Welcome to Week Two of SciFund Challenge’s Twitter course (2016 edition)! We all hope you not only survived but thrived in your first week of Twitter outreach.
This week, we’ll ask you to look back on the goals and expectations you mentioned in Week 1, while thinking ahead to who your audience is. We’ll show you ways to build that audience this week, as well as step you through the process of talking to others via the medium of Twitter. So while last week, you perfected the art of listening to what’s out there, this week you’ll add your own voice to the loud, constant hum of the Twitterverse.
This week has four parts: 1) using Twitter to keep up with developments in your field and in academia as a whole, 2) learning about your potential audience, 3) understanding the best practices for composing tweets, and 4) learning how to balance the professional and the personal on a massive public platform. Once you make it through this week’s material, you will be in a good position to expand your skills to do some advanced tweeting in Week Three.
PART ONE: GETTING THE INFORMATION YOU WANT OUT OF TWITTER
As we focused on last week, Twitter is a great tool for listening. But as you have no doubt already found, there’s a problem: there is an overwhelming amount to listen to. And the longer you are on Twitter, the worse the problem can get. On Twitter, there are always more people and more conversations that you can follow.
So, that’s why we wanted to start this week off by reminding you about ways you can filter out unwanted conversations:
In the beginning, if you don’t have too many followers, you may find that you can easily catch up on stuff you missed while not on Twitter. But once you start following a few dozen people, it will probably drive you crazy to catch up. So just scroll through a few pages, or search for interesting keywords, or only check your hashtag or list columns rather than the main Twitter feed.
Search for lists to subscribe to. Let’s say you want to find more lists like Jai’s #SciFund Twitter list, but specific to your own field. How do you find one? You can do this through Google pretty easily by cutting and pasting this into the search bar (and replacing “archaeology” with whatever term you want): site:twitter.com inurl:lists <archaeology>
You can even use separate accounts to weed through the data. For instance, Ant keeps several different twitter accounts, and each has a different purpose, but his @anthonysalvagno account is used only for listening in on the deep dark world of NBA journalism.
PART ONE: FINDING YOUR AUDIENCE
Before you go all tweet-crazy, you should stop and think about your audience. Who is it? Sure, we’d all like the entire world to care about our specific research niche, but that’s not an attainable goal unless you’re @NeilTyson. Finding an audience can be challenging, especially if you’re brand-new to Twitter, which is why we’ve designed this awesome worksheet — or, for those of you in academia, this rubric.
You don’t have to fill out the worksheet by hand — but hey, no judgment if you like to hand-write things! — but you should consider the following topics to get an idea of where you can find your own niche in the Twitter ecology.
What is your topic? Here’s a good chance to brainstorm. Sure, your interests are probably quite specific, as that’s how we advance human knowledge — by breaking off a little piece of unknown to solve. But we need to go back the other way now while still retaining what makes your work yours. What broader questions are you contributing to? And what questions are those contributing to?
Example: Kristina uses biochemical analyses of human skeletons to study migration, diet, and disease in Imperial Rome. All well and good, but what questions does that work contribute to? Well, to questions of how the 99% of Rome lived, what the lower classes ate, and where they came from. Good, now beyond the discipline, what do these questions get at? Well, we’re talking about how social class and migration status in antiquity affected the life course and health outcomes.
Who is your audience? Ideally, who will be reading your tweets? Sure, we’d all like to be retweeted by M.C. Hammer (this really happened to Kristina, who about died!), but which groups of people do you think will read your tweets? Some target audiences at this level may be journalists, policy makers, stakeholders, researchers in your field, prospective students, clients or customers, etc.
Example: Kristina primarily tweets to professionals, often professors or other researchers, and does not tend to engage with students or the random public.
No, more specifically — who is your audience? Whatever you answered above is almost certainly not specific enough to be actionable. How do you follow “policy-makers” for example, or get them to read your tweets? Here you need to narrow down your audience considerably, so that you can follow — and be followed by — others who will be useful for your goals. Are there journalists who write about your field? Follow them. Are there university departments or research groups that work with the same technology or on the same question? Follow them. Who are the people who make policy about your topic? Follow them, and also check out the kinds of topics, hashtags, or links they engage with by looking at their profile. It may feel a little like stalking, but think of it more like the web-page dive you do when learning all you can for a job interview.
