As a social media platform, Twitter is growing up.
In its early days, Twitter was generally seen as a place for overly indulgent self-expression, or simply a shallow imitation of Facebook’s status update system. Today, it has played an integral part in organizing political movements and even executing revolutions all over the world.
While Twitter retains its fair share of detractors, the site has come to be used for an incredibly broad set of purposes, encompassing areas that might have once been considered too serious to engage in social networking. Carleton is one among a number of institutions that have begun to embrace Twitter, with students, staff and faculty using it for a wide variety of purposes.
Both student groups and sports teams maintain active Twitter accounts that dispense relevant information in addition to irreverent comments by whoever happens to be behind the keyboard. More significantly, the college itself has a number of distinct Twitter accounts that update in a frequent and focused manner.
Carleton has been using Twitter in an official capacity for several years; tweets on the @CarletonCollege page date back to April 2009, though they have increased in frequency since. Jaye Lawrence, Director of Web Communications and Development at Carleton, has a lot to say about the college’s decision to implement Twitter as a serious method of spreading information and obtaining publicity.
“It’s part of our communications outreach, extending beyond carleton.edu,” she said.
“We can’t sit back and assume people will come to our website without prompting--we need to reach out to them in the social media spaces they already frequent.”
Twitter makes content accessible in a number of ways to a number of different potential audiences.
Eric Sieger, director of media relations and public relations, who updates both the @CarletonKnights and @CarletonNews Twitter pages, expresses similar sentiments about the appeal and value of using Twitter.
“The College engages its various audiences on Twitter and other social media platforms because those people--our alumni, our parents, our students and prospective students--are in those spaces,” he said. Both Lawrence and Sieger describe Twitter in particular as a more direct, one-sided way of easily communicating with an audience.
“Twitter, while it does offer some interaction through its retweet and @ features, is still mostly an ‘announcement’ medium: We put it out there, you read it,” Lawrence said.
“It’s easier to follow people you find interesting in a specific field without them having to follow you back,” Sieger said.
While Carleton Facebook groups offer a more discussion-oriented experience, Twitter is a quick and easy way of spreading important or insightful bits of information around campus.
Despite the benefits of engaging an audience via Twitter, there are a number of concerns that arise from using the medium. Given the casual nature of the site, use of Twitter can be seen as unprofessional or detrimental to credibility.
Lawrence, however, suggests that not using social media can come off as backwards in today’s world. Still, she admits that tweeting can be a bit of a balancing act.
“If you don’t insert your personality into it at all, your tweets are dry and flat. If you punch up
the personality too much, you can come across as flippant or unprofessional,” she said.
“Fortunately, Carleton as an institution has a pretty engaging personality--it’s a smart place, and very serious about learning, but also a fun place with a sense of humor.”
Sieger was also confident that the line between personal and professional can be maintained.
“I think it’s wise to have a professional account for someone in my position along with a personal account,” he said.
Sieger also wonders about the implications of students transitioning to a professional life. “A lot of students that tweet might be wondering what to do with their accounts once they transition into the professional world,” he said.
“It will be interesting to see how that plays out over the next few years."
Twitter has also been somewhat integrated into classwork, though it has yet to see significant use in official coursework. Biology professor Dan Hernandez notes that his research students have maintained a Twitter account for one of his labs over the past two summers.
“It’s mainly used for fun,” he said. However, “I don’t see much use for Twitter, or any other social platform, in my classes.”
Sieger noted a general disinterest among faculty for the social network.
“I don’t know about a lot of faculty at Carleton or other like institutions using Twitter, at least to advance themselves professionally,” he said, adding that “It’s something I would love to see, but I think it’s something if you’re going to use it professionally you have to be willing to invest some time in learning about the tool and understanding what sorts of things will engage your potential followers.”
Unlike other areas of campus life, Twitter hasn’t quite permeated academic pursuits, seemingly due to the commitment needed from both a professor and his or her students in order to make Twitter a worthwhile use of time.
An essential component of the Twitter experience is, of course, its primary audience of Carleton students. Jiatao Cheng ’15 said that he is not an incredibly active Tweeter when it comes to other topics, but follows a number of Carleton pages.
“Although I’m not too involved in the larger Twitter culture, I do think that following pages that interest you can be really useful,” Cheng said.
“I don’t have to sort through posts to find news like on Facebook, or spend time browsing the college’s website. On Twitter, it’s all right there.”
Others, like Bob Otsuka ’15, are not convinced. Otsuka is an active internet user but has significant doubts about Twitter.
“It’s not a useful thing for anybody to be using,” he said.
“The medium is too frivolous to communicate any sort of serious or useful information.”
As with faculty usage, there are elements of Carleton’s student body that haven’t been taken in by Twitter.
Regardless of some noticeable gaps, Twitter has achieved a meaningful and far-reaching role in providing information to all kinds of groups connected to Carleton, be they students, alumni, prospective students, or any others interested in the college.
While there still may be more ground to take, Carleton’s Twitter pages should no doubt arouse the interest of any technologically-oriented students.