Today will cover one of the biggest social media platforms on the planet: Twitter.
Twitter is a microblogging site with 560 million active users. In 2012 more than 1 in 40 researchers was reportedly active on the site with a trend in scholarly use growing.
Academics who use Twitter tend to be effusive in their praise: Twitter helps them stay on top of news in their field, find new publications, get speaking and publishing opportunities, communicate their research directly to the public, and – perhaps most importantly – find a sense of community.
Today, we’ll explore Twitter’s usefulness for you. We’ll get you onto the site, engaging others, finding the best sources of information in your field, and measuring the diffusion of your research among your peers and the general public.
1: Sign up
Creating a Twitter account is dead simple: log on to Twitter.com and sign up for an account.
On the next screen, you’ll be prompted by Twitter to choose a handle – make it similar to your name, so your professional “brand” matches across platforms and you can be more easily found in search.
Complete the rest of the setup steps – find other users to follow and connect your email account to import other contacts – then head to your email to confirm your account.
All done? Now it’s time for the important stuff.
2: Personalise your account
- First, add your professional photo to your “avatar” by clicking the blue camera icon in the upper left-hand corner, next to your name.
- Next, add a short version of your web bio. State your experience, research interests (keywords), university affiliation and link to your UON web profile. We also recommend adding a few hashtags (more on those in a moment) that can connect you to other users with similar interests across the platform. For example, in the example above John has #Sociology #PublicHealth #WineStudies. To add your bio, click on “Edit profile” on the right-hand side of your profile page.
Got your basic account set up? Now it’s time to start engaging with other researchers and the public.
3: Find people to follow
Twitter users share research articles, news, and tidbits about their lives on a daily basis. Your next step is to find users who share your interests and to “follow” them to start receiving their updates.
Twitter tries to make it as easy as possible for you to find other people to follow via the “Who to Follow” panel on the right-hand side of your profile (seen above on John’s profile). Their recommendations are usually either spot on or completely off the mark. The more people you follow, though, the better their system gets at finding you appealing contacts. Click on the “View all” link in the “Who to follow” panel to get a long list of suggested users.
Another great way to find people to follow is to search Twitter for particular interests. From any page on Twitter, type a keyword into the Search box at the upper right-hand corner of the page. At the top of the results page, click “More options” and then “Accounts” to narrow the results to Twitter users who match your interest.
You can see here that I’ve searched for the term “anthropology” and narrowed the results to include Twitter accounts who match that term:
Read through the search results, keeping an eye out for familiar names and interesting bios. When you find a user you want updates from, click the “Follow” button to the right of their bio. The tweets of everyone you follow appear on your “Home” feed, below:
There are several other good ways to find people to follow:
- Take a look at who others are following (on their profile, click “Following”) and follow them.
- Find curated Twitter Lists on the profiles of those you follow, like this list for Digital Humanities Researchers and this one for Wiley History Authors, Editors and Society Partners (click “Lists” on someone’s profile page, then scan the lists they’ve created to find ones relevant to your area of research.)
- Watch the updates on your Twitter homepage for unfamiliar names – chances are that someone has “retweeted” (shared someone else’s update with their audience) a user that you’d be interested in getting updates from.
Try to follow at least twenty colleagues and organisations in your field to begin with, and take some time to read through each user’s “timeline” (updates on their profile page) to learn more about them and their interests. You’re going to start chatting with your colleagues in our next step.
Making connections on Twitter
Now we get into the meat of the challenge: making connections with others in your field.
One of the things that makes Twitter so great is that it is a no-pressure forum to spark conversations with your colleagues about a variety of topics, including but not limited to your shared area of study. Twitter also helps you find members of the public who are interested in this field.
Researchers who participated in Deborah Lupton’s study of academics’ use of social media reportedly appreciate Twitter because:
- ‘I discover interesting articles or events that I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. It’s an easy way to see what’s happening around the world. Also, it’s good for making informal links with other researchers by following them and commenting on their tweets. I have discovered researchers through Twitter who share similar interests that I wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise.’
- ‘Love the ability to chat to colleagues on Twitter, better than seeing each other just once a year at conferences and actually I have “met” people on Twitter before meeting them IRL at conference.’
- ‘Twitter allows me to make connections to folks that I would not otherwise have – journalists, policy professionals.’
You’re going to engage with others by tweeting at them – writing short messages that either respond to one of their updates, ask questions, or share information with them. Let’s talk now about what makes for good “tweeting”.
No matter what you tweet about, there are some basic things you can do to make your tweets more interesting to others (and thus more likely to be shared via a retweet):
- Use hashtags (a word or phrase that follows the “#” sign, like “#SocialScience” or “#History”) Tweets with hashtags get double the engagement of those without and they can make your content viewable to anyone with an interest in your area – even if they don’t follow you. But beware: don’t use more than three in a Tweet, as it is seen as spamming.
- Attach a photo to your tweet (when composing a tweet, click the “Add photo” camera icon and upload a picture from your computer).
- Consider following the 5-3-2 rule: social media experts recommend that for every 10 updates you post, 5 should be content from others that are relevant to your followers, 3 should be professional content, and 2 should be personal updates.
