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Brief Description:

"Microblogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually less than 140 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, MP3 or the Web." (from Wikipedia) Microblogging has been increasingly used in international development to share resources, ask questions of colleagues and peers and to raise visibility of web resources by disseminating key URLs. With the use of "hashtags" users can look at all messages with a shared tag, thus getting a broader sense of an issue. With the mobile phone interface, there is some thought that these tools might bridge between those with and without reliable internet access.

Here is a brief video explaining one of the leading microblogging platforms, Twitter.

Microblogging in plain English: http://www.commoncraft.com/Twitter


What are the Main Microblogging Platforms?

  • Twitter is a networked web and mobile phone based shared short messaging system. It allows users to write brief text updates (max 140 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, e-mail, MP3 or the Web (source). Twitter
  • Yammer is a similar tool for organizations, that allows quick networking and information sharing, with the added benefit of connecting easily within the common organization email domain (i.e. cgiar.org). Note: if you have a valid @cgiar.org email address, sign up to join the growing cgiar network on Yammer. Yammer is a private network within the firewall of an organization, Basic functionality is free but more advanced features require a paid subscription. Yammer recently introduces the concept of networks/communities that allows you to set up a private network of people who don't necessarily have the same e-mail domain to allow organizations to be able to use it to collaborate with partners and customers.Yammer
  • Tumblr is somewhere between blogging and microblogging. It allows for sharing of images, video as well as longer texts that twitter but is very easy to update via e-mail and web and is simpler to use than most blogging platforms and as such is better suited for quick sharing. Tumblr
  • Socialcast competitor to Yammer for microblogging within the firewall. Socialcast


Micro blogging started out as a simple social communications tool to answer the question" what are you doing right now." According to the Social Media Training site: "Micro-blogging is sometimes criticized for encouraging dull or meaningless posts, conveying the minutia of daily life, such as what the writer is eating, who the writer is waiting for, how far behind schedule the writer's flight is, and so on. This criticism, though, could be leveled at any communication tool, from longer-form blogging platforms to telephones to Post-It Notes. Not every bit of communication is riveting, but the potential for profundity and powerful prose is promising.

Additionally, the term micro-blogging, is perhaps more narrow than the true potential of the platform allows. For example, Twitter has often been compared to "time-shifted" instant messaging in which people can converse directly with quick messages without the need to be online together. Perhaps more common, Twitter can be compared with a chat room filled with only the people you choose to hear from, again without the need to be online at the same time -- although that's part of the fun."
(from Social Media Training)

From David Armano, CC on Flickr http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3237/2779606427_06a7102607.jpg?v=0
From David Armano, CC on Flickr http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3237/2779606427_06a7102607.jpg?v=0
How can you use microblogging to your advantage?
Having started out as a “What are you doing now?” social communication tool, microblogging holds great potential at work. Whether you see it as an annoying distraction or powerful communication tool, it is in the hands of the user, you.
Here’s why you should consider using microblogging at work:
  • Brevity. First, the 140 character limit on your microblog forces you to scale down your update to just the facts. Post an idea, a useful link, ask for quick feedback all in less than a minute. This works in your favor because the responses are just as brief and to the point. The use of URL shorteners (tinyurl.com, bit.ly, ow.ly, etc.) to reduce a long URL into a tiny one is critical to brevity, and can also be used for monitoring purposes.
  • As an informal communication tool
    • Announcements to promote information, events/activities, etc.
    • Asking for quick feedback and posting short updates create an informal structure that gets your point across without getting bogged down by more formal means of communications.
    • Create rapid, focused conversations that are widely accessible.
  • Updates from colleagues you ‘follow’. This feature is really the crux of microblogging. Whom you follow determines the type of updates you gain access to. By intelligently selecting the right people, you are now privy to their experiences, ideas and insights. You have the potential to ‘mine’ their resources as your followers ‘mine’ yours. What are the benefits?
    • You get breaking news from people you trust. Real time conversations can be very revealing.
    • Networking is easier. The informal setting allows quick introductions and gets you straight onto their microblogs.
    • Connect within a community at work, increase visibility and engage with partners and colleagues.
  • Reduce email. Microblogging on Twitter or Yammer reduces the need for email exchanges, which help de-clutter your inbox. The versatility in sharing your messages through a variety of ways reduces the dependency on email access.
  • Real-time sharing during events (e.g. conferences, training events, meetings). It is one of the key tools for social reporting, i.e. “is where a group of participants at an event interactively and jointly contribute to some form of reporting, in text, photos, images or video. The resulting “social report” is made accessible, usually online, as soon as possible, sometimes as a half-product. This allows others to join in, to extend, to adjust or remix.” (explore the ’social reporting’ tag on this blog). Microblogging during events increases visibility and outreach of the knowledge that is generated at a rapid pace during face-to-face meetings, and it helps build a level of engagement and participation that goes beyond physical presence.

