Twitter is a microblogging site with 560 million active users, and more than 1 in 40 researchers are reportedly active on the site.
Scientists who use Twitter tend to be effusive in their praise: Twitter helps them stay on top of news in their field, find new publications, get speaking and publishing opportunities, communicate their research directly to the public, and – perhaps most importantly – find a sense of community. In fact, among researchers who use social media in a professional context, 83% declared Twitter to be the most useful tool they use.
Today, we’ll explore Twitter’s usefulness for you. We’ll get you onto the site, engaging others, finding the best sources of information in your field, and measuring the diffusion of your research among other researchers and the public.
Creating a Twitter account is dead simple: logon to Twitter.com and sign up for an account.
On the next screen, you’ll be prompted by Twitter to choose a handle–make it similar to your blog handle or your name, so your professional “brand” matches across platforms.
Complete the rest of the setup steps–find other users to follow and connect your email account to import other contacts–then head to your email to confirm your account.
All done? Now it’s time to do the important stuff.
First, add a photo to your “avatar” by clicking the blue camera icon in the upper left-hand corner, next to your name. Make it simple by adding the same photo that you used for LinkedIn or your website; it’s easy change if you want to add another photo in the future.
Next, add a short bio. This is your chance to explain who you are in 160 characters or less. LSE Impact Blog recommends stating your experience and research interests, university or organizational affiliation, and a link to your blog. We also recommend adding a few hashtags (more on those in a moment) that can connect you to other users with similar interests across the platform. For example, I’ve added “#libraries #altmetrics #craftbeer” to my bio.
To add your bio, click on your username beside your avatar and on your profile page, click the “Edit Profile” button the right-hand side of your profile. There, you can add your bio and a link to your blog or website.
Got your basic account set up? Now it’s time to start engaging with other scientists and the public.
Twitter users share research articles, news, and tidbits about their lives on a daily basis. Your next step is to find users who share your interests and to “follow” them to start receiving their updates.
Twitter tries to make it as easy as possible for you to find other people to follow via the “Who to Follow” panel on the right-hand side of your profile, seen above. Their recommendations are usually either spot on (you can see above they’ve suggested OpenScience for me) or completely off the mark (they suggested WomensHealthMag to me based only on the fact that I’m female and that I selected “Health” as one of my interests upon signing up–under the mistaken assumption that “Health” = “Healthcare”). The more people you follow, though, the better their system gets at finding you new suggestions. Click on the “View all” link in the “Who to follow” panel to get a long list of suggested users.
Another great way to find people to follow is to search Twitter for particular interests. From any page on Twitter, type a keyword into the Search box at the upper right-hand corner of the page. On the results page, click “People” in the left- hand navigation bar to narrow the results to Twitter users who match your interest.
You can see here that I’ve searched for the term “bioinformatics” and narrowed the results to include Twitter users who match that term:
Read through the search results, keeping an eye out for familiar names and interesting bios. When you find a user you want updates from, click the “Follow” button to the right of their bio. Now, when you’re on your homepage you’ll see their recent updates:
There are several other good ways to find people to follow:
Try to follow at least twenty colleagues and organizations in your field to begin with, and take some time to read through each user’s “timeline” (updates on their profile page) to learn more about them and their interests. You’re going to start chatting with your colleagues in our next step.
Now we get into the meat of the challenge: making connections with others in your field.
One of the things that makes Twitter so great is that it is a no-pressure forum to spark conversations with your colleagues about a variety of topics, including but not limited to your shared area of study. Twitter also helps you find members of the public who are interested in your area of study.
Researchers who participated in a recent study of academics’ use of social media reportedly appreciate Twitter because:
You’re going to engage with others by tweeting at them–writing short messages that either respond to one of their updates, ask questions, or share information with them. Let’s talk now about what makes for good “tweeting.”
Tweets are the 140 character messages that users compose to update others on a variety of things: their opinions on a study, recent news, a thought-provoking blog post, and so on. You can write anything in your updates, and attach photos and location information, too.
Some things you might want to share with others include:
No matter what you tweet about, there are some basic things you can do to make your tweets more interesting to others (and thus more likely to be shared via a retweet):
When in doubt, just remember to keep it professional and you can’t really go wrong.
Now that you’re tweeting, let’s explore some of the benefits (and drawbacks) to tweeting at conferences.
