Top Twitter Tips for Research Impact

 

Our Top Twitter Tips are 4 years old today, and to celebrate, we've completely re-written and revised them for 2015. The previous tips were viewed over 30,000 times before we took them down. We hope that many more will find the new version just as useful!

 

 

 

Mark BCU image (cropped).jpeg

How can Twitter enhance the impact of your research?

Twitter is one of the most powerful social media platforms for academics, given the number of highly focussed and influential networks of people who use it. Effective use of Twitter doesn't just amplify your research, it enables conversations to take place about it. This can enrich your research and enable you to make a far greater impact:

  • You can use Twitter to get feedback on new research ideas, so that you can reframe them to be more relevant to the people who might use your findings
  • You can get insights into the way that likely users of your research are talking about the topics you're working on - the kind of language they're using and the sorts of things they're most interested in. These sorts of insights can be invaluable when you need to start communicating your findings
  • You can be the first to find out about news and events related to your research, and you can link your own work to what's happening, making it more likely that your work is picked up and debated
  • An increasing number of researchers are finding out about funding via Twitter. You can also identify collaborators for grant proposals, who already trust to be a good team member through your online interactions with them. You can find out about funding that you might not have come across through your institution, especially linked to industry, which can help generate impacts from research
  • As we've blogged recently, more and more researchers are using Twitter to crowd-fund parts of their research. The benefits of additional funding are often dwarfed by the power of an effective crowd-funding campaign to reach out to new audiences about your research.


Why aren't you seeing these benefits?

So how do you get all these great impacts social media? Perhaps you've been on Twitter for months or even years now, and you've still got a small and very slow-growing following, which doesn't give you any of these benefits? If that's the case, then you've probably not been using Twitter strategically for impact. That's why we created these top tips.

We've drawn these tips from our experience managing three Twitter accounts in particular:

  • @fasttrackimpact - our own Twitter account, which arose from the knowledge exchange research we conducted in a UK Research Council funded project that concluded in 2012 (formerly @SustainLearning)
  • @IUCNpeat - a Twitter account which arose from the science side of the same research project. The IUCN's UK Peatland Programme pursued the legacy of the project and rather than starting its own Twitter account, given the overlap in audience, we re-branded @reluuplands as @IUCNpeat in 2015 
  • @seed_ball - a Twitter account for a product that arose from another research project, and grew into a global business supporting four staff within 2 years, marketed solely via Twitter.

 

Our Top Twitter Tips for Research Impact

Tweet yourself, your projects and your institution

In addition to your personal Twitter profile, consider opening accounts for some of your research groups or projects. Each of your research projects is likely to have a different focus, and you’re probably a member of more than one group or institution in your University that doesn’t have a Twitter account. A project Twitter account is an easy addition to your next “Pathways to Impact” statement when you’re applying for funding, and some sort of engagement with social media is increasingly expected by reviewers.

Next time you’re revising your website, why not consider adding buttons to enable readers to share what they’re reading via Twitter and other social media platforms?

Opening an institutional account will usually need to be a group decision. If everyone agrees, others can either send you material to tweet or you can give everyone the Twitter username and password to tweet themselves (if so, you’ll need to agree on the nature of material you want posted, or it may be easier to decide on the things you want to avoid). 

Open accounts for major research projects that will be going for a few years, and that you hope will have some form of successor project in future (so you’ve got time to build a following and don’t have too many accounts to manage). Again, the burden doesn’t have to be entirely yours – it can be delegated to a post-doc and shared with other team members. Other ideas you might want to consider:

  • Link to your Twitter feed from your project/institution homepage, and include the link in newsletters, presentations and consider putting it in your email signature
  • Every time you do a conference/workshop/seminar presentation, put your slides online (e.g. using SlideShare) and tweet them
  • Every time you get a paper published, tweet the link to the article on the publisher’s website (if it’s not open access, consider adding that you can send copies if need be). If you can get permission, upload a copy on ResearchGate or similar and tweet the link
  • Tweet quotes from speakers at conferences you attend, using the conference hashtag (make one up if there isn’t one), to connect with other delegates and make them aware of your work
  • Set up Science Direct (or something similar) and Google News and Google Scholar alerts for key words and authors that are particularly relevant to your work, so you can be the first to let your followers know about new developments linked to your shared interests
  • When you’ve got a tweet that’s of much wider, general interest, you can re-tweet it from your other project/institutional accounts, to reach a much larger audience than you could ever command from your personal account or one project

 

