Thursday 19 November 2015

Tips on Using Twitter in Academia

Dr Rebekah Higgitt
Yesterday I took part in a presentation with Rebekah Higgitt on 'using social media to promote your research'. I gave an overview, and touched on some of the issues I'd picked up from Nadine Muller and Andy Miah. Rebekah followed up by focussing on Twitter, and I thought it would be worth noting some of the points she made as a long term user.

I got the sense that our audience was somewhat sceptical about social media more generally, and Twitter in particular, so Rebekah had her work cut out in convincing them that it was worth their while. However, she made the point that, as well as widening her audience and engaging new people, using Twitter had helped to clarify her own thinking. She had been forced to defend her viewpoints, or explain her research to those outside her discipline. By so doing it had provided an outlet for her to share her passion beyond her natural territory in the history of science.

Inevitably, these had to be balance with some negatives. Using social media does take time, although this can be taken from the 'dead time' of commuting or other non-productive time. There is a danger of being victim to on-line abuse, although she had never personally been a victim of this. When starting, with limited followers, there is the worry about speaking to the void (and, perhaps, the converse of this, of speaking to the bubble). Finally there is the difficulty of striking the right tone between the professional and the personal - and the shock of meeting Tweeters in real life and the disparity between your preconceptions and the reality.

For Rebekah, Twitter users should be aware of four issues:

  • Audience. Who are you writing for? Try and visualise what kind of audience you want, and think what you want to achieve in using social media. Once you've done this it is easier to write for your audience(s). 
  • Platforms. Consider using more than one platform to reach different groups and to reinforce your message. For instance, whilst she is a long-term user of Twitter, she has used Pinterest to collate historic images of female scientists. This captured a wider interest, triggering further discussions, blogs, and followers. 
  • Conversations. Make sure you engage with those who are engaging with you. Twitter is a two way medium. It has levelled the academic playing field, and it is possible for both students and early career researchers to talk equally with their academic heroes. As such it's refreshing, but also demanding. 
  • Be a person. The best Twitter accounts are those that give a sense of the person behind them. So don't be afraid to talk about things other than your work. Give people an insight into your life and your beliefs, balanced with discussion about your research, and the success and frustrations of life at work. 

Getting Started
Rebekah finished by giving some pointers for those who were thinking of getting started on Twitter. 
  • Find, follow and have conversations with people you already know or would like to know;
  • Find relevant hashtags to join conversations in your disciplines. For Rebekah, these included #histsci and #arthistory;
  • Get outside your bubble, and connect with those working in other disciplines, or outside of academia altogether. 
  • Have opinions: remember the need to engage your followers. They might not agree with you opinions, but will be interested in your thoughts and views. 
  • Share links and images. If something interests you, it will interest others. Share it. 

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