Somehow Twitter has become a bit of a hot topic at work lately and many of my colleagues have been asking me about it. I usually respond enthusiastically, because I generally think Twitter is great and everyone should give it a go. But it has got me thinking about exactly why I like it and, more importantly, how I use it. I’ve pulled together a few of my favourite (mainly academically-themed) uses, and a few uses of Twitter that are not so appealing to me. The beauty of twitter, though, is that it is vast enough to have space for all of these different uses and more, so there is definitely no ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’ to use it.
First the positives:
+ 1. Relevant hashtags
For me, making good use of hashtags is one of the keys to using Twitter effectively. A well-placed hashtag can open up your tweet to a far wider audience than just your immediate followers. However, there can be a fine line between ‘use’ and ‘misuse’ of hashtags. Using the appropriate hashtag for your intended audience is important. For example, including the hashtag #ECRchat can open up your tweet to an active audience of early career researchers, however, a tweet including the often-used #ECR hashtag is more likely to be lost amongst East Coast Radio lovers, European Conservatives & Reformists, and more. Therefore, you should get to know the common hashtags in your area of interest and try to make sure that any new hashtags you coin are unique.
Another favourite use of hashtags is to organise live tweetchats. Although tweetchats are not everyone’s idea of a good use of Twitter, for me, they help create a sense of community and solidarity around a common goal or problem. Joining in chats is a great way to share advice, increase your number of followers, and find like-minded people to follow. However, one down-side to joining in a chat can be a very high volume of tweets in a short time, which might annoy your other followers if it fills their Twitter feed. Sticking to direct replies can help, as your followers will only see the direct replies to people they follow as well, limiting how much you clutter their feed. Though, see point 6, below, for when this might become a problem.
+ 2. Tweeting links
Another perfect use of Twitter is to tweet links to your blog, other people’s blogs you have enjoyed, funding calls, job opportunities, and more. You could think of it as adding value for the people you follow by curating a stream of relevant and interesting information. It is difficult to say a lot in 140 characters, but so much more information and discussion can shared by adding a link. Don’t, however, just tweet the link without any supporting information. At least say what the link is or why it is relevant, and credit someone using their Twitter handle if possible (either the author of the article or the person who brought it to your attention). Tweeting just a link and a list of hashtags looks like spam.
+ 3. Finding interesting stuff to read
As well as tweeting interesting things to the appropriate hashtags, I think it is important to use Twitter for listening. Read what other people are tweeting about and benefit from the value added by the people you follow. Joining Twitter to tweet about your own stuff without ever listening to what else is going on is a bit like going to a party and shouting in people’s faces, then running away.
+ 4. Being a real person
I think a good (but not necessary) use of Twitter is to add a bit more of the ‘real you’ to your professional profile. What I mean is that I don’t think every tweet has to be a link to a journal article, job posting, conference abstract, etc. I think it’s fine to tweet about the normal everyday stuff that’s going on right now. Yes, make me jealous with a photo of those cookies you just baked. If you would tell your office mates, boss, parents, and partner (all of those people, not just one), then it’s safe for Twitter. Just remember, it’s a public platform, and keep in mind point 9, below.
+ 5. Catching breaking news
If it’s happening in the world, it’s on Twitter. On more than one occasion I have logged in to Twitter and come across breaking news before I saw it elsewhere. I love that it’s like having all of the world’s news resources in one place. Ideally, having access to so many sources and opinions in one place should give a less biased view of unfolding news, rather than having the information screened (or added to) by one particular media source. However, I try to bare in mind that Twitter can be a bit of an echo chamber. Your followers will typically share a similar world view to you and to each other (which is probably why you are following them), so the impact of one perspective on a topic can be exaggerated.
Next, to my least favourite possible uses of Twitter:
- 6. IM service
Yes, Twitter is about conversations, but I don’t think it is a good substitute for a private instant messaging service in some circumstances. I think it’s great when a tweet sparks a discussion, especially when that discussion grows and is joined by many others. Public debate and discussion is exactly what Twitter is perfect for. However, it gets on my nerves a little when my Twitter feed is filled with a more personal conversation that does not have much relevance for anyone other than the two or three people in the conversation. If I’m following both people in the conversation there is no getting away from it. Even though both people might generally tweet interesting things, I don’t necessarily want to watch their personal conversation unfold. Some people would put this on the ‘uses’ list, but for me it can be annoying enough to cause me to unfollow someone.
- 7. Celeb stalking
When I first joined Twitter, I mainly followed comedians and popular news sites. I quickly got bored and decided Twitter wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I came back to it a couple of years later that I realised there were far more interesting and relevant uses. If my Twitter stream was cluttered with celebs tweeting about their breakfast, I would struggle (even more than I do already) to catch the useful advice and information that rushes by. I suppose, however, that another version of ‘celeb stalking’ is following the big name professors, which I definitely do!
- 8. Automated tweets
When I say that ‘automated tweets’ annoy me, I’m not talking about pre-scheduled tweets using a service like Buffer. For the record, I think that pre-scheduling tweets for later is brilliant for lots of reasons (see also point 9). The kind of automated tweets that annoy me are the “Joe Bloggs ran 5 miles in 10 seconds using run-for-your-life app” style tweets. If you don’t care enough to change the predefined message template, why should I care enough to read it? I also dislike tweets about automatically-curated ‘newspapers’, but much less, given that they do actually contain some interesting information sometimes.
- 9. Status updates
I think there is a delicate balance to be struck between being genuine and over-sharing. I can’t deny that tweets sharing photos, achievements, and other personal news are nice and I often enjoy reading them. It’s good to know a little bit more about the people I follow, but no, I don’t want to know every small detail of your life as it happens. Tweeting lots of updates in a row can be annoying, even when each of those updates would be potentially interesting and useful on it’s own. If you only go on Twitter for a short time and have lots to share, try using a service like Buffer to spread your tweets out a bit. It will be potentially less annoying for your followers, and you will reach different followers who are online at other times.
- 10. Advertising
Advertising on Twitter is irritating enough to make the list, but not so intrusive that it would stop me using it. Thankfully, the occasional tweet or follow from a spam bot or company account doesn’t swamp the tweets from my genuine followers. I try to follow the golden rule of not clicking on strange looking links from tweeps like @candylovelegs101 (especially those “look what so-and-so said about you” links), which seems to have kept me safe so far. Those direct messages when someone’s account has been hacked drive me crazy, though. I try to feel sympathy for the person who has been hacked, but I can’t help blaming them a little. I’m sure my words will come back to haunt me if, and when, it happens to me, though.
Well, they were my favourite (and not so favourite) uses of Twitter. One of the wonderful things about Twitter is that my favourite use could be your annoyance, and vice versa. Feel free to tell me so, or to add your own in the comments or via Twitter (@KL_Wheat).