As Twitter infiltrates academia, postgraduate researchers and academics alike are asking: to tweet or not to tweet? Here Dilip Mutum provides some useful tips on using Twitter to disseminate your research, keep up to date and ask questions.

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It may be hard to explain your research using just 140 characters. However, an increasing number of academics are doing just that: using Twitter as a means of sharing their work.

Twitter: an overview
Twitter is the fastest-growing social network in the world, so it’s well worth it to tap into this as a resource for disseminating your work.

Twitter is a microblogging site. It is called microblogging because it only allows you to post a message comprising of a maximum of 140 characters called a tweet. You can subscribe to other users’ tweets by following them. Users who like your tweet can then retweet it, sending it out to their own group of followers.

When you post a tweet, other users can reply with their own tweet and your user name is automatically appended so that you can track the reply. On the Twitter page, you can see the replies by clicking @Mentions on the menu.

Here are some tips for using Twitter to build up your research profile:

Asking questions
By asking questions on Twitter you can get almost instant feedback on certain topics (depending on your followers). See here for more advice on asking effective questions.

If you have a research question, post it up on Twitter and use hashtags (for example, #warwick) for the specific keywords which you think are important. Read this for more information on how hashtags are used. Hashtags mean your tweet will be seen, and retweeted, by more users.
It’s important to acknowledge others’ responses to your questions, as this can help you build relationships with other users.

Tweetdeck
When you have thousands of followers, it is almost impossible to follow all the conversations going on and an application like Tweetdeck can help you manage the flood of information. This application allows you to organise and manage the people you follow and the topics more effectively without even opening your browser. You can also use Tweetdeck to schedule tweets throughout the week.

How different researchers use Twitter
Different people use Twitter differently. Some people use it as a way to disseminate news about their research findings, while others use it to keep up to date with what people in their field of research are doing. Twitter can also be great way to build a network of people who can help you with your research.

Here are some examples of academics who use Twitter in different ways to further their research:
• Roberta, a teaching fellow at the School of Management, Royal Holloway, mainly uses it to share news she finds interesting with her followers. She also finds it interesting to read updates from political activists.

  • Finola (@FinolaK), a lecturer in marketing at Kings College, London, also uses Twitter to keep up with news, recent work and conferences on specific topics that interest her, like copyright and social media. She also follows academics and critics concerned with film, her main research area, and publicises events and calls for papers.
  • Professor Mustafa at the Brunel Business School uses Twitter to note some of his findings. His Twitter account is linked to his Facebook account and the most interesting discussions, for him, take place in Facebook.

Potential problems with using Twitter

If you are a new user and do not have that many followers, the use of Twitter as a research tool can be somewhat limited. Linking it with other social networks such as Facebook (via the Twitter app) and LinkedIn, where you might have more friends, will help you build up a Twitter presence.

Sometimes 140 characters are just not enough to get the message across; for discussion of complicated issues you may need to contact users directly via email or by phone.

References:
Hendry Lee’s excellent post on using Twitter for research
How to Ask Effective Questions on Twitter, by Darren Rowse:
The Ultimate Guide to Twitter Hashtags

Image Official White House Photo by Pete Souza, Wikicommons