A how-to guide
There will be some of you out there who use Twitter prolifically but also a great many who hear colleagues talking about it and think “where do they find the time?” or “what’s all the fuss about?”
Those who do use Twitter regularly are evangelical about it, so for those who are still in the “I know what Twitter is but I haven’t got the faintest idea where to start” camp, here’s a quick guide on how to get started (and for those that still need convincing, why researchers should use it).
I’m a researcher. How is using Twitter going to benefit me?
A search in Google will come up with a long list of academics explaining how Twitter has benefited their research, before and after publication. There are some great articles and blog posts which explain how you can use it to connect with other academics in your field, ask questions (“crowdsourcing”) and spread the word about the type of research you’re undertaking.
But what happens after publication? This is where Twitter can be one of the most valuable tools you can use to publicize your work, reaching people who may never have heard of you or your research before, increasing downloads of your article, citations (in time), and impact.
Working in tandem with your publisher, you can have a very discernible effect on the reach of your article and the really exciting bit is that you can see the impact immediately. And one of the best things about Twitter is you can tweet, check your feed, and have information come to you wherever you are, so long as you have a smartphone or tablet to hand.
To show how it has impacted on journal articles, here is a recent example of how a topic, an active academic, and the use of social media can come together to raise the profile and impact of their research.
So how do I get started?
Signing up to Twitter and creating your profile
Creating your account is quick and easy but it pays to take time to craft your profile page – this is effectively your “shop window” so try to make it unique, something that says who you are and what you do. Your username can be your own name (e.g., @JohnSmith) or something a bit more esoteric (e.g., @mathsgenius). Do remember, though, if you use your own name it will be easier for others to associate you with your Twitter account (hopefully a good thing, based on the types of tweets you send out…).
Use your profile to tell people about your research and experience, what you teach, and what your interests are. Link to your blog or website too, so people can explore more, and try to add a photo so people can recognize your tweets immediately on their feed.
Following me, following you…
So you’ve created your profile and Twitter has prompted you with whom to follow – what do you do? Following the right people and organizations automatically personalizes your Twitter feed (the list of tweets that come up on your home page) and also the recommendations that Twitter makes to you.
You are bound to have a list of colleagues who already use Twitter, so you can start with these.
But what about people you admire? Or organizations you have an interest in? Media outlets you enjoy reading already, whether online or in paper format? Once you get started you’ll realize there’s a wealth of connections you can make, are interested in, or have some kind of affiliation to. And by following some of the prolific tweeters you’ll get a feel for how others craft tweets, the style that is often unique to Twitter, and the shorthand used by everyone on it. Which brings us on to…
Writing that first tweet (and the one after that, and after that, and after that)
If you’ve never used Twitter before there are probably a few things that have stopped you in the past, some of which might have been “how are you meant to use a hashtag?” “what’s a retweet?” and “what on earth can I say in 140 characters or less that anyone is going to be interested in?!” So, putting your prejudices aside, here are some tips:
- Tweet about what you’re researching, how it’s going, what your hurdles are, why people should be interested and link to your article, website, blog, videos; in fact anything that means the reader can build a picture of why they should be interested in your research.
- Shorten hyperlinks using sites such as bitly.com or tinyurl.com.
- Engage in Twitter conversations – retweet what you find interesting. You can do this using Twitter’s retweet or you can add some context (and interest) by putting your own comments, RT @username and then pasting in the tweet you are referring to.
- Engage in Twitter conversations, Part 2 – respond to tweets, giving your view and remember to always include the username of the person you’re responding to (e.g., @JohnSmith).
- Use hashtags to engage with key topics and conversations (e.g., #openaccess). This will mean that your tweet will be picked up by all those with an interest in the subject and you’ll become part of the conversation. Don’t be afraid to create your own either – you’ll be amazed at how this can make your tweet more visible.
These are just some starter tips; you can also direct-message people, thank people if they retweet you, ask questions, or tweet your thoughts from conferences you are at. Once you get into it, Twitter is weirdly addictive – are there websites that you visit every day? You’ll quickly find Twitter is added to them.
Judging whether the effort is worth it
You’ve created your account, started tweeting about your latest journal article, and now want to know whether all this extra work is having any impact. There is a quick and easy way to check this. On Google Scholar, you can see how many times your article has been viewed and how many times it has been cited.
Now here’s a challenge – pick your latest article and send some tweets about it. Tweet about the challenges you faced in writing it, what you found most interesting or surprising, ask some questions around the main thrust of the research, or try and draw some of your followers into a Twitter conversation on the topic of the article. And try to use hashtags if you can, to draw people in. Give it a week and then check your article views. Have they increased? We’ll guarantee they have if you’ve followed all of the steps above.
For all its clichés, social media really is changing the way we communicate and, as researchers and academics, we want our work to be discoverable and for people to engage with it. So give it a go and tell us how you got on.