I am stuck in a twitter-desert, help!

This is a further follow-on to my post on The Thesis Whisperer on why PhDs should use Twitter.

That was the ‘how’ I landed my PhD scholarship position through social media, this is the ‘how to’ of using social media.

I have received many questions asking what the best way is to start using social media as a researcher, including this question on the Thesis Whisperer blog itself:

JD says:

It’s interesting how blogging/tweeting is used in different areas. I’ve never been very active on twitter (personally or professionally), so this post inspired me to follow researchers in my area. I did a search… Not *one* of the 15-20 “top names” and/or experienced people active in my field is on twitter. I finally found one person by searching for conference hashtags related to my topic area. I then searched for my lab colleagues – I finally got bored typing in name after name and getting no results.

So any suggestions for those of us stuck in a twitter-desert? I suppose I can follow those tangentially related to my field – e.g. I have an interest in stats and already follow a few such blogs, as well as other blogs that have nothing directly to do with my research. I could connect with them on Twitter – since the most interesting collaborations can be with those working in other areas… but then, how to really engage with them? I guess since I’m not really familiar with the way people use twitter, I’m not sure how to get people to “see” my tweets (or if I even have anything worthwhile to say, ha!)…. Thanks for any tips. 😉


My short answer:

Hi JD,

You are in a unique position, as this means that you have the opportunity to be the voice in your field! The key to Twitter is to just follow the conversation until you feel compelled to add your voice. Gaining a following is slow going, and sometimes it helps to tweet at people (that sounds like shouting, haha) by including their handles in your posts, or replying to their tweets. The key is to always add value, as people generally respond well to that and will start interacting and sharing your message too.

Conference hashtags are a great place to start looking for people who tweet in your area. Alternatively, it might be worth your while following and interacting with researchers in general, especially those who are great at research communication (as I said in the post, I follow @AstroKatie, who is in a completely different field to me, but who is a great role model for me). I research injury prevention, but this generalist post on Twitter has resonated with more people than my tweets on my research. It is okay to branch out if you are adding value.

Finally, there may be organisations or journals in your field that have Twitter accounts, so search for them too.


My long answer: 

The vast majority of researchers and scientists are drawn to their life’s work through the intrinsic motivation that drives their passion, rather than fame or fortune.

Twitter and blogs are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it ~ Hitchcock

Academics are no longer ensconced behind closed office doors, anonymously plugging away at their work and dealing with their successes and struggles alone and with quiet determination. The academics on social media have evolved into a community that is having an open-and-honest conversation. Academia is a thriving international society, and, for the first time, we can candidly share our experiences of life as modern academics through social media.

Important conversations now hold space on these platforms, with ongoing topics in this discussion including the work-life balance debate, software and workflow experiences, employment trajectory, funding, and the need to publish-or-perish. The need for these conversations is particularly evident when the community is touched – such as with the Grimm suicide, and the Thang redundancy. Academics are debating the merits of #openaccess, and live-tweeting at conferences.  PhD students are well-represented with the likes of #PhD, #PhDchat@thesiswhisperer, @FromPhDtoLife, and @evalantsoght of PhD Talk. Researchers are covered by @researchwhisper, and @raulpacheco‘s #scholarsunday . The nerd boring profile of academics is being challenged by hashtags such as #academicswithtats (also see #academicswithhats and #academicswithcats). Academic humour is elicited by @YourPaperSucks@LifeofaPhDStud@ResearchMark, and @LegoAcademics. A perennial favourite is the always-spot-on @phdcomics. Movements to harness the audience-effect of an online community have been created, most notably by @charlottefrost‘s #AcWriMo, as well as @suwtues #shutupandwriteTwitter analytics is a valuable tool, and one that I find can be a motivator on the days when you wonder whether anyone even sees your tweets!

I firmly believe there is a need to own your online presenceif you don’t curate your own online profile, someone else will do so for you. We need to remember that, as researchers, attention will be on our work through social media whether we want it to or not. 

Owning and curating your online presence does not mean creating a ‘professional persona’, but rather being very clear on who you are and what value you have to add. There is very little to hide behind (on Twitter especially), and as such professional profiles just do not cut it anymore. My advice is not to worry about your professional and personal profiles, just be yourself!

The most important thing to remember is that:

 “Social media is a conversation not a press release” ~ Tufekci

I aim for quality over quantity. Noise is a no-no. Personally, I never share click-bait or pictures of cute animals as this is not conducive to what I aim to add to the conversation. It is worth noting that anyone can retweet someone else’s tweet, the best contributors come up with their own content which authentically reflects their point of view.

Never focus on growing your following, always focus on adding value.

Although Twitter is my platform of choice, I also curate other social media platforms (Let’s connect), as well as this personal website, as there is so much more to me than any one platform could ever articulate. Twitter may not be the right platform for you, and as such it is important to explore each platform with a clear picture in mind of who you are and what you have to share. If you are unsure, spend some time thinking on and articulating your personal worldviewWhat are you passionate about?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so let’s continue the conversation on Twitter using #AcaSocMed from @bjkraal and @tseenster (see their Training academics in social media storify). Chat with you over there!


P.S. This is by no means a comprehensive list of academics in the categories that I mention, just my current favourites!

P.P.S. It also might be useful to read this blog post of mine on research communication.