Academics and Twitter: the good, the bad and how to survive out there
Twitter is the social media of choice for many academics. At least one in forty academics in an institution is on twitter, contributing to the 4.2 million tweets about education every day. If you are involved in education in any way it is probably a good idea to get on there and see what is happening.
In today’s world of academia where it is essential to show evidence of impact Twitter can be invaluable in helping academics establish their larger digital identities, share their research and publications and mine for data that can assist with their research projects.
Key arguments for academics to tweet
- Develop and nurture networks
- Establish and maintain profiles
- Access scholars they otherwise couldn’t
- Share work / self promote / increase impact
- Public engagement
- Reimagining of ‘what counts’ as impact, quality, etc
- Push from institutions
Using Twitter to develop and nurture networks
Twitter is a fantastic way to connect to like-minded people and develop an online network. Online professional networks allow educators to connect and communicate with others regardless of location and time zone. Hashtags such as #acwriting #phdchat allow for connection with people going through similar experiences.
We [the authors] first connected on Twitter, then met face-to-face at the Australian Association for Research in Education conference in 2015. This connection has led to friendship and organising a symposium (about Twitter!) together.
Establish and maintain profiles
Twitter can function as a talking business card that complements the other aspects of your online profile, such as an institutional profile, a LinkedIn page, a ResearchGate and/or academia.edu presence, a google scholar page and or a professional website/blog. For the development of a strong academic digital presence, some (but not all) these elements are necessary. Twitter is useful because it allows for real time interactions and a dynamic online presence, whereas the other elements are more static.
Access scholars they otherwise couldn’t
Twitter allows access to and communication with researchers and academics from a variety of fields, in a way that the day-to-day business/busy-ness and physical layout of universities doesn’t readily facilitate. Many academics on Twitter are generous with their expertise and happy to answer questions tweeted at them which allows for an immediacy of access.
Share work / self-promote / increase impact
If you’re not going to promote your work, who will? If shameless self-promotion is not the only thing that you do on Twitter, and you have built relationships and connections, people are happy to share your work with their networks. But they can only do that if you tell them about it in the first place!
Twitter is a great way to connect with non-academics and stakeholders connected to your field. As education academics twitter conversations with parents and teachers have shaped our understanding of educational issues and it is good to be able to share research with those that are interested.
Reimagining of ‘what counts’ as impact, quality, etc
Twitter altmetrics (alternative metrics) provide a rigorous measurement of non-scholarly engagement with academic work. This has led to calls for scholars to not only have their h-index considered as a measure of the impact of their work, but to have this considered alongside a Twitter impact factor.
Push from institutions
Many universities are encouraging academics to engage with Twitter and offer personal development and information sessions to facilitate this. This institutional push is in response to higher education policy requiring universities to demonstrate the real world impact of their research.
What we see as the good bits of academic Twitter
- People engaging with you about your work
- Making real and lasting friendships and collaborations
- Learning the art of brevity
- Distractions, memes, news
Solidarity can happen through the shared conversation around experiences such as doing a PhD, being an academic mum, the trials and tribulations of academic writing. These conversations are often based around hashtags. In other circumstances, solidarity occurs when academics support each other in online discussions, or by sharing one another’s papers and call for papers and job advertisements.
People engaging with you about your work
One really nice thing about Twitter is having people discuss your work with you. Seeing people share or retweeting your work in a way that indicates they have read it is a good feeling. It’s also great to be able to engage with other academics whose work you enjoy.
Making real and lasting friendships and collaborations
Both authors have had the pleasure of making lasting friendships that started from Twitter conversations. These friendships have led to the development of back channel supportive group conversations, to collaborations that have led to joint writing projects, book contributions, conference presentations and scholarly visits.
Learning the art of brevity
While Twitter isn’t as restrictive as it used to be (it has gone from a limit of 140 characters to an allowance of 260 characters) mastering the art of brevity is a useful skill. You can hone this skill through live tweeting conference presentations or academic papers.
Distractions, memes, news
Sometimes Twitter is just fun. It can be a good way to break up a day of writing, or to catch up with the news. Sharing memes and participating in conversations brings laughter and connection.
The bad bits
- False sense of security
- Professional Risk
- Free labour for the digital economy
False sense of security
It’s easy to develop a sense on Twitter that the people who read your tweets are the people you’re ‘talking to’ when you tweet out a message. If you have a small follower list, or if you’re regularly engaging with the same people, you might develop a shared language, shorthands, inside jokes, and unspoken understandings. However, as many people have found out in the worst possible way, Twitter is a public platform for public consumption. Jon Ronson’s book ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’ follows the experiences of people who have tweeted without thinking and faced the consequences. We think carefully about the things we tweet and we remember that, no matter what, we’re speaking to a possible audience of hundreds of millions of Twitter users.
Following from the above points, participation on Twitter can carry professional risk. It has been described as ‘a robust ecosystem for brand-building, research-sharing, and career-ruining’. It pays to be mindful of your institution’s social media policy and to be sensible in your online interactions.
Some fields of research seem to experience trolling more significantly than others. This article describes an experience of a specific qualitative research methodology being targeted by Twitter users, and Australian academics have written about their experiences as both researcher and editor when a paper is trolled. The authors rightly note that not a lot of the push for academics to be on Twitter is always accompanied by information about what to do if you are trolled, or what support is available. Articles like this one, however, do provide some useful advice in what steps to take if you’re experiencing something similar.
Free labour for the digital economy
Twitter as a platform largely depends on unpaid labour; which (like ‘women’s work’) serves a reproductive function by normalising particular social and economic relationships. This free labour involves ‘liking’ and sharing of content, the creation of and participation in collective networks, promotion of brands, sharing of news stories and generation of data that is sold to advertisers. And like all social media platforms, in using Twitter your data is collected, packaged, sold and used in the generation of targeted advertising.
Our strategies or rules for surviving twitter
- Don’t get into arguments with… anyone, honestly. You’re very unlikely to change someone’s mind via a twitter fight
- Tweetdelete.net or Jumbo Privacy (some tweeters use these services to delete their tweets at regular intervals. This article provides some perspectives about why this might be useful)
- Find a balance of personal & professional
- Be prepared to learn
- Think really hard and remember point 1 before engaging with people.
Amanda Heffernan is a lecturer in Leadership in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. Amanda’s key research interests include educational leadership, social justice, and policy enactment. Amanda also has research interests in the lives and experiences of academics, including researching into the changing nature of academic work. She can be found on Twitter @chalkhands
Rachel Buchanan is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Newcastle. She researches into the equity and social justice implications of education policy and the increased deployment of digital technologies within the education sector. She can be contacted via Rachel.Buchanan@newcastle.edu.au or found on Twitter: @rayedish.