A Tool for Professional Growth

by Susan Bearden

When many business professionals think of Twitter, they often think of it strictly as a marketing and promotional tool. However, twitter can be a fantastic tool for networking and professional growth. I work in the education field, and when I tell people that Twitter is the most valuable professional developmental tool for educators I have ever found, they are usually quite surprised!

Regardless of your industry, you can use Twitter to stay current on business trends that impact you and network with professional colleagues in your geographic area or around the country.

The secret to connecting to other professionals in your industry on Twitter is the hashtag. Hashtags are words preceded by the pound sign (#) and are used to tag and filter “tweets” by topic. Even without a Twitter account, the search field at Twitter.com filters tweets that use a specific hashtag. By searching for and/or following a hashtag, you can find people who share your professional interests. Become a follower of these people and build professional relationships.

Finding Your Hashtag

So how do you find Twitter hashtags related to your industry? Hashtags.org is one place to start. You can also Google an industry term, such as “Healthcare Twitter hashtags.” Sometimes, entering a search term directly in the Twitter search engine will also point you in the direction of industry-specific hashtags.

Once you’ve identified relevant hashtags, follow tweets that use those hashtags to stay current on the latest news that impacts your business. For instance, I tweet with and follow hashtags specifically related to my vertical industry (Education) as well as horizontal industry hashtags for Technology. Searching tweets based on hashtags often helps you find related hashtags with a slightly different focus, as tweets often have multiple hashtags. Once you find one hashtag related to your industry, use it to find others.

Backchanneling

Another way to connect with others via Twitter is to use and follow hashtags associated with professional conferences. Savvy conference attendees know that following a Twitter hashtag is a great way to connect with others and gather/share useful information before, during, and after the conference.

For instance, people will often tweet their notes about a session using the conference hashtag in real time, or have discussions about the presentation with others at the conference. This technique is called “backchanneling” and can be a tremendously valuable way to gather and share information. For instance, I attended a conference last year but was unable to attend a session in which I was very interested. I sent out a tweet using the conference hashtag asking for a link to the speaker’s presentation notes, and almost immediately someone in the session shared it.

Furthermore, many professional conferences have “tweetups,” which are in-person gatherings of conference attendees who are active on Twitter. It is a great way to network with like-minded individuals.

Meeting at the Hootsuite

Twitter hashtags are also associated with live Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is a gathering of people who have conversations on Twitter about a specific topic at an agreed upon time. They use the previously agreed upon hashtag to filter out other people’s tweets. You would be amazed by the lively discussions that can ensue even when the participants are limited to 140 characters per tweet! Twitter chat participants are often highly engaged Twitter users who have built an extensive network of focused professional relationships on Twitter.

Twitter clients such as Hootsuite are tremendously helpful for following Twitter chats because they enable the user to create columns that filter out tweets related to a specific hashtag. For instance, leaders from around the world gather via Twitter every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. EST to discuss aspects of leadership using the hashtag #leadershipchat. During the rest of the week, the hashtag is used to share thoughts, articles, blogs, and resources related to leadership.

Whatever your industry or professional interest, you can use Twitter to stay abreast of business trends, grow professionally and connect with others.


Susan M. Bearden is the Director of Information Technology for Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne. She tweets about technology, education, and leadership as @s bearden.