Example: Kristina follows — and is followed by — people whose research interests her, particularly in her subfields of bioarchaeology and classical studies. But she also follows key science journalists whose work she likes, people doing digital humanities work, and academia-themed accounts. So while she follows around 400 people and tweets primarily to them, she’s followed by about 5,200 people, all of whom might potentially engage with her tweets by commenting or sharing.
What do those people care about? Once you think more specifically about your audience, figure out who is tweeting and what hashtags they are using to understand what they care about. This may take some stalking, errrrr, detective work. Click through to half a dozen pages of people you think have a good audience, or who you would like to see in your audience. How are they using Twitter? Are they retweeting a lot? Tweeting original content? Using hashtags? Are they a Kardashian? (We hope not, but hey, maybe those ladies can teach us something about how to tweet well!)
Example: Kristina looked through the awesome people she follows on Twitter and noticed a ton of link-sharing to current stories in the news and in her field. Finding out what your audience is doing is a bit harder, unless you have them all in a specific list. You can use analytics.twitter.com and click over to Tweets, where Kristina learned that people were by and large sharing the stuff she wrote for Forbes.
What do YOU want your audience to do? OK, let’s pretend you’re the omnipotent god(dess) of Twitter. In an ideal world, what do you want your audience to do with your tweets? Does retweeting suffice? Do you need click-throughs for your blog metrics or for a pay-for-clicks site? Do you want them to respond to your questions? Do you want them to get in touch with you about new opportunities for collaboration?
How can you get your audience to do what you want them to do? Since you’re not the omnipotent god(dess) of Twitter, it’s not actually easy to make your audience pay attention to you. After all, there are millions of other people jumping up and down in this virtual space shouting ‘Look at meeeeee!’ We don’t actually have a clear answer to this question for you, sad to say. It all depends on what you’re trying to get them to do — clicking through a link, for example, is relatively easy and involves writing a good headline (see Part 3) and figuring out the best hashtags for it (see Part 2). But recruiting research participants might be more challenging, since you may need to run in their circles and to show some vulnerability or personality (see Part 4) to gain enough trust to enroll them. Also challenging might be to ask policy-makers to make different policy; a goal like that will need to be broken up into smaller chunks (e.g., engaging someone in a conversation about your research and how it relates to the problem at hand, then laying out a case for revision of current policy) to achieve the goal of getting people to do what you want.
If finding your audience sounds a wee bit manipulative, it is. Your goal here is to make Twitter work for you, and that requires some jiggling of the Twitter petri dish to increase the size of your audience.
PART THREE: FINDING YOUR VOICE
Now we’re at the part of the class you’ve all been waiting for — best practices in composing actual tweets to send to actual people! So, how should you tweet? What should you tweet? Whom should you include? What hashtags should you use? Hopefully last week’s activities are already pointing you in the right direction.
You’re ready to start tweeting, but what should be in it? Here are a few tips to get your fingers going:
Make your tweet short. Sure, it goes without saying that it should fit in 140 characters. But what if someone wants to engage with what you wrote and needs to quote or retweet it? Or wants to add a hashtag? While it’s silly to consider others’ use of your tweets every time you post, do think about crafting a short, informative, concise tweet.
Use relevant words. We’re talking headline language, not the typical academic paper title such as Joe, Billy, and Bob: The Three Little Pigs and the Politics of Intersectionality. So use words that are relevant to your post, that evocative, and that are not discipline-specific jargon.
Use hashtags. Think your post would be interesting to someone studying #biology? Go ahead and hashtag it. Is your post relevant to someone who’s a parent and an academic? Try #MamaPhD. Hashtags that are overly vague or overly specific are less likely to be seen — #YouCanTrustMeOnThis. If you’re teaching or taking a class, try hashtagging it — Kristina’s graduate students are using #PresentingAnth for their Presenting Anthropology seminar this semester. But please, stick to just one or two hashtags per tweet!
