Who’s your people? On building online networks

“Who’s your people?” She demanded, looking him straight in the eye.

“Ummm. Pardon me, ma’am?” He replied, tentatively.

I was not sure if he couldn’t understand her thick southern accent, or if he couldn’t understand the nature of her question.

“Who’s your people?” She asked again.

After a moment, her daughter – my great aunt – who was playing hostess and serving up delicious slices of pecan pie jumped into the conversation to help out, “Oh, Mama, he’s not from around here. You don’t know his people.”

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Twitter: for the birds?

This spring, my research collaborators and I interviewed more than 50 people about (among other things) their Twitter use. This was on the heels of spending 3 days in two high school classrooms last year interacting with teens about their social media use and attitudes (including Twitter). And now I find myself once again with 35 of my own students in a course focused on social media, in which I alternately introduce my students to, reunite them with, or simply play alongside them on Twitter. All of this is to say that I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about how people perceive and use Twitter. And tonight I’m thinking a lot about how to discuss Twitter — and why/how some people use it and others don’t — with my students.

My bracketing statement, before I go any further:

I am primarily a situational Twitter user, and I tweet mostly on topics related to my profession, although occasionally share something that amuses me or that is more personal. Mostly I tweet during events, such as conferences. I also tweet each summer when I teach my social media class. (Full disclosure, I also tweet with a class during the school year, but not from my personal account so I’m not really counting that. It’s a very deliberate and scheduled act then, not at all naturalistic or exploratory.) Passively, I use Twitter sporadically (sometimes I go a month without logging on). If I’m killing time, I’ll open the app and see if there’s anything interesting to read. If a ‘news event’ is unfolding, especially something local, I may go on Twitter to try to figure out what is going on. Hurricane Hermine (hiding in my basement while 2 huge trees fell on my house) and the shooting at the FSU Library (I heard the many sirens) would be two such instances. So, who do I follow? A collection of local places, thought leaders, professional organizations, colleagues, media outlets/magazines, and some random accounts that amuse me. Put that all together, and that’s my Twitter experience. Oh, and let’s not forget that I’m American. Although I follow people in various countries, I know my perspective is an American one and the people with whom I’ve discussed Twitter recently are either American or living/studying in the United States.

So, what have I learned? Continue reading