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Tips for Academics: Why Use Twitter

“Twitter is popular among academics because it removes the gate keepers and lets them communicate directly with the world of science”

Why Use Twitter

Twitter is a microblogging platform where users send and receive short posts of 140 characters called Tweets, as well as videos and pictures. It is popular among academics because it removes the gate keepers (i.e. administration, peer reviewers, journalists…) and lets them communicate directly with the world of science. It is also an incredibly efficient way to share information. Every one of your post is seen by your network of followers, who can subsequently re-post it to their own network.

For this reason, Twitter has become the platform of choice for academics, policymakers and politicians. It is also very popular with the public, including students and science lovers. Twitter allows researchers to:

  • Promote their research by posting links to their blog posts, journal articles, or related news items;
  • Demonstrate expertise in their field;
  • Build cross-disciplinary relationships and follow work from other experts;

  • Share research with journalists;
  • Advocate directly to policymakers and politicians;
  • Track grants and jobs;
  • Seek and give immediate feedback on ongoing research;
  • Stay informed on the latest development in their field;
  • Contribute to discussions;
  • Follow conferences that they cannot attend in person by following the conference’s hashtag;
  • Befriend colleagues before and after a conference;
  • Communicate science with the public.

Starting out on Twitter

Using Twitter is quite easy. After signing up, the platform will show you a list of Twitter users that you might know. We recommend that you follow them, and other interesting users that they either follow or who follows them.

Then search and add your favourite academics, celebrities or politicians. Do not forget to look at institutions because almost every academic society and museums, as well as university and college have their own account.

Once you have started following users, you will automatically receive their latest tweets on your feed. If one peaks your attention you can either like it, retweet it (to share them with your network), add a comment, or favorite it (another way to say save). A typical Twitter user has much more retweets than their own tweet because retweeting is not only easier, but it is considered good etiquette.

How to Tweet

First, don’t worry if you initially have a small following. If you tweet interesting material, you are bound to build a thriving community. Secondly, use your real name and mention the institution for which you work in your profile. Because of these credentials, users will take your opinion more seriously.

When it comes to tweeting, choose your words wisely because Twitter only allows 140 characters. If you absolutely need more room, you can divide your messages and number them as (1/3), (2/3), and (3/3) for instance.

Another popular thing to do on Twitter is to share links of either neat pictures and infographics, posts from your own blog, or news article. When sending links, use a URL shortener like bitly.comor goo.gl, because the link is included in the character count. You should also put the link into context by either writing a short sentence to explain its content or a quote taken from the article.

We recommend using relevant hashtags to help users find your message. A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by the “#” sign used to annotate a post. It is used for categorization because clicking on hashtag reveals all the posts that also contain that hashtag. There are tons of science hashtags like #scicomm for science communication or #phdchat that serves as a forum for phd candidates. The more you use Twitter, the more hashtags you will discover from other users’ posts.

Finally, Twitter offers the option to Direct Message users. These are private conversations between Twitter users for moments when you want to have discussions out of the public eye because it is either too technical and might bore your followers, or because it is confidential. They can be used to discuss papers, set up meetings or introduce yourself to an influencer in a formal way.

Limitations

Academics love Twitter because it is so easy to find information from world renowned experts. However, because it is impossible to explain complex ideas in 140 characters, Tweets can be taken out of context. There is also the risk of damaging your reputation if, during a highly emotive chat, you post an inappropriate tweet.

Further, Twitter can be very addictive. It is also important to avoid Twitter burn out by setting firm limits on your usage. It might mean not logging in the evening or only using it on your computer, and not your phone.

Finally, harassment can be a major problem on Twitter, especially for women. Attacks tend to be cruel, relentless and very personal. Although they can be found on every social media platform, a how to deal with harassment on social media.