Over the past month, our team has been dipping a tentative foot into the waters of Twitter with a new feed dedicated to research activity, staff and students at our university. Here I share some of the things we have learned during the rather steep learning curve of these weeks, which I hope will prove useful to anyone thinking of joining us in the micro-blogging world.
Why are you doing it?
For a Twitter feed to be worth doing, it needs to have a clear purpose. Think about why your team or department may want to invest time in using Twitter. Who are you going to be tweeting to (your students? other university staff? prospective applicants? all of the above?) and what sort of content will you be sharing? This is especially important for a feed that is going to be managed by multiple people, in order to keep your messages consistent. You might want to have an editorial meeting in the early days of your new account to agree this sort of thing.
What will we say?
This seems to be a concern amongst some staff, but it needn’t be difficult. In fact, you don’t really have to say much at all in any one tweet – with only 140 characters to pay with, think of it more as a headline than the full article. Once we got going, we quickly found that there were plenty of headlines available: events and announcements around the University; staff research blogs and publications; guest lectures; public talks; training workshops; key dates and deadlines for research students, and advice to researchers. It soon becomes clear just how much activity there is going on, and one activity can generate multiple tweets.
It takes time to get momentum going
While setting up your account is relatively quick and straightforward, you are not going to get hundreds of followers overnight – it takes an investment of time and energy in the early stages to make your presence known and your feed worth following. We found it useful to follow a range of other University accounts (the main University news feed, academic staff with a high profile, subject areas, research communities, etc.) to both “plug into” what is happening around the institution and to make ourselves known. Then came links to useful feeds outside the University, an announcement on our website, and even adding our account handle to email signatures. Slowly, the number of followers on our account is growing as awareness and interest spreads. We also found it useful to make sure the account is clearly and accurately described on your profile so prospective followers know who you are and what you are going to tweet about.
Regular activity is important
If you want people to follow and engage with your Twitter account it is important that you tweet useful and interesting material on a regular basis; if your account is seen as dull or it stagnates through lack of posts, people will soon leave. After the initial set-up of the account, however, we have found that this can be done in just a few minutes a day – and is actually good fun. Activity may be as little as retweeting (sharing) useful posts, or you may have ones of your own to add or you can do a mixture of the two. We try and post at least once every working day, and interacting with other posts (liking, sharing and replying) is also helpful to keep your account active.
Think about timing
Twitter is a very fast-moving world, and people who follow many accounts may find your message quickly submerged beneath tweets from other people. Trying to space Tweets out during the day and avoiding the early morning when there seems to be fewer people online to see your tweets seems to help with this.
If you want to see how we are getting on, you can find us @UoGresearch