Twitter is no longer niche as it once was. How has my thinking changed in relation to Twitter use by academics? In this post I bullet-point some ideas that can be taken if desired as tips or strategies by those academic colleagues who are new to Twitter. You can scroll down and skim if you want.
Motivation for this post
I‘ve been asked to become a “social media champion” for my school. I think it’s cool there’s an interest in embracing social media more widely, organically and effectively.
Things have changed significantly since Sarah and I started touring the UK in 2011 giving social media workshops for academics with Networked Researcher (RIP), and, indeed my own personal and professional views on Twitter have evolved along the way- what we call “social media” is no longer a niche, defined region of the Internet and the Web, but as mainstream as it can possibly get, reaching a relevance and centrality in today’s information and technological sphere that is yet to be surpassed.
I wrote dozens of blog posts for a variety of international platforms (some long extinct) in the distant past (2011-2013) on academic Twitter use, including the following pieces that got published by the Guardian Higher Education Network.
If you click on the links and read the articles, please do take them with a grain of salt and historical perspective as things have evolved significantly since. I would write them differently today (also; headlines were the Guardian’s, not mine).
- (2011) How Twitter will revolutionise academic research and teaching https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/12/twitter-revolutionise-academia-research
- (2012) Live-tweeting at academic conferences: 10 rules of thumb https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/oct/03/ethics-live-tweeting-academic-conferences
- (2013) Twitter: towards more fluid rules of academic engagement https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/feb/05/twitter-academia-rules-of-engagement
This tour down memory lane has also reminded of this blog post that I wrote for Altmetric in 2013 on “Strategies to Get your Research Mentioned Online“. It needs rewriting now.
(By the way, remember this LSE Impact Blog November 2013 post by Alan Cann on academic blogging going mainstream?)
Sharing these links here again as context and in case it’s of historical interest.
Those were the days. We were young. We thought everything was possible. (It still is, albeit in a completely different way!).
The present moment
How to think of academic tweeting in an age of overwhelming information overload and increased workloads? How has my thinking changed in relation to Twitter use by academics?
I cannot go in great detail here, but I thought I’d try to bullet-point some ideas that can be taken if desired as tips or strategies by those academic colleagues who are new to Twitter.
- Twitter needs to be taken seriously. In spite of its ill-repute, it is an influential public platform for the dissemination of information. Precisely what information we disseminate on it is each user’s responsibility.
- No one uses Twitter in the exact same way. Twitter is always-already experienced differently by each and every user. There are therefore no straight-forward rules. Most users learn along the way. An experienced Twitter user is more likely to use Twitter better than an inexperienced Twitter user who has read all the social media policies, terms and conditions and ethical guidelines available. An experienced Twitter user who has read all those documents will be an even better user, but that’s a personal view.
- The default Twitter web client and the Twitter mobile app are not the right tools for busy people who are expected to author “content”. If you are busy, are already doubtful Twitter can deliver quality information, and feel being asked to tweet as an annoying imposition or a waste of time, there are no worse tools to start doing it than those.
- For new users it may look daunting, but I totally recommended using TweetDeck to those academics being asked to manage a work account and/or wishing to be more effective locating and monitoring relevant accounts and content. TweetDeck is a free web-based application owned by Twitter. There is no mobile version. To use TweetDeck you will need a Twitter account. How to use TweetDeck guidance here.
- In general, I think tweeting from your mobile phone for work is a bad idea- unless there’s no other choice, you are at a conference without space to place or plug your laptop, etc.
- Before you start tweeting for work it helps to have clarity of purpose. Do not think of Twitter as an instant messaging service; think of it as a public publishing platform. What is it you need to communciate? To whom? Why? When? How?
- Everyone and their dog is on Twitter. (And yet… so many aren’t so far). How will you become visible? Before joining Twitter, make a list of people and organisations you want to be visible to. Think of it as your Twitter contact list or address book.
- Search for your stakeholders on Twitter via TweetDeck and create a list with a descriptive name. The more specific the list the better. You can have different lists. On Tweetdeck, you can get a column per list, where you will only see, if desired, tweets by those accounts you have added in your list. Think of it as an email folder for which you have created rules.
- You don’t have to have a column for your timeline, where you would see everyone you follow. These days, to use your main Twitter timeline as your main way of monitoring Twitter is frankly inefficient, also because regardless of what your settings are the algorithm will prioritise some content over others and it will not be first posted first. We need to try to beat the relevance algorithm and curate our own dedicated timelines.
- If your goal is to use Twitter to communicate the work you or your organisation does, you can schedule tweets in advance on TweetDeck. This means you don’t need to be on Twitter all the time. You don’t have to tweet in real time.
- If you blog, make sure you add a social media sharing widget so that your posts get tweeted automatically when you publish. Make sure your site’s readers can share your posts on social media easily- customise the sharing widgets so the share text generated includes a mention of your username (e.g. “[Post title] [URL] via @ernestopriego“).
- Systematically share what you publish or deposit in your open access institutional or data repository. If you don’t share your own work, who will?
- Twitter is social, so it won’t work well if you only broadcast your own content. Even if your intention is to mainly broadcast what you or your organisation does, having columns of your stakeholders will allow you to check those columns at an appropriate time and see fewer tweets (more manageable) but potentially they will be more relevant because you have more carefully/strictly curated the sources in that timeline in advance.
- Have a column for your notifications, and acknowledge positive feedback whenever you can. Often there’s no need to reply, ‘liking’ a reply suffices these days a an acknowledgement and it can go a long way. You are busy and others know it because they are busy too, but still appreciate a nudge of appreciation.
- No user is an island. Create continents and archipielagos, build bridges.
- Retweet what you find interesting or useful, support causes or themes you advocate, but avoid amplifying discord or bad vibes (those are, I’m aware, relative).
- Include the disclaimers “RTs and likes are not endorsements” in your bio, to be safe. Avoid/do not RT tweets you wouldn’t have tweeted originally yourself (ask yourself: would I have published this for the world to see? By retweeting it, you are doing just that), including those tweets with links to content you have not checked before. Check and read links before retweeting/tweeting them.
In a way these same strategies have already been in practice for a while. They are not new. If anything, the pressing realities of employment in a digital age mean we need to be more drastically pragmatic and strategic.
I realise there’s way more I have to say about this, but I have surpassed the 1000 word count so I will have to leave it there. Thanks for reading, if you did.
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