First off, I want to welcome everyone back to DIY Ivory Tower. You might have noticed that the blog went on a brief hiatus during the late fall. My dissertation and the job market kept me quite busy during the past few months. Now that I’ve got another chapter drafted and a large pile of letters off to search committees, I have time once again to devote to DiYiT. Now on to the post…
Returning home from the annual American Historical Association conference a few weeks ago, I found that one of my most important post-conference chores was the addition of dozens of scholars, editors, archivists, and librarians to my Twitter feed. During the conference I used Twitter extensively and for a variety of different purposes. And I wasn’t alone. All tolled, Twitter users sent over 4,200 messages about the AHA meeting to the public micro-blogging service during the conference. And since then another 500 or so tweets have rolled in as conversations begun during the conference have continued on Twitter. Given the value of all that tweeting, I thought it might be a good idea to put together a post describing the basic uses of Twitter by academics.
If you are completely unfamiliar with Twitter, I suggest that you check out this PDF describing the basics of Twitter put together by the Public Policy Group of the London School of Economics and Political Science. If you are familiar enough with the service to understand terminology like “tweeting” and “following,” then we can get right down to business.
Being a Follower
Taking advantage of Twitter professionally doesn’t require that you ever send a message to the service. With or without a Twitter account, you can easily search the service for information of interest to you. Opening a free account, however, allows you to get quite a bit more organized. With a Twitter account you can select users to follow so that your feed of posts contains updates from those people. By looking to see who they follow and whose posts they re-tweet, you can find even more people for your list. Before long, you will have a useful and informative Twitter feed on your hands.
Another option for keeping tabs on particular fields is to follow hashtags. Twitter users deploy phrases prefixed by the hash symbol (#) to identify posts having to do with a given subject. Such tags allow everyone to participate in discussions about a topic without having to find and follow one another. Hashtags I follow include #HigherEd, #twitterstorians, and #urbanhistory. Searching Twitter for these tags shows all of the tweets that included the hashtag in question. Using desktop or smartphone software called a Twitter client, you can save the hashtags you wish to follow and easily manage them, usually as distinct columns of Twitter updates for each item. I use Tweetdeck on my PC and Ubersocial on my phone to keep tabs on Twitter activity.
One final way to follow along with Twitter is to take advantage of lists of users that others have put together. Such lists are usually done thematically. For example, Dan Cohen, the director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, curates a list of Twitter users involved with the Digital Humanities. By adding Dan’s DH list to my Twitter client, I can easily keep tabs on that field.
Through any of these methods you’ll connect to a vast network of academics and professionals who offer posts relevant to the work you are doing.
Finding Your Voice
Since you’ve signed up for an account, you might as well contribute to the discussion. Because of the focus on brevity created by Twitter’s 140-character limit, you don’t need much time or even a fully fleshed-out idea to contribute to the conversation. And, as with all types of social media, you get to decide just how much you want to share with the wider world.
The Basics of Twitter document that I mentioned above describes three tweeting styles: substantive, conversational, and a middle ground. However, I think it may be more helpful to consider three types of posts: informational, interactive, and personal.
- Informational: These posts typically forward along links to articles, blog posts, announcements, and funding sources that might be of interest to others. Usually with a bit of explanation or commentary.
- Interactive: These posts engage the Twitter community, usually by posing a question or topic of discussion or responding to something someone else has posted. Such exchanges run the gamut from simple advice to deep philosophical exchanges.
- Personal: These posts give the outside world a window into your life. Even among those who use Twitter for professional ends there are some who provide a constant stream of updates about what they are doing during the day. At first blush this might seem like an entirely worthless activity, at least professionally. And, in general, I tend to agree. I don’t bother my Twitter followers with updates about my daily commute or what I’ve decided to cook for dinner. That said, I’ve seen enough of it cross my Twitter stream to know that it does provide personal connections and a sense of community for some users.
Go Beyond Basic Tweeting and Following
Once you are comfortable with the platform, you can use Twitter to benefit other aspects of your professional life. Academic conferences, for example, have become hotbeds of Twitter activity. These days just about every conference has a hashtag of its own. Whether you are connecting with others at the conference, sharing information from sessions you attend, or simply following along from home, Twitter offers a number a ways to get more out of conferences. Check out this archive of the traffic on the #AHA2012 hashtag for a look at all the ways that folks put Twitter to use for that conference.
There are also a number of teachers bringing Twitter into the classroom. The you tube video below details Monica Rankin’s efforts to spur discussion and engagement in her large lecture courses at University of Texas at Dallas with Twitter. And if you’re interested in other options, ProfHacker’s Mark Sample has compiled advice for teaching with Twitter.
If you’re using Twitter professionally let us know in the comments what strategies you’ve found beneficial.