This week’s theme is building an extended network to draw in as well as share information. So far, we have looked at ways of putting information about you out there, one-to-many. This week, we’re looking at ways of making your online identity more interactive, part of a reciprocal dialogue, and many-to-many. Those of you who have been a whole blog post a week onerous might welcome ‘microblogging’ as a less labour-intensive way to maintain a presence online, and those of you who were wondering if you’re blogging in a vacuum might enjoy the more clearly interactive nature of Twitter.
Twitter is a great way to network as well as draw attention to your professional activities. Academia has established traditional modes of achieving this (the conference, the journal, the seminar group, the department, the professional or research body…). Digital technologies can enhance these traditional platforms, and have also enabled a much wider and more instant reach (as well as making approaching eminent people less intimidating). Yet engaging in these new routes to networking and drawing in information raise new practical, cultural and ethical issues, and successful use of them requires some thought.
Tool: For a medium which only allows you 140 characters to express yourself, there’s a surprising amount to learn about Twitter. In this week’s thing, we’ll look at the essentials of tweeting for those of you who aren’t yet on Twitter, but also consider effectively using Twitter as a means of promoting yourself and building a network to filter and crowdsource information. If you’re already using Twitter, you might take the opportunity to evaluate your use for academic purposes, or explore additional ways of managing your activity through extras such as tweetdeck, hootsuite, paper.li or listorious.
Task: Twitter has many more academic uses than its reputation as a channel for celebrity gossip might suggest. The first task is to consider what kind of network you want to build, and what you might use it for. You might use Twitter for any or all of the following:
- Publicising your work, such as a new blog post (WordPress can do this automatically) or a new article.
- Disseminating news about your professional activities, such as attending a conference
- Commenting on news in your field or HE in general
- Sharing interesting context you find, through tweeting URLs (shortened with services such as tinyurl fur.ly or bit.ly to leave you more characters to comment with) or through retweeting others’ tweets (marked RT to acknowledge that it’s not your original content, or MT if you change it slightly)
- News updates (from blogs such as those of other DH23 participants, InsideHigherEd or publications such as the THES or Guardian Higher Education),
- Opportunities and news from professional or research bodies such as Vitae or the UK Research Staff Association or funding bodies such as the Research Councils UK or AHRC). These might include calls for papers, funding or jobs.
- Activities in Departments, Libraries and other research centres (either at Cambridge, such as the UL or CRASSH, or at other universities such as KCL’s Department of Digital Humanities or UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities). You can find out about seminars and conferences this way.
- Livetweeting at conferences (either participating in the conference audience ‘backchannel’ or to get a flavour of discussions and speakers to look up, and participate remotely by asking questions, if you can’t attend in person)
- Asking questions, and answering those of others.
- Crowdsourcing and finding research collaborators or participants
- Finding and contacting individual scholars in your field who might be able to recommend readings, answer questions or suggest opportunities that would be interesting for you.
- Enhancing some of the more informal communication that occurs in the academic world such as networking at conferences and seminars, bumping into colleagues at your own and other institutions or moral support from peers.
- Peer support, for example through the weekly #PhDchat or #ECRchat (search for these hashtags on Twitter, and use them in your own tweets to join in)
- A bit of light relief: follow @PhDcomics
You could ‘follow’ people or institutions on Twitter as a way of passively receiving information, as with RSS feeds or email alerts. You may find that the constant stream of information is overwhelming, however, and begin to miss things. To counter this, you could develop your network as a more active means of drawing in the information you need. Participating actively and responding to other people, asking questions, sharing and commenting on links and retweeting will give your network a good sense of what you might be interested in and information might be directed at you in a more targeted way; you can use your network to help you filter information and ‘amplify’ it, ensuring that if it’s important, more than one person will draw your attention to it.
Given that social media such as Twitter operate on the principle of reciprocation, it is also worth considering what you might offer your network in return. This might be sharing updates to your DH23 blog for other participants, interesting readings (perhaps with comment), retweeting (again, perhaps with the added value of your own comment) of others’ tweets so they reach a wider audience. Twitter works best as a conversation rather than as a one-way broadcast medium – if it’s all about you, people may unfollow you as they gain nothing from the interaction.
Set up a twitter account, bearing in mind the principles you explored when you set up your blog – how do you want to present yourself? If you have a personal Twitter account, do you want a separate, professional one? How will you present yourself using your username, profile picture and profile description? What tone do you want to use to draw people into your network?
Next, you need to set up (or extend) your network. There are several ways to do this:
- Search likely topics using a hashtag and see who has been tweeting on that theme (you could start with #DH23 to find other people on the programme who have tweeted using this hashtag)
- Find an established Twitter user in your field and look at who they are following/who follows them (follow me, @scholastic_rat, if you like!) You can always unfollow people at a later date.
- When people follow you, check their profile out and decide whether to follow them back, and their network of followers.
- As you follow more people, Twitter’s recommendations for people for you to follow will improve.
- Use listorious to recommend people to follow.
- Take part in #followfriday!