Don’t just wait for people to find you: actively promote your Twitter stream

There are some easy things you can do to promote your twitter stream, like including links on your homepage, project websites and in your email signature. But more active promotion of your Twitter feed can attract many more followers:

  • Make sure you’ve got an effective biography (consider including some popular and relevant hastags in it if possible) and enough really informative/useful (typically with a link to more information) tweets in your stream before actively marketing what you’re doing
  • Contact relevant people with large followings to ask if they can re-tweet key messages you’ve sent – tweet or Direct Message them via Twitter, and if that doesn’t work, find their email address via an internet search and email (or phone) them
  •  Use hashtags (#) to make your tweets visible to more people (e.g. #PhDchat) – notice which hashtags people you’re following are using, and use them. If you’re planning a Twitter campaign on a particular topic (e.g. linked to a new paper or policy brief), you could make up your own hashtag, but for it to work, others will need to use it, so you may want to work on getting a key tweet including your hashtag re-tweeted by others with larger followings
The way most people find out about other people on Twitter is when they get followed.

The way most people find out about other people on Twitter is when they get followed. Default settings send an email and mobile notification to a user when a new person starts following them (including their brief biography) – if they like what they read, chances are they will follow you. Twitter recommendations (on www.twitter.com) can be helpful, but it will only recommend a few people and recommendations are less so when you’re just starting out. If you log out of Twitter and search for your profile on the website, Twitter will list others who are similar to you on the basis of who they follow and who follows them, compared to you. But the best way to find others who may be interested in what you’re doing is to see who is following other users who are tweeting very similar things to you:

  • Who are the people you most frequently re-tweet? Who’s tweets are you most likely to follow links from? Go to these people’s profiles and see who’s following them, then systematically follow their followers
  • If you have time, try and be a bit selective – you can usually filter out the least relevant people from their username (e.g. don’t bother following companies that are clearly just following the person to try and get their custom)
  • Most people will decide whether or not to follow you based on the last three tweets you wrote, so before you start following lots of people strategically, make sure your last three tweets are representative of the sort of thing you tweet about, and among your best (e.g. look back through your historic tweets to see if there was something you wrote a few weeks or months ago that was popular, which you could tweet again)
  • If you’re following people who are following a specific Twitter account, make sure that one of your most recent three tweets is either a retweet from the account you’re targeting or a quoted re-tweet with your take on the story, so that followers instantly recognize that you’re tweeting about material they’re familiar with
  • Twitter monitors the ratio of people following you to the number of people you follow to stop spammers, so you will reach a limit beyond which you cannot follow anyone else. But don’t let that stop you getting the word out about what you’re doing. Unlike Facebook, it is common and acceptable to unfollow users (they won’t be notified that you unfollowed them) to free up room to follow others. If possible, unfollow the people who you’ve been following for longest who have not followed you back (they will be least worried if they do work out that you unfollowed them). Tools like ManageFlitter can make strategic unfollowing very quick and easy

One problem with this approach is that you’ll no longer be able to use this account to follow tweets the people you’re most interested in learning from (as they’ll be lost in the noise of all the other tweets from people you just wanted to know you existed). To ensure you can still use Twitter to gather information from those you’re most interested in, either make sure you only market your project or institutional Twitter accounts in this way, or set up a “personal” Twitter account where you follow those you’re most interested in and a “work” Twitter account that follows many more people, where you put out most (if not all) of your tweets. Lists can also be useful for this – set up a list of users who tweet in different areas so you can look at a more selective timeline of tweets that interest you

 

Work on your signal-noise ratio

Most people will follow you because they share your core interests (your “signal”), but they will rapidly lose interest if too many of your tweets are not relevant to these interests (effectively “noise” they have to filter out when scanning through their timeline)

As an academic, you need to build your reputation in your chosen field. Twitter can help you reach a network of highly relevant academics, as well as potential users of your research, and make them aware of your work. To do this effectively, you need to decide what it is that you want to be “known” for, and then work on building your reputation in that area. Most people will follow you because they share your core interests (your “signal”), but they will rapidly lose interest if too many of your tweets are not relevant to these interests (effectively “noise” they have to filter out when scanning through their timeline):

