There are an ever-growing number of scientists using Twitter to disseminate their research, share articles and papers, and ask questions. Twitter, if used correctly, can be like an online conference, and participation can benefit your career in a multitude of ways.
Professors and institutions that may be hard to approach in other circumstances are all easy to talk to on Twitter. Twitter can also be a way of getting information to the people that need it, such as NGOs and policy makers.
In the latest of our series on professionalism and social responsibility, Rosalie Tostevin (@RosalieTostevin), Jane Robb (@JLizRobb) and Joel Gill (@GillJoel) share their insights into Twitter, giving you some great tips for getting started or expanding your use of Twitter.
Handle Your handle is what people use to identify you, similar to an email address. It begins with @ and must be one word. It can be the same as your name or something different, e.g. ‘@magmatters’, ‘@protohedgehog’. It’s best to keep it short if possible so that people tweeting to you don’t waste too many characters.
Tweet: A tweet is like a status update, but limited to 140 characters. You’d be surprised how much you can fit into such a small space, but if you are struggling you can split a tweet in two and indicate by using (1/2) and (2/2) at the start. If you include someone’s handle anywhere within your tweet, they will be notified of it. If you begin the tweet with a handle then the conversation will not appear in other people’s news feeds (but will appear and be public on your page).
Followers: People can choose to ‘follow’ you, meaning all of your tweets will appear in their newsfeed. All of your tweets will still appear in public if someone searches for your name or a key word that appears in one of your tweets.
RT: A retweet is where you broadcast another users tweet to your followers (some of which may overlap). You can either retweet their whole tweet, complete with their name, or copy what they have said and add ‘RT @user’ in front.
MT: A modified tweet is like a retweet, except you change the wording slightly or delete part of the tweet, and insert ‘MT @user’ at the start.
Favourite: You can favourite someone else’s tweet to show them that you like or agree with what they have said, without having to share the tweet with all of your followers. You may want to use this function if someone tweets about something that is not directly relevant to most of your followers.
Hashtag (#): A hashtag before a word or phrase (e.g., #GfGDconf or #geologyrocks) is a label for a conversation, that can help people find all the tweets within that conversation or on that topic. They can be simple, informative, amusing or eye-catching. Hash tags are a great way of getting noticed for what you have to say, so join in conversations and consider making a Storify of the conversation (if someone hasn’t already!) to document all the opinions of others in the field.
WHAT TO TWEET ABOUT?
- Links to your own and your research groups papers, blog posts and relevant news stories. You can use an app such as bit.ly or ‘google url shortener’ to reduce the number of characters in a link, but Twitter will cap the characters used up when posting a full link anyway.
- Updates and photos from the field
- Asking questions to the wider community (does anyone out there know…)
- Starting a conversation, discussion or debate. You can do this by tweeting at people – including their handle in the tweet. Even if they don’t answer, others will and you can build up a good rapport with people (and followers) this way.
Don’t go too off topic. If your account lists you as a scientist, and people are following you on this basis, don’t tweet about Beyonce’s new haircut. At the same time, remember that geoscientists have an important voice in many debates – climate change, water supply, urbanisation, and scientists should be commenting on factors such as education, economic growth and foreign policy. It’s okay to have casual or personal posts sometimes, but keep it relevant or people will start to unfollow!
Do not use Twitter to moan or share mundane things “missed the bus this morning”, “having a crappy day”. Followers that don’t know you will find this, sadly, annoying. It’s best to keep that sort of thing to friends (that’s what Facebook is for!). Worse than boring is offensive and defamatory – please don’t say stupid stuff on Twitter. Think before you tweet.
There is no point in using Twitter if you don’t interact. You won’t find out interesting job opportunities or meet helpful and fascinating connections if you don’t put yourself out there. People DO meet through Twitter, and these can end up as important work collaborations. Twitter is certainly not a social network to sneer at, so retweet people, reply to their questions, ask your own questions… don’t be shy!
WHO TO FOLLOW?
There are some key people that are followed by most people: science correspondents such as Jonathan Amos, prominent geologists such as Professor Iain Stewart, and organisations such as EGU. Follow people from your department, or that you have worked or collaborated with. It’s okay to follow people you have never met if you think that their tweets are interesting.
Some people will follow you back, some won’t. Don’t worry too much about getting numbers up. There is no need to have followers unless they are interested in what you have to say. Do however make sure that anyone who would find your tweets interesting knows you are out there. Acquiring followers is not about the street cred. It’s about making important connections through putting your opinions across and gathering others’. You can learn so much from Twitter by crowd sourcing opinions on any topic from nuclear disarmament to ethics in science communication. Use this vital information source.
As well as following people, you can also keep an eye on hash-tags. Follow interesting hash tags that everyone is talking about such as conferences or funny ones, or make up your own. GfGD’s Communications Officer, Jane Robb, made up one called #sciadvent where she used Pinterest as an advent calendar telling the history of the Earth in 25 days. This got picked up by Nature and they featured it in one of their blogs of the week!
FURTHER TIPS/TWITTER ETIQUETTE
When quoting an article (from the web, a journal or magazine) always include the Twitter handle of the person who wrote it or shared it if they are on Twitter. This is simple good etiquette on Twitter like citing an article and gets you brownie points in acknowledging others’ work as well as people noticing what you are interested in – and therefore followers.
Promote yourself. If you have a blog or LinkedIn profile or a cool job then put it in your profile. Also don’t be afraid to self promote by tweeting about your new blog post or video. However, make sure you don’t become a Twitter narcissist – always help promote others’ work too and provide insightful comments on their content (when you have any).
Don’t get too bogged down. Twitter can be a lot of work to get a good load of people listening to what you say, but it isn’t the be all and end all. It can help you and your career no end, but remember to go offline once in a while.