Use images. Twitter helpfully displays images in many tweeted links. People are more likely to click on a tweet with an image than they are on a simple link. If you are tweeting about your own work, consider putting in an image.
Deploy polls strategically. We may come back to this next week when you’re more advanced, but running a poll is another way of engaging your audience. Simply go into the tweet composer and click on the poll icon. It can be fun to ask people their opinion on nomenclature in your field, or to weigh in on another topic.
Don’t be selfish. As a form of social media, Twitter is all about, well, being social. So share. This means sharing your own research, but also boosting that of others. This means tweeting to others, but also responding to others’ tweets to you.
Consider the time of day and day of the week. People tend to tweet more in the afternoons, when work slows down. They tweet less in the mornings and less around dinner time. You may see more research tweets on weekdays when people are at work or in the lab, and less on weekends. But depending on your field, your location, and the work culture in which you’re working, these days and times may differ.
Craft quality tweets. They always say quality above quantity. Don’t just tweet to tweet. But don’t agonize over what you want to write. A well-crafted tweet can be redeployed later in the day if you want — for example, you can try tweeting a link to an article early in the day and then later, changing the headline each time. Which one gets more engagement? Why? Creating interesting tweets that can be redeployed may save you time and get your message out there faster.
It is totally OK to self-promote. After all, who else is gonna do it? But you want to strike a balance — don’t tweet more than about 25% of the time about yourself and your work. As above, share and contribute to the ecosystem you’ve identified as your audience of interest. How can you promote yourself?
First up, put your new Twitter handle where people can find it. Include it in your CV. Put a link on your university webpage or blog. Mention it on Facebook. Add it to a contributed list in your field (does your professional organization have a field for it in your registration profile?). Put it on your next conference badge. Telling people they can find you on Twitter means that more people will come to hear what you have to say!
Tweet about your own research. Go ahead, tweet a link to your most recent paper. Doesn’t matter if it was published two years ago. Give that tweet a catchy title, stick in a hashtag or two, and fire it off. We can’t promise your H-index will go up, but chances are someone will see that paper even though they weren’t aware of it before.
Tweet about topics that interest you. Maybe you don’t have any papers or a blog. Start a conversation about something else in the news in your field. Put your own spin on it — what do you as a biologist, for example, think of the latest news about DNA pointing to a single exodus for humans from Africa (and a later return)? As an ecologist, does the genetic evidence track with the environmental data? As an archaeologist, does this change the way we date tools? Et cetera. Putting your own spin on a news item shows that you’re engaging with a larger topic and makes people more likely to follow you.
Include Others. Start looping others into the conversation. That DNA example above — maybe you’re an ecologist who finds it intriguing but wants to know more about how tool use changed the environment of the past. Loop in an anthropologist or archaeologist and ask a question. It’s what journalists and researchers all do — find an expert to give an opinion. And most people on Twitter will be happy to give a 140-character answer to your question, or to take the conversation to a DM or to email for longer responses.
What Not to Tweet
This is a hard one to define, since it’s probably different for different people. If you’re an untenured academic, you probably feel you have less of an ability to speak your mind than if you were tenured. But it also depends on what you want out of Twitter — maybe you do want to be provocative and to start difficult conversations. So here are some very general rules for what not to tweet:
- Don’t demand others retweet you, follow you, etc. They will if they want to.
- Don’t drunk-tweet. This probably goes without saying, but you may want to keep your personal time and professional time separate.
- Overuse of food pictures, instagram images, check-ins to various other social media, etc. Pretty much no one cares unless you’re a celebrity.
- Subtweets or passive-aggressive tweets. There may be a time and a place for these, but they’re generally a “don’t.”
- Negative tweets about your employer and/or students. Similarly, there may be a time and a place for these sorts of negative comments (especially if you have tenure and are not too worried about your job), but in general, it’s a good idea to stay away from overly negative tweets.
- Don’t feed the trolls. We’ll get into this more in a bit, but having a huge back-and-forth with a troll is really never in your best interest.
Bad and Good Tweets
Pop quiz time! Let’s see if you can pick out the tweets that are good and those that are bad from the 10 made-up examples below.
