Alex Lifschitz, in his third year at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, uses Twitter as a tight-knit circle, keeping his contacts more limited than on Facebook.

Using his cell phone or laptop, he tweets to let professors know he can’t make it to class or to ask questions about assignments. He also uses it for something as basic as organizing a food run with friends on campus.

“I can simply tweet and ask who wants to go somewhere with me, and I’ll have a few takers at any given time,” he says.
Mallory Wood, a recent graduate of Saint Michael’s College in Vermont, is another Twitter convert–primarily for work. She’s now an admissions counselor there, in charge of getting more people to follow her department on Twitter.

She uses the service to offer application fee waivers to prospective students and points them to links to student blogs, even some with complaints about campus life. “You have to be real with them,” Wood says.

That’s still not enough to persuade some young people to get on board.

“Quite frankly, I don’t need to hear if someone stepped in dog poo on the way to class or how annoyed they are that they lost their favorite pen,” says Carolyn Wald, a University of Chicago junior who has not joined Twitter and rarely posts status updates on Facebook, because “I don’t want to assume that people want to hear those things about me, either.”

Even teen pop star Miley Cyrus stopped tweeting, griping in a rap song she posted on YouTube that, among other things, she’d grown weary of making constant, meaningless updates about what she was doing.

The key, USF professor Silver says, is showing his students how a simple status update can become a more sophisticated way to show their creative sides and, who knows, maybe land a job.

“It’s just another tool in your tool kit,” he says he tells his students. “The question is, ‘How do you engage someone just long enough to get them to click on a link?'”

Scott Testa, a business administration professor who teaches marketing at Cabrini College in suburban Philadelphia, encourages his students to use Twitter to follow companies they would like to work for.

He also uses it to extend a conversation outside the classroom, in part because tweeting often draws comments “from those who might be a little more shy.”

Renee Robinson, an associate professor of communication at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, says her students still feel overwhelmed by Twitter.

“They often see it as another level of information that they don’t want,” she says.

And sometimes she does, too. In one of her classes where she uses Twitter, she and her students had to cut back on people they were following because they were deluged with tweets.

So they all learned something: “Think carefully about what kind of information you want and how you want it delivered,” she told them, “and then prioritize.”


Pew report: “Twitter and Status Updating, Fall 2009”

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