By Tanya Ha @Ha_Tanya, Associate at Science in Public
Once upon a time, I remarked that Twitter was just a distraction for illiterate Gen Y people with a short attention span. After two weeks on Twitter, I was eating my words.
We’re often asked for tips to get scientists going on Twitter. So here are a few thoughts.
Twitter is great for building your networks, sharing resources and stories, peer support and keeping your finger on the pulse of a particular field or topic. It’s also a potentially powerful tool for disseminating science, as shown in the infographic below.
Twitter is an online micro-blogging service that allows users to broadcast, send, and receive short 140-character messages or ‘tweets’. Like other social networking sites and tools, it allows you to connect directly with a wide range of people, including peers, stakeholders and influencers.
- Social media: horses for courses – Decide if Twitter suits your communication needs, or if other social networking sites might be more suitable. Twitter is useful for directing people’s attention to other information or websites, and interaction with audiences is optional. Facebook posts tend to be pictures, graphics or short written pieces. People can interact and discuss the post by writing a ‘comment’. Blogs, enabled by platforms such as WordPress, suit longer written stories. LinkedIn is useful as a career-building tool, sharing your CV and building a professional network.
- Personal versus organisational – A personal account humanises the tweets and allows you to be less formal and more conversational, and you may be able to take it with you if you change positions or institutions. An organisational or corporate account typically takes a more formal tone. Both can be useful for science communication. For example, compare the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute account (@WEHI_research) with that of their Director Doug Hilton (@WEHI_Director). Also make sure you’re aware of and compliant with your organisation’s social media use policies.
- Don’t leave it until the last minute – It takes time to build a network on Twitter, yet each year a small handful of Twitter accounts appear a month out from National Science Week to promote an event. It’s only worth building an audience if you have reasons to communicate with them regularly.
- Sign up and customise – Sign up at Twitter.com. Choose a Twitter handle (that’s your user identity, which follows an ‘@’ symbol) that is as short as possible, keeping in mind the 140-character limit for tweets. Customise your account with a profile image or ‘avatar’, rather than leaving the default egg image. This helps to convey to people that you’re a genuine user, rather than a computer- generated ‘Tweetbot’.
- Choose some accounts to follow – Find and follow colleagues and organisations with similar interests. View their past tweets to see if they’re interesting. Visit the @InspiringAus lists at https://twitter.com/inspiringaus/lists to see some science communication voices on Twitter, and send us your suggestions to add to our lists.
- Start tweeting – Write tweets sharing things you find interesting, such as research news, innovative science communication activities or fascinating images. Avoid tweeting things that are controversial or while you’re feeling emotional, at least while you’re starting out. Also remember that, with tweets limited to 140-characters, oversimplification can lead to misunderstandings.
- #Use #hashtags #in #moderation, #please – Hashtags put an electronic marker in a tweet that enables searching and grouping around a topic of interest. It’s a great way of reaching an audience outside your Twitter followers. However, they can be distracting and reduce readability, so please resist the urge to hashtag every word in a tweet!
- Twitter tools – There are a number of apps and tools, such as TweetDeck and HootSuite, that make it easier to use Twitter, monitor content and follow conversations, particularly if you end up managing multiple Twitter accounts. They also allow you to schedule tweets for publication at specific times, making it easier to manage your time on social media. There are also analytical tools, such as Twitonomy, that can provide metrics for quantifying and reporting the extent of engagement.
- Have fun (where appropriate) – A little humour can go a long way, including in science communication. See if you can enlist the occasional LOLcat to get your message out.