For about 30 minutes on Thursday afternoon, my Multimedia Writing class was trending in the United States on Twitter.
#JOU3109 was Number 3 in the list of 10 trending topics in the U.S., behind #FunnyPetCards and #SleepWeek and ahead of Mardi Gras and Pokemon – and hundreds of other topics being tweeted at that time.
For some of you, the question is: What does trending mean and why is that noteworthy?
Trending on Twitter means that many people are discussing the same topic (using the same hashtag) at the same time.
For those getting into Twitter:
- Hashtag is a way of creating a name that can be used to group all tweets on a certain topic. #Disney, for example.
- Twitter handle is a person’s or organization’s name – @AP for the Associated Press, for example.
- Live tweeting means that you are sending tweets as an event is happening. Live tweeting is a skill needed in many media jobs. Sports writers live tweet from sporting events they are covering. Public relations practitioners live tweet from events they are coordinating.
- Trending – What’s special about being a trending topic is that hundreds – if not thousands of topics — are being discussed on Twitter at any one time. So if your topic is trending, your topic has generated some of the most discussion on Twitter at that particular time.
Trending was an unexpected bonus of a class activity.
To help learn how to use social media as communicators, the students in Multimedia Writing (JOU3109) are tweeting during the semester.
On Thursday, I had invited a panel of former students to speak in class about internships, getting published, and taking advantage of opportunities in the college and on campus.
All the students in the class have Twitter accounts, but fewer than a quarter of the students had ever live tweeted. Live tweeting will be an assignment in lab in a few weeks, so I decided that this lecture would be a good opportunity for the students to practice live tweeting.
I asked the students to tweet at least twice during the panel presentation and use the class hashtag #JOU3109. In a blog post to help them get ready for live tweeting, I’d provided tips about having informative tweets versus “I’m live tweeting.”
I used an interesting combination of technology before class started — using the chalkboard (old technology) in the auditorium to list the Twitter handles (new technology) of the panelists.
To help the class get a better handle (not the Twitter kind) on why we would be live tweeting, I told them to think that their audience was students who were absent (the flu is going around) and would be missing all this great advice. I could see many of the students nodding, like, “Oh, I get it.”
The panel did a great job of sharing advice and stories, and I moderated. Once the panel started, I didn’t mention tweeting until the end of class when I said that we all should check #JOU3109 to see what had been tweeted about the panel presentation.
This was the first time I had a class live tweet during class, so I was interested in seeing the results. From what the students said to me after class and from reading the tweets, I knew we had a good learning activity. The tweets shared key ideas and quotes – and enthusiasm for the venture.
Then I read the tweet from Ali Schmitz (@Alioschmitz): “Multimedia Writing is trending in the US! @UFJSchool #Jou3109 @Dodd3109” – complete with a screen capture of the list of trends. #JOU3109 was Number 3.
One element of our trending success was numbers. We had about 140 students in class tweeting, but that would seem like a small number considering how many people in the country would have been tweeting at the same time.
The other element was the luck of timing. In the media, we talk about “a slow news day” when not a lot of news stories are happening. Such was the case on Thursday. The Winter Olympics had ended. Russia wasn’t poised to invade Ukraine. Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Rob Ford were having quiet days.
So the class tweets weren’t competing with tweets on a major news or entertainment issue.
The Alligator, the UF student daily, picked up the story – “Journalism class assignment #JOU3109 trends nationally on Twitter”
Of course I retweeted the memorable tweet from @Alioschmitz and tweeted the Alligator story.
We’re just at the point in the course when we are making the transition from news writing to public relations writing. Our “15 minutes of fame” (as Andy Warhol would say) will be our own little case study to talk about what makes news and the role of timing in public relations work.