More and more often, academics are being encouraged to engage with social media, particularly Twitter. More and more frequently, social media engagement and presence influences how we are perceived nationally and internationally, particularly as funding bodies are beginning to increasingly recognise research outputs that are more social and media and community based.
I love Twitter now. I’ve connected with fantastic academics around the world (not just in my field), accessed a variety of blogs, opinion pieces, and academic articles, and found some fantastically funny academic satarists as well.
Satire seems especially necessary in our line of work.
But I didn’t always like Twitter. I love writing and I love reading – who doesn’t as an academic? But I am more confident doing this with few people watching, when I can draft and redraft what is put out into the world – and ensure as much of the wonkiness as possible is refined. I was incredibly nervous at first about becoming a presence on social media. With only 140 characters, you have to be succinct but still sensible. While few people see my article (or blog post) drafts, you can’t really delete something once you’ve posted it on Twitter. I’d also read so much about creating a professional social media profile and brand, that it honestly sounded so alien to me. I wasn’t a brand, just someone trying to get on with my work as best I could.
I felt incredibly shy when I first started. What on earth could I have to say that couldn’t be more beautifully said by someone more important?
But I was told to join Twitter and this is how I made it work for me.
1. Just take a breath and open the account.
Do the easy stuff first. Open the account and do all the introductory things – decide on your account name, profile photo, and little description. Some people have the same photo for all their different media accounts so they are more easily recognised. If Twitter is going to be more professional than personal for you, make sure to include your research interests in your description. If you have a blog, piirus.ac.uk profile, or other online profile page, consider adding that as well.
Then start following people. Start with your friends and colleagues, your Head of School, your university, people you admire, and sites and blogs you find useful and interesting.
2. While you find your voice, take inspiration in those you admire.
You don’t have to start overwhelming the populace of social media with your intelligence and wit from the very beginning. If you’re feeling shy, you can start by retweeting things by the people you follow. If you quote a tweet, you can add your reaction to it as well – which is a great middle ground of showing your personality as well as engaging with someone else.
3. Be authentic and kind.
All you can ever be is yourself – you may offer up a more polished version of yourself on social media – or a more balanced one. My Twitter feed is a mix of research, social commentary, silliness, and pretty photos that often involve sunrises or my little cat:
That’s who I am in real life and it’s easier to reflect that on Twitter than pretend to be anyone else.
Twitter can be a cruel world though. I’ve had some nasty comments thrown my way after tweeting something a person hasn’t agreed with. I don’t engage with meanness – life is far too short – and Twitter will work best for you if you act in a respectful and empathic manner. I always think of the Thesis Whisperer’s Circle of Niceness when I tweet. Or when I do anything, really!
Being on Twitter doesn’t mean you have to be anything other than your brilliant self, no matter how shy or outgoing that may be. Engaging on social media can bring you into contact more immediately with people who inspire you, who do similar work to you, and who you may end up talking through ideas with, even collaborating.
A final note from the editor for those of you who are inspired to now go on Twitter: don’t forget to follow @piirusacuk! And you can tell us all about your experiences in a guest post if you feel like entering the blogosphere too.