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A nifty guide for academics on using Twitter


Have you recently ventured into the murky world of Twitter but have no idea what to do next? Are you using social media for your study’s outreach and engagement but you want to increase your impact? Then this blog post is for you!

Twitter is perhaps more widely known as one of the new ways that US Presidents govern their nation and where automated bots post content to swing elections – but do not let that put you off! This microblogging social media platform could be one of the most powerful tools in an academic’s toolbox. All you need to unlock its full potential is to invest a little bit of time in understanding how it works and how it can benefit you and your research. This nifty little guide should hopefully provide a foundation to make those first steps into using Twitter for academic purposes.

  1. Decide on your purpose

In order to make the most out of using Twitter, you need to be crystal clear on why you’re using it in the first place. What do you want out of it? If it’s purely to read up on other research and new scientific studies, that’s absolutely fine. A good way to curate your feed is to create Twitter Lists. Here’s a short article on what a Twitter List is and how to create them.

  1. Who’s your audience?

If, however, you want to do more than read other people’s content, you need to decide who you are targeting with your communication. Have you started a research study’s Twitter account to promote your work to stakeholders and find respondents to interview? Or are you using your personal Twitter account to connect with new researchers and build your professional network? Whatever your purpose is, ensure you understand who it is you’re trying to target, as different audiences respond to different content.

  1. Finesse your content

Possibly the hardest part to get right on Twitter is working out what content works best for your audience(s). Most people don’t read Twitter to hear about your greatest achievements. Twitter shouldn’t be a place to only boast about your work (though do celebrate success). Instead, users come here to gain something from your tweets, be that interesting facts, entertainment or inspiration. What value can you add to their lives so that they look forward to reading your tweets?

  1. Networking

Arguably the greatest power of Twitter lies in its amazing potential to connect you with much of the rest of the world at the click of a button. Follow people whose research you like, comment on their posts and message them. Don’t be shy! If you can’t attend conferences in person, follow the conference hashtags and respond to participants who are there in person if you have questions or want to learn more. Hashtags can also be used to find people working on similar topics. For instance, as a conservation social scientist, I use the hashtag #ConSocSci.

  1. Reach

Building an online following of engaged users means knowing your audience. Post at popular times of the day (and to find out when the people you follow are most active on Twitter, go to FollowerWonk). Use trending hashtags if they’re relevant to your posts. Join in with popular threads if they’re of interest. Give a reason for people to keep coming back to your profile and engaging with what you’re posting. Start threads that people may find interesting. For instance, if you have a new study that’s just been published, consider Twitterising it by publishing headline findings (along with some nice graphs or an infographic) – but remember, no Academese!

  1. Your profile

Your Twitter profile is a bit like your business card mixed with your CV. It’s the place people can come to contact you as well as learn more about what you do. Help make their lives easier by adding a photo of yourself and upload a profile banner of something that’s relevant to your work. Refine your mini biography to include a short description of who you are, what you study and where you work. Remember, your biography is VERY IMPORTANT! This is because it’s possibly the only thing that someone will read about you before deciding whether to follow you. Make sure your pinned tweet is relatively recent (i.e. posted within the last year) and relevant to what you want to be known for. You can use your pinned tweet to expand on what you couldn’t fit in your mini biography. Add a link to your institutional/project website, or your own if you have one.

  1. Tweeting

Twitter is less formal than other academic social media sites like LinkedIn or ResearchGate, so your tweets should reflect this. Studies show that people tend to engage more in tweets that have images or video, as well as a few emojis – though ❌don’t ⛔️  overdo it! Use #hashtags sparingly and #CapitaliseEachWord to improve readability. To create free images for your Twitter posts, try Canva and for infographics try Piktochart.

  1. For the Twitter pros

Some academics have developed large followings by creating recurrent ways to interact with their followers such as with weekly games like #CougarOrNot, questions posed to researchers like #WildID or weekly facts shared like #WildDogFact. Apologies that these are all wildlife based – they clearly show my interests! Find out how well your tweets are doing by using Twitter Analytics.

If you’d like to schedule tweets (for instance, posting at a specific time each week) then you might find TweetDeck useful. Tweetdeck is also a great, free website to help you manage multiple Twitter accounts at once; for instance, if you have a personal and an institutional one.

  1. Have fun!

A fantastic way to connect with people is to think of entertaining ways to engage. We’re all drawn to fun people, after all. I found this out accidentally by creating a Twitter thread that went viral on #WorldGothDay by posting images of #GothicAnimals; it even got picked up on the Telegraph! Remember: like in real life, be respectful and kind to each other.

Edited by Bill Sullivan, PhD, Indiana University School of Medicine.

About the Author
  • Niki Rust

    Dr. Niki Rust is a Research Associate at Newcastle University, an Environmental Journalist, and Science Communications Trainer. Follow her on Twitter: @nikirust.

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