- Just back from research #trip and boy R my arms tired! #science #fun #livingthesciencelife
- What’s with this terrible article? RT plz!!! t.co/sample.html
- Hey, @user1 @user2 @user3 @user4 @user5 @user6 @user7 what do you think of the latest DNA study? t.co/sample.html
- Congrats @awesomescientist – DNA shows humans originated in Africa. t.co/sample.html #evolution
- Like #migration and #Romans? Check out my latest article in @PLOS — t.co/html
- Good morning, tweeps! #brandnewday #shoutingittothesky #gonnagodoyogainthepark
- Liufe is les stresssful when ur nt around teh stressfull peeeople. #subtweet
- Student @University just emailed Q answered by syllabus #proflife #whyme #readthesyllabus
- Really sucks when so much awful stuff happens. #sad #crying
- ICYMI: I urge caution in conclusions about new skeleton found on #Antikythera shipwreck – forbes.com/sample.html #archaeology via @Forbes
- Bad. Too many hashtags, corny and overplayed joke.
- Bad. Vague complaint about article, plea for retweets.
- Probably Bad. For an initial tweet about something, this seems spammy. But if you’re in a convo with these people already and are passing along new info, this could work.
- Good. Makes the subject clear, congratulates a Twitter person by name, uses a single relevant hashtag.
- Good. It’s hard to put your own research out there. Consider a couple of hashtags and a link to the article. Another way to do this would be to rewrite the title to fit in Twitter, such as: Researchers find #Roman migrants from their skeletons — t.co/sample.html via @PLOS by @DrKillgrove
- Bad. It’s just weird to say hello to a news feed. Also, too many strange hashtags.
- Bad. Subtweeting while drunk is definitely not cool, mm ‘k?
- Bad. Don’t call out your students on Twitter. Also, this is not a new observation.
- Bad. While we encourage Twitter use for finding support (more below), this tweet is vague and is unlikely to garner responses or sympathy.
- Good. This is an example of how to retweet yourself so that more people see it. Preface with ICYMI – in case you missed it – and then revise the original title and put in a couple hashtags. This way, you can get your message out there without looking like you’re spamming people with the same link over and over. Do be sure not to do this more than once a day or so.
PART FOUR: FINDING A BALANCE
We’ve heard from many of you that one of the things you’re struggling with is how to balance personal and professional roles on Twitter, especially when using the same account for both. As noted above, you need to find a balance between self-promotion (or other tweets about yourself) and boosting the signal of others — a good rule of thumb is no more than about a quarter of your tweets should be about you. But what goes into that 25%? What is OK to divulge about yourself? What do you want people to know about you? While, again, this may depend on your Twitter goals and on your position (e.g., tenured or un-tenured, grad student or professor, clinical researcher or public relations), here are some tips for helping you humanize yourself but not open yourself up to unwanted personal scrutiny:
- Lab/Office Photos. Tweeting images of your professional life can be beneficial, as it showcases the cool stuff you’re doing as people scroll through their Twitter feed. Using relevant hashtags can get more eyes on it, and you might open up a conversation with others about certain pieces of lab equipment (e.g., #3DPrinting has gotten Kristina into plenty of Twitter convos about technology) or about troubles you’re having with it.
- Landscapes. Sure, go ahead and tweet a pic of that landscape on occasion — of your office building, or your latest field project, or a vacation. But there won’t be much interest if you do it constantly.
- Flyers or other visual. Tweeting a picture of a flyer for your talk or someone else’s can be a way to reach more people who might want to attend, especially if it gets retweeted by your university’s main Twitter account, for example.
- Family Photos. This one is tricky. Some people like to tweet pictures of their kids, significant others, pets, relatives, etc. Some are more cautious about putting photos of other people out there for the public. A good rule of thumb is to tweet only family images that you’d be OK with sending to a journalist or a newspaper.
- Ethical Issues with Photos. Be sure you’re clear on your field’s ethics policy before sharing images on social media. In North American archaeology, for example, sharing a photo of an ancient Native American skull is usually a huge ethical violation. In medicine, there are rules about patient confidentiality. In your research, is there any group of stakeholders who might be offended by your image, or who might freak out about unpublished information getting out? If so, think before you post.