When to use:

  1. To keep in contact with other colleagues in your field
  2. To publicize your organizations' web content by tweeting out URLs
  3. To track an issue (via hashtags) as a form of "social media listening"
  4. Aggregating content (tweets) into a website (see below)
  5. To have low bandwidth conversations (Tweetchat)
  6. For private microblogging networks, you can use a tool like http://www.yammer.com. Note that Yammer is specifically for use by a community within an organization. It requires a common email address for participation in a community, unlike other microblogging services.
  7. To fundraise (see this blog article from CGIAR ICT-KM)

When not to use:

  • When the people you want to connect to/reach aren't using similar services.
  • When you want to have a more nuanced, in depth exchange of ideas.
  • When you want to communicate something that is not public.

How to use:

1. How to microblog

  • Get an account on http://www.twitter.com or one of the other microblogging services
  • Decide if you want to post your "tweets" or message on the Twitter page, or via one of the desktop microblogging clients such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck
  • Post!

2. How to decide which other microbloggers to follow

Experience is probably the best guide for this. Don't be afraid to follow someone and then later decide that the information they share does not meet your needs and "unfollow" that person.
  • Start with someone you know, follow them and then pick some people they are following.
  • Look for links to microblogging on the websites, blogs and other social media tools or web2.0 tools of people who produce information that is of interest to you.
  • On Twitter there is a regular activity on Fridays where one Tweep (i.e. someone who Tweets) recommends another Tweep by sending a message with their name and the hashtag: #FF (meaning 'Follow Friday').
  • Twitter and other third party services will build personalized recommendations for people to follow based on an analysis of your bio, the content of your tweets and your existing relationships.

3. Twitter Syntax

  • Hashtags

Hash tags are when you put a # sign in front of a tag within your tweet. These words or codes serve as a "flag" or metadata for Tweets, allowing others to easily find them based on a subject of interest. There are tools to aggregate the hashtags, allowing different messages from different people around one topic to be brought together even when those people are not followed (see the next section). For more on hashtags, see the Wikipedia entry hashtags.
  • @username *

When you see an @ sign in front of a name of Tweep, such as @ictkm, it means that the reply is directed to a specific Tweep, in this case ictkm. Replies directed to you are visible by clicking on the @replies button on the right sidebar. Tools such as Tweetdeck and Twhirl allow you to see messages directed at you or retweeted messages from you by your followers or non-followers.
  • D @username *

You can also send direct or private messages so that others do not see them. Example: d @ictkm What social networking tool should be blog about?
  • RT @username: *

You can re-post a message someone else has posted to your own followers using "RT" or "Retweeting" in front of the message. Example: RT @ictkm: Are newsletters dead? http://bit.ly/13rnf3
  • Some less commonly used syntax items include: OH = "Overheard". HT @username = "Hat Tip" for when you want to give credit to another Twitter user for sharing a link but you don't use their original message. MT @username = Modified retweet, where the text of the original text has been changed - used to forward a shared link and give credit to the original poster, but with a change of message.

