University of Guelph

Respectfully, you’re doing it wrong

Twitter Wallpaper - Vector Redo
cc-licensed photo source

Twitter—more than just broadcasting—is about engagement.

If you agree with this premise, then take a moment to visit the University of Guelph’s Twitter account. Notice anything? A stream of tweets linking to the University’s communications and public affairs news releases and At Guelph articles. No conversations, no re-tweets. How many people are following @UofG? A little over 8700 (as of July 2012). How many accounts does the University follow back? 35.

How about a quick visit to the Library’s main account? Looks to be a feed of truncated re-posts from the Library’s news service. A lone-wolf, it follows no one.

Now have a look at the University’s Guelph Gryphons account. Admirably, there is the odd re-tweet, but again we see that the majority of time, it’s a tweet with a link to a news release on the Gryphon’s site. Not a single conversation in sight.

Perhaps it’s okay to be a nameless, faceless institutional account and go on sending out 140-character links to press releases, but what about the public faces of the University?

None would be more visible than President Alastair Summerlee. Dr. Summerlee’s tweeting tempo has improved recently and though abrupt, I don’t mind his staccato style but there isn’t a re-tweet or conversation in sight. The Associate VP Student Affairs is on Twitter too. But the trend continues, and Brenda Whiteside‘s stream is infrequently updated and (broken record time, sorry) without any evidence of conversations.

But why should @UofG, @LibraryUofG, @Guelph_Gryphons, @UoG_President or @WhitesideBrenda care about my observations here? Because people who are active users of Twitter are expecting engagement. And the best brands know this and already are engaging with their broad community of followers. And while brand could mean American Airlines, I actually mean fellow institutions of higher education here in Ontario. For examples of how other Universities are “getting” how to use Twitter, see the University of Waterloo‘s institutional account or Queen’s University Principal Dr. Daniel Woolf’s account: conversations, information, re-tweets. They’re all there. And personally as an alumni, staff member and active Twitter user on-campus, I can’t help but want better for our image, perception and institution.

It’s not all dire on-campus. The University’s Alumni account is exact antithesis of my criticisms above. But it does leave me with more questions about Twitter and Higher Ed: What are institutional accounts for? Is lower activity and no engagement better than no account at all? And can we improve how we “do” Twitter here @UofG?

Edit (4:31 pm, July 24): Ensuing conversation on Twitter that suggests other U of G accounts that are engaging, enjoyable and, in one case, a cannon:

Edit (8:25 pm, July 24): Another suggestion:


Putting @OntarioWarnings and IFTTT to work

06-24-09 Ominous Outflow!!!
CC-image source

I discovered a new account on Twitter that struck me, at first glance, kind of funny. A sample tweet from @OntarioWarnings:

It’s not that needing to take cover due to a severe thunderstorm is humorous (far from it), it’s the fact that all tweets from this account have some form of all-caps. All-caps, the Internet version of YELLING, struck me as strangely appropriate for an account that warns people of impending danger.

Then I thought, “Boy, this is a great idea.” But do I really need to know it’s thunder-storming in Kenora when I’m in Guelph? The noise to signal ratio, especially given the all-caps is pretty low. How to make the account more relevant?

This is where If this then that (or IFTTT) has come to the rescue. It’s a web service that lets a whole bunch of other web services (like Twitter, Evernote and even the non-web SMS) talk  & do things to each other. The genius is how easily you can create recipes to do these useful things. For example, right now I use a recipe that archives all my tweets into a single Evernote note. With this, all my tweets are archived and easily searchable. Magic! Useful!

OK, back to OMG! ONTARIO WARNINGS! I’ve created an IFTTT recipe that searches @OntarioWarning’s twitter stream for mentions of Wellington County or the city of Guelph. It then sends me an SMS message to my cell phone with the text of the tweet. I do have IFTTT to thank for help figuring this out:

So for the collective benefit of humanity (or, at least those living within Ontario) here’s the recipe for your use.

If you live in Guelph or Wellington County, then you don’t need to change a thing. If you live elsewhere in the province, you’ll need to update the search “guelph OR wellington from:ontariowarnings” to “x or y from:ontariowarnings” where x is the city you live in and y is your county. Obviously, you can add or remove search terms to expand or narrow just when you get pinged about an EMERGENCY!

Educational Development

TLI Presentation: Microblogging in the Classroom


Reflections on my first use of Twitter in the classroom


Update (5-17-11): This post has turned into a book chapter, which, in turn became a presentation. Feel free to visit both.

Inspired by others’ use of Twitter in higher ed, I decided to try and integrate Twitter into the course that I’ve developed and instructed while a PhD student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University.