- Commentary about work-life balance issues is popular on Twitter, as evidenced by accounts like @AcademicsSay or by hashtags like #worklifebalance.
- Posting amusing anecdotes about the clash between your work and personal lives (or about how they work together) is a good way of bringing the personal into your professional Twitter.
- Retweeting work-life issues that are important to you. For example, the U.S. does not have mandatory paid parental leave, so many academics (and others) tweet about their experiences, changes they’d like to see, or how their university is addressing the issue, or retweet articles that tackle these issues.
- An easy way to combine your work and personal life is to contribute tweets with popular integrative hashtags like #MamaPhD or #PhDLife.
- One of the unwritten rules of Twitter is not to spread old jokes. As we saw above, it’s just going to come off as corny. Unless you sideline as a stand-up, Twitter is a difficult venue to pull off a joke — you don’t know who’s reading it, you don’t know how it will be received, and it’s hard to contextualize your tone, especially in 140 characters. Is the thing you’re writing really funny, or will someone find it hurtful? If you’re not sure, don’t post it.
- Similarly, tweeting aphorisms or inspirational quotes is perfectly fine, but over-use of these may make people who are there for your research and outreach lose interest. A better bet might be to tweet good science quotes, with attribution, and a clever hashtag like #ScienceQuotes.
- Twitter now has a feature where you can insert GIFs that you search for in the app. Just click on the compose button and click on the GIF icon — then search for one of their built-in ones. For example, you might search for “work life balance” and get a parakeet balancing on a ball, then tweet it as “#WorkLifeBalance is for the birds some days!”
- Frequently, funny hashtags pop up that you can contribute to. #OverlyHonestMethods is a good one to showcase just how messy science sometimes is. A few months ago, there was also #DistractinglySexy as a fallout from comments noted scientist Tim Hunt made about women in his lab. Do beware, though, that since Twitter is public, these tweets can be easily pulled into a journalistic piece on a site like BuzzFeed (which may or may not appeal to you).
Political and Social Touchstones. Now for a more serious question, to which — we admit — we really don’t have a good answer: should you tweet about politics, religion, race, or social issues like gay marriage? My grandma always told me these were off-limits topics in polite conversation, but times have changed. Lots of people take to Twitter to express their opinions about these once-taboo topics, and for many of you, your research may be in one of these areas. Our advice in this realm is that one size doesn’t fit all – but here are some tips anyway:
- Tread with caution. What are others in your position/job/research field doing? If they’re quiet about these topics, you might want to hold off as well until you understand the ecology of Twitter better and your employer’s (or future employer’s) reaction to it.
- Be nice. This was covered above, but applies here as well. If you don’t want to attract trolls, don’t be a troll. That is, don’t tweet extraordinarily critical things, don’t libel or defame a person, don’t issue death threats. Even if you tweet in an unbiased way, you may still attract trolls — but don’t feed them. (More below.)
- Diversity of voices. One of the marvelous things about social media is that it allows for a diversity of voices, especially of people who aren’t usually heard. This can be a really good thing or a really scary thing. We want to encourage you to add your diverse voice on topics to Twitter, but to warn you that doing so may open you up to trolls or other issues. If you are worried about something (e.g., your job), talk to someone in person about it — your department chair, your dean, colleagues, etc. They may be able to help you figure out what you can say and what may be seen in a negative way.
Worst-Case Scenarios. By and large, Twitter is a nice place. If you’ve figured out your ideal audience and followed some cool people, chances are you won’t run into any major problems except the occasional person who is overly critical of your work or tweets. But if you like to be prepared for the worst, here goes:
- Losing your job. Front and center for many people is the worry that posts to social media will cost them either their present job or a future job prospect. We can’t guarantee that a single tweet or series of tweets won’t do that. There are just too many factors involved. But, as mentioned above, if this is something you’re concerned about, talk to someone — your advisor, department chair, or others who want to see you succeed. Ask about your employer’s social media strategy, and if there are any rules for employees (including faculty and students).