4. Aggregating tweets

If you want to see all the twitter messages that have a particular key word or hashtag, you can use one of the twitter search engines. Each of these also has an RSS feed, so you can get all the tweets on a certain topic delivered to your RSS reader.

5. Lists

A list is a curated group of Twitter users. A list is a useful way for you to keep track of Tweets from specific users or around a specific topic, especially if you find that the number of people you are following is growing and you are not able to manage reading all their Tweets via your timeline. You can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. Viewing a list timeline will show you a stream of Tweets from only the users on that list.

Creating a list
To create a list, go to your profile page and click on Lists. Enter the name of your list, a short description of the list, and select if you want the list to be private (only accessible to you) or public (open to anyone can subscribe). Click Save list. You can then add users to the list or remove them if you so wish. Note that you do not need to be following a user in order to add them to a list.

Removing yourself from a list
You may find that other Twitter users have added you to their own lists (you can check this from your profile page). If you want to remove your profile from someone else's list, you would have to block the creator of the list.

Following other people's lists
It is possible to follow other people's lists. You do this by subscribing to those lists. When viewing someone's Twitter profile, click on Lists then select the list(s) you wish to follow then click Subscribe. Note that you can follow lists without necessarily following the users in the list.

6. Security Concerns and Issues

Tips and Lessons Learnt

(add yours)

Micro-blogging is what you make of it. The simplest way to think of the power of micro-blogging is to imagine tapping into the thoughts and lives of any number of people who have common interests, concerns, geography, hobbies or professions. You can:
  • Learn about new tools and ideas
  • Ask questions and receive immediate feedback, and
  • Develop a deeper understanding of the people with whom you connect online.

Examples & Stories

(Add yours)
"We (meaning 2 team members and myself) used it for a while when one of our team members was based in Colombia, and we needed to keep in touch to coordinate on day-to-day tasks. After signing up, I created a closed group, so our posts wouldn't get onto the general CGIAR stream. It is better than email for quick msgs, allows you to create closed groups, so privacy is ensured. Two aspects of which one should be aware of right from the start, so nobody gets put off:
(1) It is based on the email domain, in our case cgiar.org. so whoever signs up with a @cgiar.org email gets into the cgiar.org network. from there, you can create other groups, or just keep posting to your profile and have followers.
(2) When you sign up, you are asked to enter the names of the people you report to and your colleagues. this is not just for info but these people get emailed and invited to join yammer. so you want to make sure everybody agrees on this before you de facto invite them. otherwise skip this step, it's optional.
In the meanwhile, our colleague has joined us back in the office in Rome, and chatting over gtalk or just walking three doors down the hall is just more efficient ;) So use of Yammer has sort of died off in our small team. Now, considering the unstructured nature of the CGIAR, the fact that we're all on the same mail domain doesn't mean we all have things in common to share. However, re-thinking about it after reading the summary of communication goals, maybe joining Yammer can be a first, safe step towards experimenting with microblogging for a wider audience internal to the cgiar. We would have a closed environment, yet open to people from different centers/programs, that could help some of us in testing and observing what happens without going straight into big-time exposure. If you want to try, go to https://www.yammer.com/ and sign up. You can then post from the web, through a desktop client (no need to keep the window open in the browser) and via chat (I have it in gtalk, but only posts to the main cgiar stream)."
  • Michael Riggs and Gauri Salokhe, both from FAO, share their experience with Twitter.

Who can tell me more?

  • Meena Arivananthan (meena.arivananthan [at] fao.org)
  • Gauri Salokhe (gauri.salokhe [at] fao.org)
  • Michael Riggs (michael.riggs [at] fao.org)
  • Luca Servo (luca.servo [at] fao.org)
  • Ian Thorpe (ian.thorpe [at] undg.org)

Related Methods / Tools / Practices


Microblogging in general




Photo Sources