A Guide to Twitter for Academics

What is Academic Twitter?

Should professors and researchers be on Twitter? There are many reasons academics should consider using the social media network, Twitter.

Twitter is a social media platform that launched in 2006. Now, Twitter has more than 331 million monthly active users. It features a short social media post called a tweet, which is limited to 280 characters. It’s one of the social media platform academics should consider.

On Twitter you can

  • share a tweet
  • start a conversation
  • follow people
  • find content through hashtags
  • create a list
  • join a Twitter chat

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

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

I joined Twitter in the Spring of 2018. Now I run professional development trainings for professors, research centers, and universities.

I’m a millennial who grew up with social media

Jennifer van Alstyne in front of a wall of icons representing social media and web connections

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’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

Reaching out to your academic or research community on Twitter can be rewarding.

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Why should graduate students, professors, and scientists be on Twitter?

A black person holds a phone while sitting at a small round table with a notebook, pen, and cup of coffee on a saucer. On the phone screen is the Twitter profile of a professor.

To get the benefits of being on Twitter like

  • sharing your work in real-time
  • creating community
  • meeting potential collaborators
  • communicating with the public
  • finding more readers for your work

you need to have a profile on Twitter and share original content.

Create a profile on Twitter. Be sure to read to the end of this post for my top tips for your Twitter profile!

Here’s the good news. You don’t have to post about your work all the time. It’s great to be able to use this social sharing tool, when you need it.

Should I make a Twitter profile?

Some of you will find Twitter more beneficial than others. Let’s talk about reasons why Twitter might be helpful for you.

Are you on the job market?

If you’re on the job market, or will be soon, having a Twitter presence may be beneficial. Many employers are looking for people who can actively talk about themselves and their work.

Twitter is a great way to network with people. Sending a direct message is a great way to start a conversation.

Do you have a book to promote? Are you shopping a manuscript?

Publishers are looking for authors with an online presence already. Some manuscripts are rejected not out of merit, but because the author doesn’t have a network on social media. This is largely because many academic presses do not have a marketing budget for your new book.

Your personal network can be great advocates for your book, especially if you talk about the process behind making it. You don’t need thousands of followers to have an engaged audience on social media. An active Twitter account that shares posts on a regular basis will show publishers you’re ready to move forward.

Are you applying to grants and external funding?

External funders are also looking for people who can effectively talk about their work. They want you to be able to share the outcomes of the project they fund with the public.

Having a Twitter presence is an effective way to reach people around the world in real time. Because you can use hashtags to reach people interested in specific topics, having a smaller audience doesn’t impede you from sharing your work widely.

Do you want to manage your online presence?

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

People want to find what they’re looking for. As researchers and professors, you’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?”

Do you need to be on Twitter? No

Do you need to be on social media? Probably not. You do need some kind of online presence so people can connect with you when they need to. Twitter can be a great way to do 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. And it’s more likely to be read by people

  • who don’t know you
  • and aren’t already connected to you.

Why is Twitter a great place to share your research?

Twitter has 2 actions which make it especially helpful for sharing your research: like and retweet.

Let’s say you share a tweet about your newly published article. In the tweet, you share the link to your article.

When someone likes your tweet, 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 your article.

When someone retweets your tweet, 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 professors on how to use social media. My top recommendation is to share your new publications across all your social media platforms.

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

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Who do you want to connect with on Twitter, and why?

Twitter homescreen on a desktop.

The number of social media followers you have doesn’t have to be big to be an engaged audience. Which of these scenarios would you rather?

  • You have thousands of followers but when you share, no one likes or comments on your tweets.
  • You have a couple hundred followers on Twitter who are actually interested in what you’re saying. They show that interest by engaging with your tweets when you post.

Having a good 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 social media platform for professors who are looking to connect with people interested in their work.

5 tips for what to share in your Twitter profile

Jennifer van Alstyne's Twitter profile on a Chromebook screen @higheredpr

You have just a moment as a potential connection scrolls on #AcademicTwitter, or happens across your profile.

If you don’t provide answers to questions like

  • who you are
  • 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 profile should answer the question: who are you?
  2. Add details to your bio
  3. Why should people follow you?
  4. Choosing your profile photo
  5. Pin an introduction tweet

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. Using your name makes your Twitter profile likely to show up in Google search results.

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

Note: In August 2021, I decided to deactivate my personal Twitter account. I just wasn’t using it because I felt I could share the personal and professional on my @HigherEdPR account. Because I wasn’t spending time there (and missed a few messages), I knew it was time to end that account.

Another option is to use something that relates to your research for your Twitter handle (username).

I’m not a fan of anonymous accounts, though there are some good ones out there. There’s always the risk of an anonymous account being unmasked. And, they tend to take as much time as a regular account. I wouldn’t suggest it for most people.

2. Consider adding details about your teaching or research

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

  • where you work (consider tagging your affiliation)
  • major research or interests in words non-experts can understand (i.e. Say ‘American Literature’ even though ‘AmLit’ is shorthand)
  • keywords or a hashtag likely to be searched by others in your field (i.e. #ChemicalEngineering).

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.

Will tagging my university / institution in my bio get me in trouble? Probably not. Most of the time it helps people understand you. If you tend to say highly political things, or get into arguments on Twitter, know that people may report you to your university. Many conversations I see from the university side of this is “oh look, a complaint we can’t do anything about because of freedom of speech.” Things do go wrong on Twitter occasionally. Be aware of your university’s social media policy, if they have one.

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?

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. Write your bio for someone just visiting your profile for the 1st time.

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.

5. Pin an introduction tweet

Did you know you can pin a tweet to the top of your profile in Twitter? Introduce yourself in a tweet. Then, pin that tweet to the top of your profile.

You can also pin

  • a new publication
  • an upcoming speaking engagement

Pinned tweets are a great way to help new people visiting your profile understand a bit more about you.

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Thanks for checking out these tips

I hope you found these Twitter tips helpful. Twitter is a fast-moving platform. The people who enjoy it most tend to share or engage in conversations on a regular basis.

Social media is an effective way to manage your online presence.

Want to learn how to use social media for academics? Join my online course.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer LLC to help professors build a strong online presence for their research, teaching, and leadership. Jennifer’s goal is to help people feel confident sharing their work with the world.

Jennifer’s personal website

The Academic Designer LLC