Specific, Consistent, Relevant: How Twitter Enhances Scientific Careers
Have you ever wondered why Twitter is the social media platform of choice for academics? Why the Academic Twitter is so valuable to hiring committees? Then read on.
I am a digital introvert and anything but an active social media user. But I have always been interested in translating complex research ideas into simple language. My work on research translation and public engagement brought me closer to academics who excel at scientific impact and are considered to be Twitter influencers. These scholars blog and write Opinion articles, run podcasts or their own YouTube channels. They are visible in their local communities at Science Pub Quizzes or internationally through TED Talks. Their career trajectories, scale and reach of work are diverse, but they all share one thing in common: their Twitter feeds are specific, relevant and consistent.
In my mentorship work on impact science, I often meet early career researchers who are still defining or looking for, their specific research field. Many have diverse interests and have yet not found their intellectual home in the form of a professional network. Their content and communication style are not unique enough to distinguish them from other researchers with similar interests. It takes several years to find the niche area of your discipline or have your voice heard in major media outlets, but the good news is that joining Twitter can accelerate this process. Drawing on the ideas I outlined in the Digitally Agile Researcher book*, I developed three simple rules.
Rule One: Niche it down
Writing your Twitter bio is a great thinking exercise to determine your niche. Your Twitter bio needs to be specific enough to define your unique interests and broad enough to capture the wide interests of a global audience. Think of a written elevator pitch: in 160 characters you have to convey who you are, what your research is about and why it is important. The key is the right keywords in the right order. Keywords, especially those preceded by a hashtag, connect diverse audiences interested in the same topic. The more specific and unique your choice of keywords is, the more likely will your profile attract a meaningful following.
Try starting with your job title (PhD candidate), or your passion (Dedicated to human rights). Squeeze in information on where (university affiliation) and who you work with (tag colleagues or your Lab). You can add a personal note (Mum of three), but if you intend to share updates on your cats, I recommend setting up separate accounts for private and professional use.
Rule Two: Create community trust through consistency
Twitter algorithms are designed to group people of similar interests, which is a nightmare for herd mentality but useful for growing your professional network. The more you search for keywords and use hashtags relevant to your research, the more you carve out your own network. The benefits of a Twitter research community are comparable to that of a professional scientific society: you get to hear about new job and grant openings, latest publications, events and webinars. Unless set to private, the Twitter algorithms will reward you with topics trending in similar communities. To take full advantage of your sphere of influence, you need to be consistent so that your audience develops trust in the content you share and pays attention to your Tweets. This may mean that you need to engage with the platform on a regular basis, plan ahead and be an active listener. Be a good community member –highlight others’ work and keep an authentic conversation by replying to other accounts’ tweets. Remember that re-tweeting is not only a kind gesture but also a way of creating networks. Share and re-share content that is specific, useful and valuable to your followers. Make sure your writing and interaction style is always professional (if in doubt ask yourself: “Would I say this to colleagues at a conference?”).
Rule Three: Be relevant
Once you establish your network, you get to interact with other researchers but also people outside your university and from different career stages. Trending topics will shape the way you broadcast your own work. The short, simple and journalistic style of the Twitter language will prompt you to write to the point. There are entire manuals for how to compose viral Tweets but you can replace simplified arguments (and the toxic social media culture that follows them) with other attention-grabbing techniques. Express your ideas in a useful way with a call for action, shortened links and mention of Twitter influencers. Use relevant images (if you are new to image-based research communication, Jessica Rodrigues’ guide** to Twitter’s visual abstracts is worth a read). To enhance the authenticity of your communication, consider tweeting not only about promotion and published papers but also rejections or unfinished ideas. Above all, remember to be humble in your assertions – the pursuit of being relevant is a continuous learning process.
Few academics will get their research into New York Times but any academic can set up a Twitter account. To make it count for your career, follow these simple rules. Before you know it, you have found your niche and learnt to communicate your research in a consistent and relevant way.