- think about your following policy – Twitter need not be reciprocal, and you need not follow everyone who follows you, and vice versa.
Send your first #DH23 tweet! You might either send a general tweet about your thoughts and questions about the programme so far, tweet about a useful resource or reading you’ve found, or address someone directly using the @ symbol and their username (for example, @scholastic_rat). Don’t forget to use the hashtag #DH23 so that people will find your tweet when they search for tweets on this topic.
If you’ve used twitter before, you might explore the nuances of hashtags, retweets, direct messages, shortened URLS etc through the further reading below. You might also review your strategy and profile, and explore some of the additional Twitter platforms to make your use of Twitter more effective. Here are some suggestions:
- Hootsuite and tweetdeck are platforms to manage your twitter stream and other interactions, dividing it into different lists, for example, or search for hashtags (Hootsuite also helps you manage other social networking sites).
- You can use Twitter to set up or join a list (ie a group) of Twitter users (via the Me tab in Twitter), and collate part of your twitter stream this way (Join the list DH23things)
- Paper.li takes the links that have been tweeted by people you follow, and turns them into a daily ‘magazine’ for easier reading
- Listorious is a search engine for twitter users.
- Review your use of twitter using Tweetgrader, find out who’s tweeting about you with tweetbeep or tweetscan alerts, or use tweetcloud to get an overview of your own tweets
- Review your followers and those you’re following using Tweeterkarma, Friend or follow or Quitter
Key skills: Setting up a Twitter account, following people and sending a tweet are easy, on one level. But effective use of Twitter depends on knowing the ‘cultural norms’ of Twitter, which make it a very effective way to network and circulate information and in many cases arose organically. These conventions include the use of the hashtag (#) before keywords as a sort of metadata to tag tweets and make them easy to search for, or RT and MT which mean that your tweet is a re-tweet or modified tweet from someone else, rather than your own. The @ symbol before a username will send a tweet to that person, but depending on where in your tweet you place it, it may also be visible to your followers or those who follow you both. Are you aware of these conventions, and are you using them appropriately and effectively?
Subject-specific: General: Twitter can support your work (research, professional development etc) in a number of ways. What kind of network would work best for you, and what level of activity will you engage in? It is also a medium for promoting your own work, but what might you offer your network in return that they might value? Will you keep your Twitter profile purely professional, or mix it with more informal or personal tweets? How can Twitter help to extend your traditional networking practices? How do you feel about practices such as livetweeting at conferences? would it work best as a form of note-taking for you, or asa way to make content available to your followers who are not present? Or would you rather not engage – the Twitter ‘backchannel’ can be abused at the expense of speakers, other presenters might feel differently about the conference as a public or private space, or some may simply find it rude or distracting.
Who will form your network? It is only as good as the people who are actually on Twitter. Do you get a sense of what demographic of researchers in your field are active on Twitter – is it mostly early career researchers, or are there more senior figures there too? Does this affect the uses you can put it to? Are there other potential networks you might connect with, as well as other researchers, which might be of use in your broader professional activities?
Digital Humanities: Twitter is regarded as an informal means of sharing information, but there are ways in which it (and any other social media such as youtube, slideshare, facebook, blogs etc) might become a research object or method. Particularly in the Social Sciences, Twitter (for example) might be used as a source of data, perhaps to investigate people’s behaviour on social media platforms, or as a way of collating data or metadata which is conveyed using social media. In other disciplines, social media artefacts might become a scholarly communication you want to cite, as you would any traditional medium, or a method of crowdsourcing. Certainly the new media made possible by digital technologies will take their place alongside more traditional platforms such as journal or book publication. How might this influence your research objects, methods and conventions? And how might you handle new issues such as citing social media, or issues of consent when analysing social media data or crowdsourcing participation? Who ‘owns’ tweets? There are ways of archiving tweets, but would you keep them or do you regard them as ephemera?
How well does Twitter work for you, for the purposes you intend to use it? Do you find it is worth the time investment, or might it become a distraction or overwhelming? Do any of the additional tools help to solve these issues?
Reflection and integration into practice:
It seems hard at first to say anything meaningful in 140 characters, or to maintain a consistent profile if you are following lots of disparate people and institutions for varying reasons, including personal. You can have more than one twitter account, for different purposes, and there are tools to help you manage them or schedule future tweets. Would this be one way to approach the issue? The constant stream of tweets can seem overwhelming if you step out of it too long. How might you manage these issues? Do you need to read everything, or are you happy to dip in and out? How will you make sure that you give something of value back to your network and participate in a conversation, rather than just using it as a channel to broadcast your own activities?
If you decide to maintain a minimal level of engagement or opt out of Twitter, how will you ensure that you don’t miss out where this information is not available through other means (for example, the ‘backchannel‘ which is very common at conferences now?), or other situations in which it is harder to network informally and maintain contact with colleagues at other universities without using Twitter, or bumping into them in person?
- See the resources on the Judge Business School page for Twitter, including their own presentation.
- LSE have an excellent guide to using Twitter in University research, teaching and impact activities
- Top twitter tips for academics