Twitter for Academics

Twitter for academics

Are you on Academic Twitter?

“Are you on #AcademicTwitter?” That’s a question I got asked a lot when I was in grad school. For a long time, I resisted Twitter. I mean, I really avoided it. The only tweets I saw were embedded in news articles. Or on the news. Maybe you’re like me.

I’m Jennifer van Alstyne. Welcome to The Social Academic, my blog about online identity in the HigherEd world. I write about social media, websites, and sharing your work in online spaces. And I interview cool academics about the research.

I joined Twitter just under 2 years ago, and now I train people on best practices for social media. I even created a course just for academics like you.

And it all started with a Twitter profile.

In this blog post I talk about what it was like joining Twitter, and get into the nitty-gritty of why you should consider the social media platform for yourself.

Updated May 2020.

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I’m a millennial who grew up with social media

"I couldn't imagine living that public a life," Jennifer van Alstyne

I’m part of a subset of millennials who grew up with social media. We weren’t sure if we wanted to be a part of it.

We saw people lose their jobs for posting photos of drinking, people cheating, catfishing, fake accounts, and more.

I’d been on Facebook since middle school, and had a sporadically used Instagram account.

But Twitter? People had thousands of followers or friends.

I couldn’t imagine living that public of a life. It seemed like the people who were on Twitter were having conversations all day every day. Things moved so fast there. How did it even work?

Many of my peers and colleagues felt the same.

People kept telling me, Twitter is important. Twitter is where the people are. They were right.

I joined Twitter. And now I chime in with the crowd.

I’ve found great benefits from actively sharing on Twitter, like

  • meeting awesome new people
  • finding people who enjoy what I write
  • getting answers to niche questions
  • supporters for the work I’m doing
  • connecting with potential collaborators

There are some awesome benefits to reaching out to your academic or research community on social media.

You should also know that any social media platform, is work.

It takes time to think about what you want to say, and the best ways to share that message with your audience.

Do grad students, faculty, and researchers need to be on Twitter?

question mark

When people say you need to be on #AcademicTwitter, I say what’s most helpful is to be an academic on Twitter.

That means you have a profile. You know the basics of how Twitter works. And, you know how to tweet if you want to.

You don’t have to post about your work all the time. You don’t have to be out there actively networking if you don’t want to.

It’s great to be able to use this social sharing tool, when you need it.

Having a Twitter profile is more important for some people than others. For instance, if you

  • are headed on the job market (academic and “AltAc” jobs alike)
  • looking to publish a book
  • requesting/justifying external funding
  • want to networking or community build in your field

If one or more of these is true for you, being on Twitter is important. And by that I mean the benefits you receive there can directly contribute to your professional goals.

Here’s the thing: not finding someone on social media isn’t a bad sign. But not finding a concrete online presence is.

People want to find what they’re looking for. As researchers and academics, we’re trained to exactly that.

How many Google deep dives have you done searching for an article not available from through your database access?

Here are some examples of when I have personally needed to Google someone:

  • Before meeting them at a conference or networking event
  • To know a bit about fellow conference panelists
  • To learn about a colleague’s new book
  • After meeting them, to find contact information
  • To get in touch for a speaking engagement

People aren’t looking to spy on you.

Oftentimes, they’re looking for an answer to a question they have. Like “how can I get in touch?” Or, “Is this a good person to connect with?”

So, do you need to be on Twitter? No.

Do you need to be on social media? Probably not.

But, you do need some kind of online presence so people can connect with you when they need to. And, Twitter is a great way to do that.

You should know that Twitter is the best way to effectively share a message with a wide range of people. Sharing your article on Twitter means it’s more likely to be read, especially by people who don’t know you and aren’t already connected to you.

Why is Twitter a great place to share your research? The two actions which most help with this are like and retweet.

When someone likes your tweet about your new article, the people who follow that person who are online right now will see that. Those people will have opportunity to click on the link in your tweet and read it.

When someone retweets that same info, it has even more benefits. The people who follow that person will be able to see that asynchronously. That means there are even more chances for people to engage.

I train people on cross-platform social media. So my recommendation is that you share a new article on all your social media platforms.

On Twitter, I think you’ll find you can have greater overall reach. That means that more eyes will have opportunity to see what you share.

Are you enjoying this post so far? Subscribe to The Social Academic today to get advice articles like this right to your inbox.

