Twitter / Profile / REF / Engagement

I’m filling out a form that is being used to capture some information for our REF narrative. Part of that is about my online profile, and part of that asks me to describe how I use Twitter. So this has all led me to distil a few things that I’ve always said about Twitter as follows:

I am active on Twitter, and my feed is a mixture of discussion on my own work and the work of the school, engagement in debates related to our knowledge and research, stupid jokes, swearing, speaking my mind on issues of which I have no expertise and talking about lunch. I believe you need to do all of these things to make Twitter useful.

[this isn’t a criticism of the form and the people getting it will not be in the least bit surprised to read those words – I just wanted to share it, apropos of nothing].

Cleaning up Twitter data in Excel for analysis

A lot of academic work that draws on tweets as primary data will use hashtag archives as the basis of their study. What’s nice about that is that you can use tools that capture data and present them to you in a usable manner (e.g. a CSV file). If you’re doing something a little different, like reviewing tweets from a group of individuals, that’s a little harder.
I’ve been working with my BCU colleague Inger-Lise Bore on some research into fan fiction written on Twitter (it started with this blog post – we’re presenting it at MeCCSA 2011 tomorrow). There’s no hashtag used to label the tweets we want to study – we were looking instead at the entire output from a few dozen tweets. We found a few web services that promised ways of capturing and archiving this type of Twitter data for us, but they didn’t work. At all. So instead we had to use some pretty unsophisticated means to grab the data.  Continue reading Cleaning up Twitter data in Excel for analysis

Owning conversations: the commercial TV back channel for #xfactor

Twitter’s a funny place. The folk I follow on there are passionate champions of free speech one day, insisting that my local councillor can make racist jokes for example, and the next they’re all “this isn’t the place to talk about popular culture – I will unfollow you if you tweet about xfactor you idiot!”.

Now I don’t really like X Factor much but actually the back channel on Twitter is a bit of a laugh. And I have to have the show on the TV as my wife likes it, so why not get involved?

Like it or loathe it, social media commentary of popular shows is very on trend right now. The BBC has taken to publicising preferred hashtags for shows (Digital Revolution, Question Time for example) so that we can all engage on Twitter. ITV shows have their own, organic, folksonomic back channels on Twitter and other social networks but ITV has gone to the trouble of setting up a special social space that fans can go to to do the live commentary thing. X-Factor is one of their high profile shows on ITV Live.

A few weeks ago I decided that, in deference to the factor tweet haters, I’d pop over to ITV Live to see what it looks like as a space.

Here are my findings, visualised:


Twitter can be quite rude and raucous, especially when some of the more divisive characters in a show are on screen. ITV live seems a little cosier, less hostile and without the sarcasm and bitchiness. Interestingly usernames are often some sort of fanfom based pun; several members of the community

 add contestants surnames to their own name, so I might become “Jonathan Waissel” while others demonstrate preferences through names like “xxJon4Danixx”.

The space is live moderated, and the moderators lead the conversation, they don’t just police it. Because of this many messages are responses to questions posed by the moderator – that pre-moderates things to some extent by keeping the conversation on rails.

Advertising looms large. The Yeo Valley campaign, which features prominently in the show’s ad breaks, and is apparently the companies entire TV spend for the year, gets cross-platform synergy into this space in the form of banners and sponsored messages in the conversation timeline.

I guess really it’s exactly what I expected: safe, uncontroversial, brand friendly, commercial.

The sad thing about the Compton case: it provides another reason for politicians to fear the Internet

BCU MA Events and Exhibition Management student Sammy Williams is working on a project to encourage Birmingham’s councillors to engage more readily with citizens through social media; the Gareth Compton case is another huge hurdle for her to get over. 

That’s the really sad thing at the heart of this affair: it makes councillors more likely to shy away from what could be a useful tool for civic engagement.

I’d actually suggested to Sammy that she invite Cllr Compton to speak at an event she’s planning to launch her idea. As he’s had problems before with his Twitter persona, I thought he might have some valuable perspective to add to a conversation about social media in local politics. He could have provided a useful dollop of realism in a conversation which all too quickly drifts towards utopian idealism of openness and accountability. 

That ship has probably sailed now: Sammy’s job will be harder but she should still do it, unfortunately with Cllr Compton as a cautionary tale rather than a participant.

My paper to ECREA conference – further reading

The following are papers, chapters, and web pages I touch on today in my paper What’s the hash tag? Folksonomy, brand, and control: organising and owning conversations on Twitter at ECREA’s 2010 conference in Hamburg.