  • Consider how useful and relevant each tweet is before sending it, to increase the likelihood that your followers find your tweets useful and keep following you
  • Ensure the majority of your tweets have hyperlinks to further information
  • Provide an image (or video) to accompany your tweets where possible (research by Twitter shows that tweets with images are re-tweeted 35% more than text-only tweets and videos give a 28% uplift). Bear in mind that some web links automatically generate an accompanying image (e.g. many blogs, newspaper sites and video sites automatically generate an image, title and first line of the article below your tweet once it has been sent)
  • Avoid sending too many tweets and re-tweets at a time – if you’re at a conference and tweeting every couple of minutes, followers who aren’t interested in the conference are likely to get fed up of you dominating their timeline on a single narrow issue and unfollow you
  • Avoid using too many acronyms and abbreviations in your tweets – they may make sense to you but many people reading fast will simply skim over your tweet if they don’t understand you instantly. Better to say less in complete words than to try and cram too much in, if it means you resort to acronyms and abbreviations
  • If you’re increasingly tweeting about things that are very different to your core interests, consider setting up a new Twitter stream devoted to that issue/interest
  • If you’re tweeting from a project or institutional account, try not to mix work and personal tweets. Remember you’re tweeting on behalf of a group, so telling people about what you’re doing on holiday is going to sound a bit strange (either your institution appears to be on holiday or it becomes clear that the Twitter stream is really only about one person (who’s on holiday) and not the whole group). If you do want to mix personal and work tweets (some commentators suggest this can help build rapport with your followers), make sure your biography clearly states the name of the person tweeting on behalf of the project or organisation
  • Delete conversations once they’re finished. One of the great strengths of Twitter is the capacity to join in conversations about your research and other people’s work. However, people are less likely to follow you if they look through your timeline and can’t find information-rich, relevant material easily because it is cluttered up with lots of conversation. Particularly if you’re about to strategically follow a lot of people, make sure you delete all recent replies from your timeline (assuming the conversations are over), so that they can easily see your material and are more likely to follow you

It is also worth working on the signal:noise ratio in those you follow – if you find that you’ve started automatically skimming or skipping tweets by certain people, chances are they rarely have anything particularly relevant/useful to say – unfollow them and reduce the amount of noise you have to trawl through.

 

Get your timing right

Linking to an ongoing news story or debate can really get your research attention

Because of the way Twitter works, most people only read a fraction of the tweets in their timeline, so if you're tweeting on a day and time that none of your audience are reading their timelines, you could be tweeting into the void. Timing is also about linking to the issues of the day - reframing to link into an ongoing news story or debate can really get your research some attention:

  • Link your tweets to ongoing events in academia and the news, using linked hashtags where relevant
  •  If you’ve got a lot to say, don’t tweet in bursts; rather spread your tweets through the day, using something like HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) to automatically schedule your tweets (so you don’t have to keep interrupting your day). Someone who only logs into Twitter at the end of the day may not get to the three tweets you put out at 8 am, but will probably get at least one of the ones that were scheduled for the afternoon. Warning: your friends might think you have super-human powers when they discover you're tweeting while lecturing or speaking at a conference (many people actually schedule conference tweets in advance, based on the programme timings)
  • Get to know when your followers are most likely to read your tweets. The time of day you’re most likely to get retweets and other engagement from academics is 7-9 am and 5-7 pm on week days, before/after and during the commute to/from work. Tweeting between 8-9 am is particularly effective. There is often a quite different audience of academics reading tweets at the weekend to these week-day times, so it is worth repeating key messages from the week at the weekend. Similarly, if you come across some great work-related material over the weekend, remember to re-use it later in the week when different people are more likely to pick it up
  • Repeat key tweets at different times the following days – if you have a newsletter, set HootSuite to tweet a headline per day with the link to your newsletter PDF
  • Have a relatively constant presence if you can – if you only have time to log on once a day or once a week, schedule your tweets to spread them through the day or week


Use Twitter as part of a wider social media and communications strategy

Set goals for your use of Twitter, come up with a strategy to meet them and monitor your progress

Twitter is just one of many social media platforms, so consider putting your material out via other platforms too, and remember that people who might use your research aren't always using social media, so you're going to want to think about other ways of reaching out to your audiences:

  • Come up with a properly thought-through social media strategy as part of a wider communications strategy for your research, whether as an individual, a project or an institution – what are you trying to achieve through communication? Why are you using social media? Set your goals, come up with a strategy to meet them and monitor your progress
  • Everyone has different learning preferences (some like to read, others to listen, watch or do) and everyone has different preferences for the media through which they want to learn. Therefore, try and adapt your research for as many different learning preferences as possible, via as many different media as you have time to engage with. Also tweet links to different types of media – press releases, videos, journal articles, photos etc
  • Adapt your approach to each platform, rather than just linking Twitter to your Facebook account. Effective use of Twitter involves re-sending key tweets a few times, which is likely to annoy friends on Facebook or colleagues on LinkedIn. Instead, consider setting up a Facebook group for your project or institution, and just putting material there. Alternatively, use the Selective Tweets app on Facebook and choose which tweets you want to appear on Facebook by putting #fb at the end of your tweet. 
  • Remember that social media is just one form of communication, and that there will be many who are interested in your work who are not using these technologies. Keep up your project newsletter – printing and posting where relevant (but still tweeting the link to the PDF, hosted somewhere you can count hits like ScribdResearchGate or ISSUU). Keep presenting at conferences and running workshops for the end users of your research (of course tweeting videos of what you do on You Tube and putting your presentations on SlideShare)

 

Constantly refine your practice

Watch how other academics, projects or institutions with large followings tweet:

  • Learn good practice from others, and experiment yourself
  • Take note when something annoys you about the way other people use Twitter and avoid doing that yourself

Monitor and learn from your successes and flops:

  • Which of your tweets are most likely to get re-tweeted? Which tweets don’t get re-tweeted? What do they have in common, and what can you learn from this? How were you using Twitter on the day you got 10 new followers?
  • Put (open access) documents that you cite on Twitter in places where you can count hits – which tweets make people click on the link (and presumably read your document), and which ones fall flat? What can you learn from this?
  • Experiment with different headlines in Twitter to see which ones work best – try and reframe your point and tweet it again later that day, and see if you have more success
  • Read through the material you’re tweeting and find quotes you can use to promote the link in a slightly different way – sometimes one of these quotes really takes off, far more effectively than the headline. If you’re tweeting a blog you wrote, then you might want to consider re-titling the blog at this point!

 

Remember it’s all about relationships

Don’t forget twitter is about communicating and building a relationship with people and not just marketing your own or institutions work at them. So, remember to check other similar institutions/academics tweets and respond to those that are interesting. As an academic, Twitter allows your work to reach a much wider audience and also enables more discussion of your work with others who may put it into practice.

Also, as with any other social setting there is “Twitter Etiquette”, for example: thank anyone who answers you directly or tweets about your work; and always give credit where it’s due. If someone gave you the information credit him or her with it, either by using via @person1 (if they are a twitter user) or as a quote in text.

 

Should research(ers) get emotional?

Posted by sustainable on July 22, 2013

Many researchers prize their objectivity and detached independence, and recoil in horror from the idea of displaying emotion in their work. In a world of politics, where emotion is often used to bias decisions away from the evidence, do we need to be ever more rigorous in our detachment from emotion? Or do we need to start harnessing the power of emotion, to deliver the evidence we generate as powerfully as possible to the people who are making the decisions?

The simple (but perhaps simplistic) answer is to separate the generation of evidence from the communication of evidence. In our quest for new knowledge about how the world works, many argue that we should always strive for independence and objectivity. But how we communicate what we find is another story – communicated with passion and unwavering conviction, we can make evidence compelling.

Positive, effectively channeled emotion gets people’s attention – it makes people sit up and take notice. Through emotion, we can connect with our audience and engender empathy. We have little control over whether decision-makers will act on the evidence we present to them or not. But by engaging with both hearts and minds, we increase the likelihood that our audience is really listening, and actively considering how our evidence fits with the other evidence they have access to, their goals and their worldview.

 

Positive and channeled

There are of course caveats, which I have already alluded to. Decision-makers are more likely to respond to positive emotion than they are to anger, or doom and gloom predictions. For example, there is evidence that decision-makers are less receptive to messages about the value of nature if these messages are perceived as threatening their psychological needs of autonomy (e.g. because they feel manipulated or coerced), happiness (e.g. environmental campaigns based on fear), reputation (e.g. because they feel implicitly criticised or patronised) and self-esteem (e.g. because they start to feel responsible for or guilty about environmental degradation). On the other hand, enthusiasm is infectious. Presenting our evidence with passion and crafting our arguments to meet the innate psychological needs of our audience is more likely to get people to listen, even if they don’t act on what they hear.

As experts, we hold a privileged position of authority, which is likely to be a key factor in getting us an audience with decision-makers in the first place. Retaining that credibility is essential, and so it is important to carefully channel our emotions. No matter how positive our emotional input may be, if we go over the top with our enthusiasm, we may loose credibility. For me this is about never forgetting to choose our words with the utmost care. This may mean lengthy preparation or just slowing ourselves down to pick our words carefully. But if everything we say is measured and supported by the evidence we have collected, then imbuing those words with genuine passion can have a powerful effect.