Twitter is all about your audience

people standing against a wall

Your audience, also known as your followers, is important on Twitter. But, that number doesn’t have to be big to be engaged.

What would you rather have: thousands of Twitter followers but few likes or comments on your posts?

Or, maybe a couple hundred, or a thousand Twitter followers who are actually interested in what you’re saying. And they show that interest by engaging on a regular basis with like, retweet, and replies.

Having a successful Twitter account is about figuring out what you like. What you want to share? Who you want to connect with?

And it’s also about thinking through who those people are, and how to best communicate with them.

  • Who is your audience?
  • What are their interests and needs?
  • What is the best way to communicate with them?
  • How can I practice this successfully with the least amount effort?

There are social media experts out there who will say you need thousands of followers. Yes, that can help. But it isn’t necessary for you to be a good communicator.

Who your followers are is far more important than the number of followers you have.

That makes Twitter a great platform for academics who are looking to connect with people interested in their work.

4 tips for what to share in your Twitter profile

blank PostIt notes and two sharpies

If you’re just getting started, or thinking about joining Twitter, check out these tips.

For those of you on Twitter already – you’re awesome. I see thousands of academics on Twitter.

But I’m so glad you’ve checked out this post because…

You’d be surprised how few academics communicate who they are and what they do well on Twitter.

You just have a moment as a potential connection scrolls on #AcademicTwitter, or reads a tweet you posted and your colleague liked.

If you don’t provide answers to questions like who you are and why they should follow you, the answer will always be, maybe another time.

That’s why I want to share some of my top tips for your Twitter profile.

1. Your Twitter profile should answer the question, who are you?

I recommend you use a clear name and handle for your Twitter profile.

Your name should be your name whenever possible.

Note: I’m not a fan of anonymous accounts, and that’s because people want to connect with people.

When your name can also match your Twitter handle, like mine Jennifer van Alstyne @JenVanAlstyne, that makes it easy.

Another option is to use something that relates to their research for their Handle.

2. Consider adding a few more details about your teaching or research

For academics who regularly share their work on Twitter, I recommend adding a few more things to share who you are:

  • where you work
  • major research or work interests (in words non-experts can understand)
  • specific interests in your work (tailored to other researchers in your field).

These details will help people who visit your profile understand who you are and what you share quickly. This is the information people need to decide if they want to read and engage with the content you share on a regular basis.

These practices will help you attract a real audience of followers. Real people, who want to read what you share.

3. Why should people follow you on Twitter?

This is the other question your Twitter profile should be able to answer for 1st time visitors: why should people connect with you?

Why do people connect?

Sometimes it’s a shared interest or research topic.

Or that you have funny tweets I’ve liked a few times before.

Maybe we met at a conference and one of us is trying to expand our network.

People follow each other for all sorts of reasons.

When you update your Twitter profile, remember that you’re writing for people who don’t already know you.

You want to make it easy for the people who encounter you learn a bit about what you share in this space.

4. Your profile photo

On Twitter, your profile photo is so important. Profiles with a photo are more likely to be visited, and more likely to be followed.

People highly prefer faces over a logo or other image. So, I recommend a photo of your smiling face.

And, whatever photo you use here, should be your profile photo across the board on social media. So use the same profile photo for your Instagram, Facebook, and even LinkedIn.

Thanks for checking out these tips. I hope you find them helpful.

Be sure to check out my full guide to the social media platforms you should consider.

Find your community with academic hashtags

10 academic hashtags to find community: a guide @HigherEdPR

Looking for people to follow and engage with on Academic Twitter?

I made a hashtag guide to help that gives my top tips for Twitter and Instagram. There are other guides, bigger guides to academic hashtags out there.

But do you even have time for them?

These are the 10 hashtags where if you visit them right now, you’re likely to find someone to connect with.

These hashtags are tested and in regular use. And I update this list annually so it always has my top recommendations.

There’s even some bonus tips for engaging your audience on Twitter.

Download your free guide by joining my email list, The Social Academic Community.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and public relations consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help academics, researchers, and writers control their online presence and share their work with the world.

She holds a B.A. from Monmouth University in English, and an M.F.A. from Naropa University in Writing & Poetics where she was the Jack Kerouac Fellow. Jennifer also holds an M.A. from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Literature and Cultural Studies where she was one of four master’s fellows and a finalist for the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award.

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