Social Media in Academia (6): Twitter

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Twitter is different from the services we have discussed so far in that it doesn’t allow you to create an extensive profile. All you can add to your profile is a picture and a short tagline. Your online presence on Twitter is therefore created "organically" by material that you tweet and re-tweet. A comprehensive guide to Twitter can be found on the ESRC website as part of their social media best practice and guidance. In this blogpost I share some of my personal tips.

How to make the most of your profile?

Unlike LinkedIn and ResearchGate Twitter doesn't allow you to include a traditional 100-250 word academic bio. However, there is a lot you can do to ensure your Twitter profile is effective, i.e. makes it easy for people to find you and communicates your identity as a scholar.

Twitter handle

Think carefully about your Twitter handle [the bit after the @]. As you can see mine is @awharzing. Most academics use some version of their name. A couple of tips:

  • Remember that tweets can only have 280 characters, so if your Twitter handle is really long, other Twitter users might be less inclined to include it in their posts.
  • If your name is very common, find a goodway to distinguish yourself from your namesakes. One of my co-authors Ling (Eleanor) Zhang shares her name with thousands and thousands of others. Hence she creatively decided to chose @LingEleanorZ as her Twitter handle.
  • Although many academics don't use their titles in everyday communication, it might be a good idea to include it in your name or Twitter handle. The vast majority of Twitter users are not academics and female academics in particular tend to be taken more seriously on Twitter if they do include their title. Many of my female colleagues have included Dr in their Twitter handle.

Twitter tagline/bio

Your tagline can be found immediately below your picture and Twitter handle. Think carefully about your tagline, what is it that you want to communicate? In my tagline I have included my job title and affiliation, but I mainly focus on the things that are closest to my heart at the moment: Developing an inclusive and collaborative research culture and helping female academics through CYGNA. You can also add your current research interests with hashtags. Another good option is to use your tagline to give a one-line summary of your "research proposition". I like Ron Fischer's: "Behavioural scientist fascinated by the big problems in life and how to tackle them".

Twitter also allows you to add a link to their favourite online profile for more information. As you can see above, I have included my personal website as this is my most comprehensive online presence. For most academics this would be their university staff profile, Google Scholar, LinkedIn, or ResearchGate profile.

Pinned Tweet

Make sure to pin your most important tweet to your profile. This can be a tweet about your latest research project or publication, a conference you are organizing, or a recent achievement. Having a pinned tweet is one of the best ways to turn Twitter into a more informative online profile, as it will tell your followers what it is that defines or distinguishes you. It also avoids your last, possibly irrelevant, tweet heading up your timeline and/or showing you haven’t been very active on Twitter if your last tweet is a while ago.

As you can see above I have decided to pin a tweet about my work in Creating a supportive and collaborative research culture at Middlesex University Business School. It includes a nice picture of the first writing bootcamp I ran at Cumberland Lodge, which has now become a yearly fixture.

Banner image

Pick a nice banner image that either reflects your current research interests, your workplace, or maybe a scene from nature. This will make your account memorable and will make it stand out from the blank backgrounds of others. Walking in green landscapes and connecting with human and architectural history are important to me, so my banners on LinkedIn and Twitter emphasise this. In general, landscape banners tend to be very popular, probably because they are inoffensive and most people find them soothing. However, you could also be more strategic and add a banner that reflects your professional identity, possibly using a word cloud. One of my former colleagues works in digital retailing and her banner neatly reflects this.

Twitter as a source of academic/professional information

Twitter can be a very rich source of academic information if you invest a bit of time in figuring out which individuals or organizations to follow. Remember, you don’t need to check your Twitter account constantly. You can also just review the journal's/organization’s/person’s profile once a week or month. If you don’t get “value” out of those you are following, just un-follow them to keep your information stream focused. Here are some tips:

Sharing (news about) your research with your followers

Before you start tweeting, think carefully about the image you want to display. Never tweet when angry, tired, or drunk. Yes, you can delete your tweets at any time, but they might still be cached on other platforms and if someone takes a screenshot of your tweet, it will live on forever.

  • Do you want your Twitter account to be purely professional, professional with a very occasional personal tweet or mixed? Think about your audience. A professional audience might not always be comfortable with tweets about your private life or your cat videos.
  • Think before you retweet or engage with political issues, unless of course you are a Political Scientist and this is a core part of your identity. Is this something you will still support in a few months? For instance, I do retweet Brexit related material, but only from quality sources [e.g. Guardian/Economist/Times Higher Education/LSE blogs] and only when it is factual material [not personal opinions of others].

There is no limit to what you can share on Twitter: text, pictures, screenshots, GIFs [static or dynamic digital images], videos. Any good Twitter guide will give you detailed instructions. Here are a few tips for academic tweeters.

  • If you tweet about your or someone else's articles, make sure you include the DOI, so that it is counted in the altmetrics for this article. I am still a bit doubtful about altmetrics, but they are getting more important and most repositories and research management systems will display them prominently. Here is one of my articles that - unexpectedly - got quite a bit of attention as can be seen from the colourful altmetric images, capturing things like tweets, blogposts, Mendeley reads and downloads.

  • Don't make every tweet about you, share news about your colleagues, your co-authors and your students, as well as any interesting work you are reading. For more information see: How to promote your research achievements without being obnoxious?
  • Make sure you @ people or organizations where relevant. The best way to build up your profile is to get re-tweets from key journals, organizations or accounts with large followerships [e.g. Writing for Research, Researchwhisperer, Thesiswhisperer]. Before you @ organizations, journals or blogs such as LSE blogs, check whether they ever retweet posts. LSE Impact Blog for instance is a great Twitter account, but it only tweets about their own blogposts, so adding them just wastes your character count.

GO TO PART 7: Social media in Academia (7): Blogging >>>

Videos: ResearchGate, Blogging, LinkedIn and Twitter

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