Continue reading My paper to ECREA conference — further reading

What’s Next? #westwing Fan fiction on Twitter

A week or so ago I started following Josiah Bartlet on Twitter. Turned out he was already following me, as he likes to follow people who are tagging tweets #westwing. I don’t get a lot of the references to contemporary American politics in his tweets, but there’s the occasional reference to the show and a good attempt at some of the classical witticisms and bon mots of the “Former Fictional President, Nobel Prize Winner”. 

But then I spotted something: Jed’s talking to other West Wing characters, who in turn are having conversations with other characters. Josh & Donna (now Donna Moss-Lyman) are chatting about their kids and other domestic niceties, swapping baking tips with Leo’s PA Margaret. CJ & Charlie are still engaged in an escalating battle of one-upmanship, which is currently focussed on their follower count. Meanwhile, Ron Butterfield, head of the POTUS security detail is obsessing about how to keep these Tweets secure (Ron’s also a dab hand at hashtagging, probably those years of protocol). Continue reading What’s Next? #westwing Fan fiction on Twitter

Professional ethics and informal social media

Last year I spoke to a big room full of occupational therapists at their annual conference and I promised to do a follow up with a smaller group over at Therapy Learning. So today I took a day’s annual leave from BCU, and went to Melton Mowbray (where the pies come from) to talk to a few occupational therapists and some physiotherapists about social media things.

The format of the day was for them to find out a bit about some tools they might like to use to help their professional practice. The most interesting stuff we did were chats about how thi sall fits into what they do. These are regulated professionals, so ethics is a big part of their job. While we were trying to unpick what a therapist should and shouldn’t do in social media, we were looking at the activity of a few therapists who actively use social media in a professional context. What we discovered was that even when people have good intentions, they can slip. Here’s an example tweet:

When hearing what I did for a living, my bank manager confessed to breaking down earlier this year. Reminded him he is one of 1 in 4…

That’s over the line. Big time. In the flow of a conversation, and the heat of the moment, it may have seemed reasonable to the author. The bank manager isn’t named at all, but really this isn’t good enough. If you know the person, and who they bank with (maybe they’ve written you a cheque, or you all live in a small town with only one bank), you’d easily know who they’re talking about. It’s a breach of trust, and an ethical fail.

We tend to think about digital footprints as being all about us: don’t put drunken photos on Facebook, don’t give out your date of birth or your mother’s maiden name. But what about the subjects of our blog posts and our tweets? Have you ever stepped over the line? Have I? I’m not so sure. I may well have done. If you have a duty of care to people, professionally, ethically, morally, take a breath and think before you post.

A Birmingham amendment to Godwin’s Law


Godwin’s Law is an Internet adage that states:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

I’d like to table a local amendment, which we’ll call Brummie’s Law (because I’m not naming it after myself):

As an online discussion about Birmingham grows longer, the probability of a boundary dispute approaches 1.

Over the past two days I’ve taken part in two online games, both played out on Twitter, that have revolved around Brummie culture and geogrpahy. #brumsouvenirs revolved around wordplay on Birmingham place names; the aim to come up with a souvenir idea that reflected the place name (the game was originated by Pete Ashton, who collected the greatest hits on his blog). The second game was #doesntmeanyourbrummie (sic), started as a response to the #doesntmeanyourblack meme (see, the grammar is fine, it’s part of the joke); this tag was about uniquely Brummie experiences.

Each game threw up border disputes pretty quickly, such as: 

  • “faggots come from the Black Country” (if you’re not a midlander this is OK to say)
  • “chips and gravy is a Black Country thing”
  • “Great Barr is in Walsall”
  • “can we do Wolverhampton?”
  • “why is everyone OK with Bearwood, when that’s mostly in Sandwell?”

I’ve had similar issues with pinning down Brum’s fuzzy edges in other areas of life: working with Jez on the Birmingham Music Archive; my current main project at BCU, working solely with “Birmingham” based businesses; and hanging out with a load of Brummies in Guernsey one summer who turned out to be from Kidderminster but found it easier to say they were Brummies. I’ve also had the pleasure of trying to work out a local news patch, bringing these boundary disputes down to a true “hyperlocal” level.

