During the 8-14th of February I was the curator for the @shefunilife Twitter, and I discovered how enjoyable it could be to have a personal Twitter. It also made me realise that many students out there might have a personal account on Twitter, and sometimes tweet study-related things, but not too many have a professional account.
What are the benefits of a professional Twitter account?
As students, we are all new to our field and eager to network. While social media is the perfect place to do so, mixing in a picture of the last meal you had or political/football banter in the middle might sometimes harm your online reputation as a professional.
For example a valuable contact might have different views than you, or find your tweets irritating and unfollow you to clear their feed. This “potential contact” loss could have been prevented!
That is why I recommend creating a professional account on Twitter (in addition to your personal one if necessary), and be strict with yourself about what you will share on this specific account.
How to decide on your “pro” account interests?
Decide on 2/3 areas max and keep to it, or your will be less effective. There are many guides out there to help with Twitter, but from experience I know that as a student we usually have less time and commitment to network than full-time working adults. Keep that in mind while reading these guides. Write an obvious description in your Twitter instead of a mysterious, witty one if you wish to keep your followers and be followed back.
In my case I created a fairly obvious Twitter account: @GardensOfChina, as my speciality is Chinese gardens but from the beginning I foresaw that it was too narrow a field. So I expanded to Chinese studies & Landscape History. Yet I am strict with myself and almost never share things that are too far from my interest: for example no current China news except if cultural related.
Use the “list function” wisely
I created “Chinese Studies” and “Landscape” lists so I can quickly isolate which of my Twitter feed (who I follow on Twitter) might be relevant to my followers. Nothing prevents you from following other interests for your own pleasure or enlightenment, just do not retweet them, although you can “love” them. I created other lists for those other interests, such as “China news”, but in reality I rarely use the list and just look at my general feed. Be aware that people on Twitter have low patience with “jack of all trades” types as these are too rarely relevant to them.
Find big names in your field and retweet wisely
After establishing myself on Twitter, creating lists and following people with similar interests, I locked onto those big names in my field that were active on Twitter and made sure they noticed me. By that, I do not mean harassing them with questions and citing them all the time. I retweeted selectively some of their tweets relevant to me, and never used the private messages unless I needed to ask something very specific. After a while most of them also retweeted those of my tweets that were relevant to them. Twitter for research or education is usually a less competitive atmosphere than expected, and more collaborative: everyone gains by sharing good stuff.
For example, I found a speaker for my conference on Chinese gardens via Twitter: his research was very relevant to my topic but as he is not currently in an academic employment but working for the National Trust I had not thought of looking for his kind of profile. I am very happy that Twitter made me realise the gap in my search for speakers, and it opened my eyes to the variety of specialists in my field.
Professional Twitter is a productive procrastination!
Just from my use of Facebook, I could tell that having a personal account on Twitter would be a time-sink, a golden opportunity to procrastinate. However I do not feel guilty procrastinating by managing my professional account, as it has a positive outcome for my network. Still, I advise not to become too addicted to it as your followers might find it strange when suddenly you get tired of it, when previously you tweeted every hour. If you feel full of ideas and do not want to use them up in one go, you can use tools to post your tweets at the best exposure time for followers in different time zones. I also found out about unexpected scholarships or conferences while procrastinating on Twitter!
Twitter is relevant to all disciplines
Do not think that only science or social sciences based students can use Twitter professionally. You would be surprised by the range of fields covered on Twitter and you might skip a few steps in connecting with a big name whom you could have only met in that lucky conference you were hoping for. If you are an undergraduate, you can start building a network early and it might help you decide on your following career, as you will be aware of many opportunities before others do through more traditional ways (newsletters etc.). Our University is very good at being present on Twitter, and in my department there is a big proportion of staff that are active on social media.
Feel like you want to give it a try, but intimidated by the big numbers?
Most Twitter accounts used by academics can be considered healthy with as small a number of followers as 300-800 (this is just my gut speaking, no definite answer out there). You do not need to be a ‘Twitter star’! Just hook on who is providing information in your field, or might be interested in the content you have to offer. By all means follow back all these advertising/marketing people at first to built momentum, but do not feel awkward to unfollow them later when you have reached a comfortable ratio of followers/followed. Believe me, they will not feel sorry to do exactly the same.
A wide range of “Twitter popularity” tactics are explained in various blogs, but I follow my own personal rule: if they do not share one “pro” interest in common with me, I only follow back if their feed is relevant to my hobbies or research interest. Otherwise I do not follow back so that my general feed stays uncluttered.
If you are scared of how many hours you would commit to Twitter by starting an account, let me reassure you that I usually never use it for more than 1/2 hour a day. The exceptions are when I am in conferences and cover the talks on Twitter, or am stuck in transport and using it to kill time.
Before you start, you might want to type ‘how to start a twitter account’ in your search engine. This case study might also interest you.
Wishing you a productive Twitter, and of course, feel free to ask me questions via my account!