsal to #allmyaltos, I'm also going to read it as a member of the public. To really pull it together, you must...
Be a stealth @HideChat ninja.
Adding @HideChat to your tweet makes it appear to anyone who has searched for the hashtag, but not anyone just following you. In the example above, if you sent a note to #allmyaltos @HideChat, your altos who are searching for #allmyaltos would see it, but not average members of the public. It's a little tortured to explain at first, but you'll get the hang of it once you see it in action.
Twitter Maestro at work
Now, a possible workflow. This is in no way the only way to use it, but I present one possible way in which you could use Twitter in your groups.
Again, this is not the only way to use it, but one possible implementation.
How do you use it?
Do you use Twitter with your choirs (or for your own benefit)? Who do you follow? What programs do you use (if any)?