In recent times social media, and especially Twitter, have become an effective way to disseminate all kinds of information in a succinct format. They also constitute a way to connect with other researchers and with the public.
We recently sent out a survey to get a sense of the level of interest and engagement in social media of the KU-EEB community. Most of our respondents indicated interest in getting tips on how to take advantage of Twitter for professional development, so here are a few recommendations:
1. Personalize your profile:
Include a brief description of yourself (even if just a few keywords), as well as a nice picture. You can include your study organisms/system, your position, your institution. This will help people decide whether to follow your updates.
2. Create your community:
It’s all about sharing information. Twitter is a place where you can see the most recent papers, the latest job offers, advice on several career related topics, and most importantly, a bunch of people going through the same processes as academics as you are (and will be).
Start by following @KUEEBGSO, your fellow graduate students, professors, postdocs (we follow all the ones we have found, past and present), the KU Natural History Museum (@kunhm), the KU Field Station (@KUFieldStation), colleagues at other institutions, other labs, @evoldir, journals, scientific societies, the institutions you dream of working at, and other scientists as well. There is a whole lot of information out there!
In general, follow profiles and people that you feel comfortable with. You can always choose to stop following profiles that don’t seem right for you. All in all, it takes time to build a community that you get to enjoy.
Publish a post of your own every now and then. Take into account that there is a limited number of characters that you can use in a tweet, and that you cannot edit a tweet once you post it (but you can delete it anytime).
Retweet other people’s tweets that you find interesting or important. This way, when people go to your profile, they can get an idea of your interests. An empty or seemingly abandoned profile is not really exciting or worth following. A couple of tips on how to create more engaging posts:
- Use images: Posts with images attract more viewers and engagement. Share a picture of your organisms or systems, outreach and other events, links to papers you have published, screenshots of papers you are reading or problems you need help with.
- Use hashtags: Any word or chain of words can become a hashtag by adding the pound symbol (#) to the beginning. Every word can become a #keyword. In chains of words, uppercases #ImproveReadability.
Hashtags create a clickable link that allows you to search related contents. They become a doorway to explore and discover. Popular hashtags of interest include #Rstats, #SciComm, #ScienceTwitter
There are also weekday hashtags that can get you more involved specific in a community: #FossilFriday, #ToxinTuesday, #MammalMonday, #FluorescenceFriday, #WeevilWednesday. #MegafaunaMonday, #WormWednesday, #MacrophyteMonday, #TrilobiteTuesday.
- When available, include links for additional information: This is especially important for new papers and job announcements (some tools to shorten URLs may be useful: http://bit.ly or https://goo.gl/).
- Tag relevant profiles: You can boost the reach of your posts by tagging related profiles: coauthors of a paper, potentially interested colleagues, your lab, a scientific society, @KUEEBGSO, @KUGradStudies, @kulibraries, @KUCollege, @KUnews. If you are sharing an image, you can save characters by tagging those profiles directly in the image instead of text.
Given the high volume of information that is shared every second, social media is a powerful tool for reaching out to a large audience, which has the potential to result in new opportunities, collaborations, new projects, brainstorming, finding answers and reaching potential recruits or mentors.
We have at least one good example of networking and recruitment success through social media: in December 2014 Andrew Short (@TheShortLab) called for potential PhD students (https://twitter.com/TheShortLab/status/539863903325683712), which was picked up by the Entomological Collections Network (@EntCollNet) and then retweeted by a colleague who is followed by now doctoral student Jennifer Girón (@Yenizina). You never know what connections you might make and what it can lead to.
Here is an example of a collaborative paper that started from a Twitter conversation:
But we also have to recognize that not everyone on Twitter is nice. The best way to avoid potential conflicts is not to engage in discussions with other users, even when you can argue your point of view, unless the situation seems rational and safe. Some people are open to suggestions and opinions that differ from theirs, but this is not always the case. Be cautious which conversations (and with whom) are worth having.
Here are some other “advanced uses” of Twitter:
5. Threads: You can discuss, compile or summarize any topic of interest by adding comments to an initial post. This is a way to sort of digest information for your readers.
Here is a good example:
A shorter one:
6. Presentations through Twitter: Some professors include this as an activity for their small classes:
- Each student has a designated topic and a time to present said topic in a defined number of tweets.
- A hashtag for the class and/or topic is created.
- The student creates a thread explaining the topic and including the designated hashtags. Usually, each comment adding information should include a link to the source of the information.
It is a good way for the students to improve their synthesis of information.
7. Crowdsourcing: Social media can also be used for obtaining information from the general public. A good example for this is a project in which Fernando Machado (@FerMachado55), one of our doctoral students, is part of: “Conotos de Caracas” (@ConotosCCS). The idea is to gather bird and nests sightings throughout the city from the general public, not only from specialized birders. It has also served as a platform for outreach, citizen science, and to raise awareness about urban fauna.
8. Promote your interests and create community through hashtags: In our department, we have one of the best examples of a recurring hashtag that attracts an entire community of artists and scientists alike: #SundayFishSketch, created by doctoral student Rene Martin (@Lampichthys). Every Sunday people practice their illustration skills by sketching, painting, crafting, etc. a fish species, usually following a weekly theme, that goes out on Fridays. All fish-related art is welcome, either on or off theme. One of the main highlights of the community is the open support of artists and scientists to improve their illustration skills on a weekly basis, and enjoy fantastic fish art.
9. Connect with other networks of Science Communicators: There are many scientists that get together though social media to engage in Science Communication. One of the most popular platforms recently is @SkypeScientist, where scientists as well as school classes (elementary and high school) sign up to get matched for a session. When there is a match, the session is scheduled and science is shared. Scientists get to talk to the younger generations in a sort of personalized environment, and students get to ask questions to a specialist and get inspired.
There are other themed live events through this platform, in fact, one of our doctoral students, Anna Klompen (@aklomp13) participated in the “Venom Week” celebrated in February 18 – 22 2019.
10. Trendjacking: Twitter will always show you trending topics, themes that people are currently discussing, that are usually associated with a hashtg. You can twist hashtags to create completely new trends. The best example for this would be #SuperbOwl
(some years are better than others)
We definitely encourage you to give these tips a try!
By EEB GSO Social Media group