The way in which we conceptualise Birmingham as a place and Brumminess as a cultural identity are fascinating. We have a strange relationships with our borders and boundaries – there are all sorts of reasons why (local historians, please do add these to the comments), but one thing is certain: in the spirit of Godwin’s law, if you mention “Greater Birmingham” or drag up the second city debate, then you lose any Internet argument by default.

How I use Twitter

Firstly, credit where credit’s due, I have based this on Michael Grimes’s Twitter Following Policy (I have lifted a lot of it, I’m sure Mike won’t mind: he’s a lovely man, please read his blog).

How I use Twitter

I follow a lot of people, possibly too many. I’ve developed my own ways of making Twitter work for me, so really I’m fine and generally coping pretty well. I use Tweetdeck when I’m on my computer and I use this to segment my Twitter followers into my close friends and colleagues, my students, and everyone else. That means I won’t catch everything you say unless you’re a close colleague or friend.

What I Tweet about

I tweet about my work and some things that I do in my private life, but I’m more private than you might think from my Tweets. I do chat a lot with people I know, most of whom live in Birmingham, so some of my tweets are a bit cliquey, and irreverant too. You’ll only see these tweets if you follow my friends too, or if you’re looking at my public profile. Again, don’t judge me too much by silly in jokes I’m having with friends, there’s some pearls in there somewhere I promise.

My Followers

Please don’t judge me by my followers. There’s a lot of spam accounts in here. I turned off email updates months ago, and I have stopped trying to tidy this up. So please look at who I’m talking to, not who claims to be following me.

Please say “hello”

As I turned off email notfications I have no idea tha you’re following me until you say “hello” with an @reply, so that’s a nice way to show me you’re there. Who knows, we might get on.

Following back

If you follow me, thank you: I hope you enjoy what you see. If I don’t follow you back it’s because I’m struggling with what I’ve got and don’t want to add to it. It also probably means that you don’t fit the profile of who I want to follow at the moment, but that is entirely arbitrary on my part and not at all a reflection of your tweets: and it may well change in your favour at some point.


I’ve tried very hard not to stop following people, but at some point I feel it will be inevitable. I occasionaly do try to cut back. If I do unfollow you it is very probably nothing that you have said. Ignore Qwitter, if you use it (Qwitter’s a service that alerts you when people stop following you and tells them which message pre-empted it). If I stop following you it’s simply down to my capacity to stay engaged with other people: please don’t let Qwitter make you think I took umbrage at something you said!


If I block you it’s because you’ve followed me purely to promote your product or service with no intention of informing or engaging, and you are very probably a spammer. Take the hint and go away.


Please think carefully about how you talk to staff on Twitter. It’s not the place to ask big questions about your course or your life. We have tutorials for that, and email is a bit more private. Do @ reply me so I know who you are, I will follow you, but if we have only just met it’s worth pointing out that you’re one of our students: remember we’re getting several hundred people in an intake at BCU so it’s hard for me to know who’s who! Oh, and also try to come up with a professional Twitter name.

Sorry if this all seems odd or a bit  Do keep chatting to me though, and do chat to my friends. They’re lovely people.

Some thoughts on good meetings

I love the fact that “good meeting” is an emergent meme on Twitter: the phrase is seen by a lot of people on Twitter as an empty platitude, the twitter equivalent of saying “er”. We can see it as an example of one of the ways we just keep the conversation going. Perhaps we could even go so far as to read it as a way of putting on a brave face in these difficult economic times: after all if every one thinks you’re having a good meeting, they’ll think you’re doing well, which marketing folks suggest is a good thing if you want to keep getting work.  The interesting thing is I’ve seen the rise of the “good meeting” before.

I used to go to lots of these weird BNI meetings to win new business.  The idea was that we all passed business to one another at the end of the meeting as part of a formal agenda point. We went around the room and people were asked to make a positive contribution to the meeting (there was a big pressure to be positive).  The ultimate contribution was bringing lots of business leads for other people.  A close second was having brought a visitor to the meeting (because all your friends could tap them up for work).  Then came reporting back on a “good meeting” you’d had with someone in the group, and how you were going to do lots of great work together (but people tended to be vague on detail).  Finally, if you were desperate, you just said that thought it had been a “good meeting” that morning.  Often we found there were a lot of “good meetings”. Remind you of anything?

As a bit of fun, the other day I set up @goodmeeting to retweet from a Twitter search for “good meeting”. It rightly got closed for being a daft bot and breaching Twitter TOS.  But here’s the punchline: the majority of people who bothered to @reply, follow, and DM the account were all connected to BNI.