- Attracting a troll. No matter how innocuous your Twitter feed is, chances are you will attract a troll. If you tweet about science, especially for an American audience, there will be people telling you that you’re wrong and/or mansplaining to you (if you’re a woman). Experience tells us that a troll is not the kind of person you’re going to reach with your intelligent or pithy comments — so just go ahead and block that person. Go to the profile, click on the little gear icon, and you can choose among Mute, Block, and Report.
- Mute — Muting a person means that you won’t see their tweets and retweets anymore, nor will you get notifications from them. They can still engage with you, you just won’t see any of it.
- Block — Blocking means that you are preventing that user from following you and engaging with your tweets and DM’ing you, and that you cannot see theirs either. If you block someone, they are NOT alerted that you have done this. However, if a blocked person visits the profile page of the person who has blocked them, they CAN see that they have been blocked.
- Report — This feature is meant for people to report abusive behavior, harassment, or impersonation coming from a specific account. If someone is threatening you, report this to Twitter and, if warranted, report to local law enforcement. If someone is spamming you, report the account. If they are impersonating you, report that.
- Doxxing. Another type of harassment that sometimes happens on social media is called doxxing or doxing, from the shortened form of “documenting”. In this scenario, someone will find and threaten to publish sensitive information — things like home address, names and ages of children, government-issued ID numbers, compromising pictures or documents, etc. If you want to know more about the history of doxxing and how it’s being used today, this audio piece at The Verge is good. But if you take time to remove your identifying information from the internet, that’s a good start to preventing doxxing:
- Take your phone number and home address out of any website or online document you have access to.
- If you have a vanity domain (like killgrove.org), make sure it’s registered privately and doesn’t give out home info.
- Change all social media privacy settings so that things like home phone number and address are protected.
- Change your passwords a lot.
- Google yourself on occasion to see what pops up. Unfortunately, with open records laws in many states, it’s actually really easy to find out information about someone. Kristina’s voter registration, for example, pops up high on a google search for “Kristina Killgrove home address” with far more information than she’s comfortable with.
- Getting scooped. Finally, another thing many of us might worry about is getting scooped. If we share too much information about an ongoing project, will someone else steal the idea or data? Again, we unfortunately don’t have all the answers here, as whether or not you want to share information depends a lot on your field’s culture. If you’re worried, talk with your collaborators or supervisor about the social media strategy for the project — what can be shared, and what shouldn’t be shared yet? And you can also read up on this recent London School of Economics blog post about why you shouldn’t worry too much about being scooped.
- Complete the Audience First Worksheet. You will find this in the Google+ Community under Week 2 Instructions.
- Post to the Week 2 discussion page on G+ if you want help or suggestions from others.
- Respond to requests from others with helpful suggestions if you have time.
- Sign up for one hangout. You will find the hangout list under Week 2 Instructions in the Google+ group.
- Create at least one tweet about an interesting current event or news story NOT IN your field.
- Use the class hashtag
- Respond to others in the class if you have time
- Bring others into the conversation. There is a list of students in the course and their handles and interests. If you’re tweeting about a new archaeological find, loop in @DrKillgrove and another archaeologist or two from the class. If you’re tweeting about a newly discovered species, loop in @JaiRanganathan or another biologist or two from the class.
- Create at least one tweet about something new or actively being discussed IN your own field.
- Use the class hashtag.
- Bring others into the conversation. Who among the participants in the class do you think will have a good take on the topic? Loop them in with @username to see what they think.
- Create a series of tweets about something YOU have done, published, or helped out with. It doesn’t have to be brand-new; you could tweet about a paper you published last year, for example, or about a new method used in your lab.
- One of the tweets should be aimed at a more technical audience, using appropriate jargon and hashtags.
- One of the tweets should be aimed at a general audience, using appropriate jargon and hashtags.
- Tweet both of these once or twice during the week — and then think about which tweet got more engagement? Why? What characteristics converged to make that a good (liked, retweeted, etc.) tweet? Did it have to do with time of day, audience focus, hashtags, etc.?