Yesterday I gave a brief overview of the role social media may be able to play to improve science engagement. The final part of the presentation Trev Bond and I gave was the case for using Twitter to achieve this. Thanks to Fiona Murphy (@DrFionaLM) for suggesting we blog the talk (due to the ironically rubbish powerpoint slides)!
In general it is fairly easy to convince scientists increased engagement with stakeholders is a good thing, I find the problem comes when we start talking about specifics. There are two problems; the first is the reality check, things can sound more appealing in an abstract way but when sacrifices are called for (in this case time and effort) people can be put off. The second is credibility. Due to the popularity of social media it is easy to dismiss as not a serious tool.
We are therefore faced with a challenge straight away; to convince sceptical colleagues of the credibility and usefulness of tools such as twitter. I addressed this in a few different ways:
- Growing Academic mass – There are an increasing number of senior academics using Twitter within our specific fields. I follow over 50 academics. Examples I gave in Fluvial Geomorphology/Hydrology included; Dan Parsons (Hull – @bedform), Phil Ashworth (Brighton – @RioParana), Anne Jefferson (UNC Charlotte – @highlyanne), Brian Romans (Virginia Tech – @ClasticDetritus) – for a full list look at who I follow on Twitter!
- Stakeholder Engagement – most if not all NGO’s, environmental associations, etc have some presence on Twitter already, and some such as the Environment Agency have very active individual employees on there. I have found it very useful to get interactions with people interested with my research and to build contacts.
- Journalists – There is the potential for using journalists to drive wide interest in our research; however I believe at the moment a more realistic use is to follow stories FROM journalists. It is not realistic to expect a plethora of science journalists to start following you, even if you are an important professor!
- PhD students – As with academia in general there are more PhD students than senior researchers. This can actually serve as an extended support network for early career researchers and facilitate networking with peers. For PhD students this could be the most useful part of Twitter, I have plenty of examples of sharing advice and support with other PhD students, most of which I’ve never met. There are also great resource accounts, such as @litreviewhq and @phd2published where you can get advice on academic writing.
Finally I also raised the point that although followers are nice, you can reach many more people through “retweets” and clever use of “hashtags” than you can directly through followers. I have only ~150 followers, but in total have been retweeted to >150,000 users in the past few months. So the number of followers is not everything.
We had some great questions from people; around the amount of time needed to make the best use of Twitter, whether this is a good pay off and the potential pitfalls. As the talk (and this post) were related to “why use Twitter?” I may return to these questions in a ‘how to use Twitter for academia’ post.
With the original talk we convinced Alex Clayton (@glaciologist) and Hai Trieu (@HaiQTrieu) to give it a go, so I hope this has got you thinking about whether Twitter could fit into your research as well.