Getting Started on ‘Academic Twitter’

Why Twitter?

I was inspired to write this post by my incessant encouragement to have my reluctant academic friends to join or be more active on Twitter. I am enthused by the so-called ‘Academic Twitter’ as I can follow fellow researchers in my research area, connect and converse with academics at all levels with relative ease, and keep up to date with events such as conferences, journal call for papers, publications, and jobs. It can also help people to continue to be a part of the academic community when they do not have a current professional association. Being active on social media in a professional sense has also brought opportunities to collaborate, offers of paid gigs, and allows people to also recognise you as a professional in your field. Don’t just trust me, see what other academics have said. So, for the academic and post-graduate student who is reluctant to join yet another social media site, continue reading.

First things, first, creating an account

Your username will be the way fellow academics will communicate with you so choose it wisely. I was unimaginative and used my name. You can use your username to reflect who you are or what you’re interested in. You can choose to set your account to private but you will struggle to make an impact and gain followers without making your account public. (There is a new feature called Twitter Circle where you can add up to 150 people who can only see posts you’ve selected to only share with your main followers/followees.) Write a bio so people in your field can recognise you as kin. I don’t think it matters whether you write it in sentence structure or by using keywords, as long as it’s clear what you have to offer to a potential follower. Using certain keywords, however, makes you searchable so other people can more easily find you. I think it’s preferable to use your own picture (as opposed to artwork), so you can be recognised at conferences and bring your online networking into the real world. I like to use a background picture that best reflects my current research. Link up to your academic profile or personal website and you’re good to go. Any basic questions about Twitter can be found on their help page.

Start following

See who you are citing and if your fellow colleagues from your department are on Twitter. Lots of institutions such as universities and university departments, galleries, libraries, museums, and associations have a Twitter presence. Academic associations, publishing houses, and journals also frequently have a Twitter account. I also use Twitter to follow the news and other local associations or events. Instead of overcrowding my main feed, I have created Lists instead of following these accounts. Next to the Follow button, there is a three-dot icon where you can add accounts to a list that can either be set to public or private. You’ll also see that people will put your account in a list, which is visible on the left menu. I’ve been placed in lists for early modernists, art historians, and other academic lists, for example. You can also subscribe to these public lists. If you want to find more accounts to follow then check out who the people in your field are following, which is public on individual accounts. Gaining followers in return will take time. Academics will be more discerning who they follow and look at a few of your posts before deciding to follow. If they don’t follow back, don’t be disheartened, it’s nothing personal. Focus on creating good content, see Twitter as a conversation and engage, and your followers will grow organically.

What to tweet?

What are you working on right now? What have you published? What conferences are you attending or presenting at? What are you reading? What did you learn today? What research tools are you trying out? What’s the latest news in your field? People are generally interested in what you are up to and how your research can help or inspire them. Be a good academic citizen and share call for papers or jobs in your field. Focus on your main area with the odd unrelated tweet. I am going to follow you based on your research and usefulness to me, but the odd personal tweet or on an unrelated topic makes you appear human. Retweet others but, again, don’t forget we followed you because we want to hear your voice. You can either retweet without comment or comment with your own personal spin on the article you’re retweeting. If you’re sharing a link make what it is linking to clear and include an excerpt when possible so people can get the main point without having to click through. It is not unusual to see pictures of text uploaded to a tweet as a method to get around the strict word limits. Academics tend to tweet during business hours, Monday to Friday, but also after work. If you tweet on the weekend or holidays your tweet won’t reach a wide audience so save your most important tweets for during the working week.

To hashtag or not to hashtag

People have finally learnt that you do not need to put a hashtag in front of every keyword for it to be searchable. Some people choose to hashtag and some do not or use them sparingly. By using a hashtag at the end of your tweet means that it will be searchable by those who are following that hashtag. In other words the wider Twitter community. Alternatively, you can use hashtags as inspiration such as #TechTuesday, #TipTuesday, #FridayReads, #FactFriday. You can even schedule tweets using TweetDeck and it’s a handy way to follow hashtags. After doing an academic Twitter challenge hosted by @TheLeveragedPhD, I was encouraged by the process of using planned hashtags for each day of the week as inspiration for tweets. The good thing about this approach is that I was able to think of content that may be of interest to other researchers that I may take for granted. For popular academic hashtags, follow this link. You may even like to participate in live-tweeting events such as conferences using their hashtag so that others who are unable to attend can follow along, which has its own etiquette.

The Dos and Don’ts

  • Don’t just tweet when you have published something or an event you’re involved in. Only using social media for publicity is obvious and off-putting. Constantly re-tweeting any time someone mentions their research is a reason why I won’t follow someone even I admire. If you add additional insight to your research then great, re-tweet away. If you want to make sure new visitors see your latest research then you can pin a tweet to the start of your feed by clicking on the menu on the top-right corner of a post.
  • Twitter is not just a micro-blog, it’s having a conversation, so don’t be shy. Most academics (even your senior) are approachable and friendships can be made. You can communicate with others by hitting the reply button or using their @username at the start of the tweet. It won’t broadcast the tweet to everyone but it will be public.
  • Don’t expect to reach lots of members of the general community unless you’re a famous academic (vocal on politics or cat videos helps in numbers here). It would be great to get people from diverse backgrounds interested in our research but we’re pretty much in a bubble.
  • While Twitter is more textual-based than other platforms, using images receives more interest.
  • If you’re mentioning someone’s research, cite them and include their @username if possible. Whenever you use someone’s username, it will give them an alert and they may respond in a thank you, like, or retweet. Just don’t add their @username at the start of the tweet or they will be the only one who sees it.
  • Twitter can be time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. You can plan a particular time of the day to check and respond to people. I use iPhone’s Screen Time setting to limit my use.
  • Hashtags can help others who do not follow you directly to find your content. This also means that the wider public will as well and this also means trolls. There are block or mute functions to deal with these situations. Blocking means that you won’t be able to see each other’s tweets. Muting means that they can see your tweets but you won’t be able to see their response to them. Some people prefer to mute their trolls so they are just screaming in the void.
  • Twitter can be good for promoting events or talks but if you’re concerned about safety then tweet about an event afterward.
  • Tweets have a 280-character limit. This means you get good at editing. On the flip side, there is the option of ‘Threads.’ This is linking a series of tweets together by using the ‘+’ sign at the bottom of the tweet. Plan out your thread by clicking the plus sign before pressing ‘Tweet’ and use numbers to help your audience follow them in order. Threads can be great for storytelling but best utilised sparingly.  There are other options for long-form writing such as Medium

So that ends my pretty basic guide to ‘Academic Twitter’ to hopefully get you started. See you on there!

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