 

Is all research emotional?

Implicit in everything I’ve said so far, is the idea that the evidence itself is unquestionable; the question is only whether we as researchers should use emotion to communicate that evidence. But there are many researchers who would challenge the idea that research is (or can ever be) entirely independent, emotionally detached and objective. This sort of researcher often values subjectivity and seeks to explicitly recognisise the sub-conscious biases and norms that often frame supposedly objective and independent research.

This tension between objectivity and subjectivity is particularly acute in conservation research, where ecologists and environmental researchers often frame their research within a set of implicit normative assumptions about the value of species and habitats, which are often at variance to the norms and assumptions of other groups within society, who may for example value human and economic development over the environment. If these biases and assumptions are made explicit, then environmental researchers may be seen as advocates for the environment, who frame and use research to support their normative goals of environmental protection and enhancement.

There is of course nothing wrong with this. But if we recognize that this is just one strand of evidence feeding into what are usually political decision-making processes, then we can begin to explore the subjectivity inherent in many of the processes we use to generate “evidence”, and can become less detached and more emotionally engaged in the normative goals that pervade our work.

 

Becoming more emotionally engaged in our research: a role for the creative arts?

There must be many ways that we can become more emotionally engaged in the research process and in the communication of our research. But one mechanism I’ve been considering, is working with the creative arts. Working with artists who share our goals may enable us as researchers to engage audiences in our work at both an academic and an emotional level. This is not to say that we should overstate or stray from the evidence we have collected. But it is a plea to make our normative assumptions and goals explicit, and state them with passion and conviction. Working with artists in collaborative projects, it may be possible to engage emotionally with our audiences and interpret evidence in ways that are not just understandable, but in ways that can convict audiences and spur them to action.

Although not common, serious collaborations between researchers and artists are happening more and more. Many researchers and artists share a desire to discover new insights about the world we live in and to change the way that others look at the world. On the surface, our methods are often very different, but both researchers and artists share a love for experimentation and the critical interpretation of what emerges from that process. By bringing researchers and artists together as equals in interdisciplinary teams, it may be possible to draw upon and combine very different sources of knowledge, and to derive new insights that could not have occurred as a result of either group working in isolation.

In many collaborations between researchers and artists, the artist is relegated to the role of interpreter, translator or communicator, taking research findings and communicating them to a wider public. Although this is a valuable role, it is only part of the role that the arts can play in collaborations with researchers. In the right environment, artists and researchers can coproduce new insights that have the potential to change the way we look at the world.

 

Influential or manipulative?

I’m sure much of what I have said will sit uneasily with many people. Do two wrongs make a right? Just because smoking lobbyists and campaigners use emotion to manipulate decision-making processes, does that mean we should join them and use the same tactics ourselves as researchers? We would of course say that our motives are pure – we are just trying to communicate the evidence, rather than any ulterior motive. But if we use emotion, then aren’t we being just as manipulative?

For me, the difference between someone who is manipulative and someone who is influential, depends on their motives and the level of coercion they are prepared to employ. If we have the best interests of the decision-maker in mind and are seeking to help them make a voluntary decision that they perceive is right for them and for those in their sphere of influence, then we are seeking to influence. If on the other hand, we are seeking a decision that would be in our interests and against the interests of the decision-maker and those in their sphere of influence, and we are prepared to coerce them into that decision, no matter how subtly, then the chances are that we’re seeking to manipulate.

Emotions may be used to influence and to manipulate, and the distinction between these two modes of operation may at times be fuzzy. The simplest solution is to avoid all emotion – play safe and retain our position of credibility aloof from the real world. Engaging with emotion in our research is the riskier option. But if done effectively, I believe it has the potential to make our research truly influential.

Thanks to Alister Scott @bcualisterscott, Professor of Environmental Spatial Planning at Birmingham City University, Andrew Dawes @Wessex_Reiver, producer for Radio 4 wildlife programmes and Anand BS @ABSabyss Senior Manager at Genome Life Sciences for discussion via Twitter that helped shaped this blog post – I doubt you’ll agree with everything I’ve written but I’ll look forward to the debate @SustainLearning.

Mark is a Professor of Interdisciplinary Environmental Research at the Centre for Environment & Society ResearchBirmingham School of the Built Environment, Birmingham City University. Find out more about Mark’s work here: www.markreed.webeden.co.uk. You can read more blogs by Mark and you can follow him on Twitter.