When in doubt, just remember to keep it professional and you can’t really go wrong.
Note: take a look at the success FEDUA speech pathology researcher Bronwyn Hemsley has had with the #WeSpeechies hashtag. It’s a perfect example of how hashtags can be used for research engagement and collaboration on Twitter
Tweeting at conferences
Now that you’re tweeting, let’s explore some of the benefits (and drawbacks) to tweeting at conferences.
Some academics swear by tweeting at conferences, because it provides an easy way to learn new things and meet new people by following and participating in conversations. As Bik & Goldstein explain:
“Tweeting from conferences (discussing cutting-edge research developments, linking to journal articles or lab websites, e.g., …) can introduce other scientists to valuable content, and consequently provide networking opportunities for users who actively post during meetings… Journalists and scientists following a conference tweet stream may be additionally introduced to new groups of researchers (particularly early-career or those who are new to Twitter) with relevant and related interests; conference tweeting can thus serve to enhance in-person networking opportunities by expanding these activities to online spheres.”
Further, Jonathan Lawson points out that it allows students and early career researchers, in particular, to participate in a “backchannel” that’s not dominated by the most established researchers, like the conferences themselves sometimes are.
The next time you’re attending a conference, find out what the meeting’s hashtag is, and then search for and follow it to “listen in” on the conversation. (Here is an example from #DigiFest16.)
A popular way to follow conference hashtags is TweetChat, which filters out the non-conference tweets in your timeline, making conference-related tweets easier to follow.
And when you’re ready to participate, you can add your voice by writing tweets that include the conference hashtag. When you’re listening to a talk, summarise the main points for your followers, add your own commentary to the speaker’s, and share related papers and websites. Just make sure you have the presenters’ permission to tweet about their talk; some would prefer to keep their findings off the Internet until they have published on them.
You can also tweet using the conference hashtag to organise informal “tweetups”, which can help build relationships and ward off boredom in unfamiliar cities. For example: “Invigorated after Stodden’s great keynote! Anyone up for grabbing a coffee before the reception to talk about it? #meeting2015”.
For more “how to” info on conference tweeting, check out Southern Fried Science’s primer on tweeting at conferences.
Measuring your success
Twitter’s Analytics dashboard can help you measure the success of your outreach efforts.
Logon to Twitter Analytics and review your latest tweets that share links to your web profiles or your papers. On the dashboard view (pictured above), you’ll see all of your tweets and a summary of your impressions and engagements.
The number of impressions equals the number of times your tweets appeared on someone’s timelines. The number of engagements are the number of times your tweets have been retweeted, clicked through, or clicked on to learn more information about what you shared. They help you measure the amount of exposure you’re receiving and others’ interest in what you’re tweeting, respectively.
The dashboard view is good at summarizing your impressions and engagements over various time periods. The default view is for the past 28 days, but you can click the calendar button in the upper right hand corner to select a date range of your choosing – useful if you want to see what effect tweeting at a conference had upon the amount of exposure you’re getting, for example.
To see the drill-down engagement metrics for a specific tweet, click on the tweet. You’ll see something like this:
In addition to simple engagement and impression metrics, LSE Impact Blog also recommends recording the following:
At the end of each month, Twitter can be used as a painless metric to assess how your tweeting is working for you and your project. Showing the growth in your followers and the number of people who read your research blog can also be helpful for funding applications. You could make short notes on the following:
- The number of followers you have
- The names of those who could be useful for future collaboration
- Invitations to write blog posts or speak at events, which have come via Twitter
- Number of hits to your own blog posts via Twitter
Over time, you can build upon what you’ve learned from your Twitter metrics, tweeting more content that your followers will love, in a manner that will engage them the most.
Twitter is, like many of the other platforms we’ve covered so far, a for-profit company. Though it’s technically free to use, you pay for your account by allowing Twitter to show ads in your timeline and access and sell your personal data to other companies.
Twitter has also recently announced plans to experiment with users’ timelines, meaning that the uncensored, time-based updates you see on your home screen could soon be replaced with updates selected by an algorithm. That’s something that Facebook currently does, and it led to a near blackout on updates for its users about one of the biggest news items of the year in the US: the Ferguson protests.
What could it mean for you? Well, if Twitter’s future algorithms inadvertently decide that your tweets about H1N1 studies or field research or science funding aren’t compelling to your users, it could remove them from others’ homepages, killing potential conversations and connections.
For today’s homework, you’re going to find other researchers to engage and begin tweeting in earnest.
We recommend following 20 people to begin with, adding a few each day using the techniques described above (keyword searches, Twitter lists, and following researchers that your colleagues are following). Aim to follow at least 100 people by the end of the month.
In the next few days, as you start to get a few followers, take some time to learn more about them. Using the Twitter Analytics “Followers” dashboard, check out their interests, what countries your followers are tweeting from, and who else they’re following – this can be a great source of new people to follow!
Finally, commit to tweeting at least 20 times over the next week. It will help populate your timeline, which will make others more likely to follow you. Share at least one of your own articles, a blog post (if you blog) and engage someone else in conversation.
If tweeting that often seems like a lot – don’t worry! Tomorrow, we’ll show you how to automate your social media updates.