Some academics swear by tweeting at conferences, because it provides an easy way to learn new things and meet new people by following and participating in conversations. As Bik & Goldstein explain,
Tweeting from conferences (discussing cutting-edge research developments, linking to journal articles or lab websites, e.g., …) can introduce other scientists to valuable content, and consequently provide networking opportunities for users who actively post during meetings…Journalists and scientists following a conference tweet stream may be additionally introduced to new groups of researchers (particularly early-career scientists or those scientists who are new to Twitter) with relevant and related interests; conference tweeting can thus serve to enhance in-person networking opportunities by expanding these activities to online spheres.
Further, Jonathan Lawson points out that it allows students and early career researchers, in particular, to participate in a “backchannel” that’s not dominated by the most established researchers, like the conferences themselves sometimes are.
The next time you’re attending a conference, find out what the meeting’s hashtag is, and then search for and follow it to “listen in” on the conversation. (We searched for and followed tweets for #EuroSciPy, above.) A popular way to follow conference hashtags is TweetChat, which filters out the non-conference tweets in your timeline, making conference-related tweets easier to follow.
And when you’re ready to participate, you can add your voice by writing tweets that include the conference hashtag. When you’re listening to a talk, summarize the main points for your followers, add your own commentary to the speaker’s, and share related papers and websites. Just make sure you have the presenters’ permission to tweet about their talk; some would prefer to keep their findings off the Internet until they have published on them.
You can also tweet using the conference hashtag to organize informal “tweetups”, which can help build relationships and ward off boredom in unfamiliar cities (“Invigorated after Stodden’s great keynote! Anyone up for grabbing a coffee before the reception to talk about it? #meeting2014”).
For more “how to’s” on conference tweeting, check out SouthernFriedScience’s primer on tweeting at conferences.
Twitter’s Analytics dashboard can help you measure the success of your outreach efforts.
Logon to Twitter Analytics and review your latest tweets that share links to your blog or your papers. On the dashboard view (pictured above), you’ll see all of your tweets and a summary of your impressions and engagements.
The number of impressions equals the number of times your tweets appeared on someone’s timelines. The number of engagements are the number of times your tweets have been retweeted, clicked through, or clicked on to learn more information about what you shared. They help you measure the amount of exposure you’re receiving and others’ interest in what you’re tweeting, respectively.
The dashboard view is good at summarizing your impressions and engagements over various time periods. The default view is for the past 28 days, but you can click the calendar button in the upper right hand corner to select a date range of your choosing–useful if you want to see what effect tweeting at a conference had upon the amount of exposure you’re getting, for example.
To see the drill-down engagement metrics for a specific tweet, click on the tweet. You’ll see something like this:
In addition to simple engagement and impression metrics, LSE Impact Blog also recommends recording the following:
At the end of each month, Twitter can be used as a painless metric to assess how your tweeting is working for you and your project. Showing the growth in your followers and the number of people who read your research blog can also be helpful for funding applications. You could make short notes on the following:
Over time, you can build upon what you’ve learned from your Twitter metrics, tweeting more content that your followers will love, in a manner that will engage them the most.
Twitter is a for-profit company. Though it’s technically free to use, you pay for your account by allowing Twitter show ads in your timeline and access and sell your personal data to other companies.
Twitter has also recently announced plans to experiment with users’ timelines, meaning that the uncensored, time-based updates you see on your home screen could soon be replaced with updates selected by an algorithm. That’s something that Facebook currently does, and it led to a near blackout on updates for its users about one of the biggest news items of the year in the US: the Ferguson protests.
What could it mean for you? Well, if Twitter’s future algorithms inadvertently decide that your tweets about H1N1 studies or field research or science funding aren’t compelling to your users, it could remove them from others’ homepages, killing potential conversations and connections.
For today’s homework, you’re going to find other researchers to engage and begin tweeting in earnest.
We recommend following 20 people to begin with, adding a few each day using the techniques described above (keyword searches, Twitter lists, and following researchers that your colleagues are following). Aim to follow at least 100 people by the end of the month.
In the next few days, as you start to get a few followers, take some time to learn more about them. Using the Twitter Analytics “Followers” dashboard, check out their interests, what countries your followers are tweeting from, and who else they’re following–this can be a great source of new people to follow!
Finally, commit to tweeting at least 20 times over the next week. It will help populate your timeline, which will make others more likely to follow you. Share at least one of your own blog posts, one of your articles, and engage someone else in conversation.