Hi Everyone! I’m Vicky and today I’ve written a rough guide for anyone thinking of using Twitter.
LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook – the list of platforms by which we as young investigators can share our research continues to grow, but which one should you use? Much like learning to write scientifically and limit our natural tendency to waffle and digress, social media is also a unique vocation. Personally as a lab-based postdoctoral fellow, Twitter is by far my favourite medium for sharing my work and discussing issues more widely related to science, such as policy and politics.
Each tweet is limited to just 140 characters, making it a challenge to effectively communicate complex ideas, but it can be done as thousands of scientists are constantly proving. A key bit of advice for getting started with Twitter is to watch and learn. After creating your account, Twitter will ask you to follow some people, which you can find by searching with ‘keywords’ of interest, for example ‘childhood cancer’ or even ‘GBM’ or you can also search by name if you know the person you want to follow. Following people who are experienced tweeters will help you learn how to structure your tweets, showcase other people in their network you might want to follow and also see which ‘hashtags’ (see below) are most relevant for your field.
Creating your bio
Nobody is going to follow a generic silhouette, which is the default profile picture assigned when you create your account. It’s personal choice as to whether to put a profile picture of yourself, but I would strongly recommend either this, or perhaps something relevant to your work. Your description should detail who you are, ideally where you are and what your research interests are, but many people also put hobbies and outside of work interests. It’s always good to convey the fact that we are normal human beings as well as researchers!
Building your following
A lot of people when they start with Twitter get very disheartened at how slowly their follower count builds and hence how much of a small audience. Unless you are a celebrity, unfortunately it’s guaranteed that to facilitate any kind of progress, you are going to have to put the work in! Nobody will follow you without reason, so once you have your bio set up, start talking to people. Twitter is a public space where people tweeting scientific articles for example will often be happy to discuss and debate the merits or impact of them. Talk to people, retweet their content and enter into discussions about topics that interest you.
There is no right or wrong way to ‘do’ Twitter, but I would recommend ensuring that you post enough original content to keep your main Twitter feed unique to you. Pictures are an excellent way of making your tweets more engaging and if you post links to a news story, blog or journal article – a few words giving your thoughts about it along with the link will give your tweet more impact. Sequences of numbered tweets can be sent and new applications such as Storify allow for collation of the tweets, but often singular tweets are more successful. Learning to limit your tweets to 140 characters is challenging, but definitely educational and I have found that it greatly assists with succinctness in other areas of science writing such as preparing abstracts and journal articles.
Hashtags are used as a focus point to collect tweets on a particular topic, for example #childhoodcancer or #bloodcancer. Some hashtags are less obvious and may be advertised by a charity or conference. The best way to check for those is to look on an organisation’s main twitter page. Other than that, if you want to make a hashtag for an event or project, firstly keep it as short as possible and secondly check that it’s not being frequently used to mean something else by using it in a quick search in Twitter before making your decision
Networking and conferences
Twitter is a great way to interact with people in your field from all over the world. Most major scientific conferences will have conference hashtags and even specific meetups for conference ‘tweeters’ to meet and mingle. Following the hashtags of meetings is also a great way to keep up to date with the presentations and which topics are generating the most excitement (for example, for the AACR annual meeting taking place at the time of publishing this blog, the tag is #AACR17). In addition to this, if you are having any technical problems in the lab, or maybe looking for advice as to how to do a literature review, tens of thousands of fellow investigators are on Twitter and often happy to offer advice and expertise. Lastly, there’s plenty of discussions to get involved in; from the broad and varied @realscientists, featuring a different researcher every week from any scientific discipline, the more specific #childhoodcancer, which is contributed to by parents, survivors and researchers and even monthly events such as #btsm, which is a twitter chat for brain tumour survivors, caregivers and anyone involved in their healthcare or related research.
Most academic institutions and hospitals will have social media guidelines for you to follow, and many are generally supportive of their staff and students venturing onto social media. Ultimately institutions benefit by exposure of their work, but some may have guidelines or training courses to help you avoid any potentially tricky pitfalls. Most will ask you to put a disclaimer on your profile saying that tweets are your ‘own opinions’ or ‘not representative’ of your employer but many will also ask you to use your full name and cite your affiliation with them. A good and rather obvious rule of thumb is to treat others with the same respect as you would in real life. That is not to say do not enter into heated debates and give your opinions…now more than ever, we as scientists shouldn’t be afraid to enter into political and policy debates, so if that is something you would do in ‘real life’, Twitter can be an opportunity to interact with and learn from a very varied range of people.