A guide for using twitter to maximize engagement and accessibility of research knowledge

A guide for using twitter to maximize engagement and accessibility of research knowledge
Impact of Social Sciences
Maximizing the impact of academic research
Using Twitter in university
research, teaching and
impact activities
A guide for academics and
Amy Mollett, Danielle Moran and Patrick Dunleavy
Twitter is a form of free micro-blogging which allows users to send and receive short public
messages called tweets. Tweets are limited to no more than 140 characters, and can include
links to blogs, web pages, images, videos and all other material online. You can start tweeting in
10 minutes, anytime, from your computer, smart phone or tablet.
By following other people and sources you are able to build up an instant, personalized
Twitter feed that meets your full range of interests, both academic and personal. Thousands of
academics and researchers at all levels of experience and across all disciplines already use
Twitter daily, alongside more than 200 million other users.
Yet how can such a brief medium have any relevance to universities and academia, where
journal articles are 3,000 to 8,000 words long, and where books contain 80,000 words? Can
anything of academic value ever be said in just 140 characters?
This guide answers these questions, showing you how to get started on Twitter and showing you
how Twitter can be used as a resource for research, teaching and impact activities.
© LSE Public Policy Group 2011
Setting up your Twitter account
1. Go to www.twitter.com/signup
2. Enter your name, email address and a memorable password. Choose a username which makes you easily identifiable to others. Some academics include their academic
title in their username, but this is down to personal choice. See our lists of academic tweeters, broken down by discipline, to see
user names chosen by other academics.
3. Click ‘Create my account’, and your account is live. Now move through the steps below
to flesh out your account and start tweeting. Depending on whether you use a PC, a smart
phone, or a tablet to access Twitter, the home page and set up may differ slightly to the PC
version described here, but all the tips and other information can be put into practice across the
different versions.
Define some details for your account that will identify you if it is an individual account, or your
department or research project if it is a group one. You have 160 characters to give a very brief,
interesting description that will make people want to follow you, so choose carefully.
Include your experience and research interests, your teaching or research role, university or
organization, and if you have your own blog you can include the web address. Add a clear and
bright photo so that others can recognise you or your project. All of these details can be changed
instantly any time.
Start following other users
Who you follow defines the ever-changing Twitter feed you will see every time you log in. It is
surprisingly easy to populate the feed quickly from several sources. Use the Search box to look
for friends or colleagues on Twitter. See who they are following by clicking on their profile, and
then clicking on ‘Following’. You’re very likely to find someone you want to follow in their lists
too. If you are starting a department or research Twitter account, look for other departments or
projects in your university, or in your profession.
Twitter is intuitive and will suggest a ‘Who To Follow’ list where you
may see people you like, or corporate sources with interesting tweets.
You can find your personalized list at the top of the Twitter homepage,
which changes regularly depending on who you follow.
Keyword searches can be helpful if you are unsure who to follow.
Use the search bar at the top of any page to do searches for terms
such as ‘professor’, ‘historian’, etc. Don’t be afraid of following people
you don’t know - you can always un-follow them later.
Twitter is also very reciprocal and you will soon find that your own
follower numbers grow with not too much effort at all. The next page is
a list of terminology that you might find useful.
Useful Twitter terminology
Who to follow
Retweet or RT
Direct Message
or DM
Following another user means that all their tweets will appear in your feed.
Click on their user name, and their profile will appear on the right of your
screen, with a bright green Follow button. Just click this to follow.
This is a list of Twitter’s suggestions of people or organizations that you
might want to follow, based on points of similarity with your profile. Scroll
down the list and click the green Follow button next to anyone you want to.
To stop seeing someone else’s tweets, go to your following list and find
the person you want to stop following and hover the cursor over the green
Following button until it is replaced by the red Unfollow button, then click.
From time to time a spammer or other unsavoury character may appear in
your Followers list. Click the head and shoulders icon next to the unwanted
follower’s name so that the ‘Block [their name]’ option appears – click this
and they will be removed from your Followers list.
For any form of spammer or malware user it’s a good idea to click also
‘Report [their name] for spam’ so as to limit their capacity to annoy others.
You should look at and weed out your ‘Followers’ list regularly. Twitter shows
the new followers at the top of the list.
To share somebody else’s tweet that you have seen in your feed, hover
above it and select retweet. It then goes to all your followers, with a small
arrow icon, which shows others that this wasn’t originally your tweet.
To respond to somebody else’s tweet, hover over it and select the Reply
option, which will then appear in their @Mentions column. They may also
reply to you, so check your @Mentions column.
Used in tweets when you want to mention another user. Also the first part of
every Twitter user name – for example @LSEimpactblog
Check your @Mentions column to see when others have mentioned you.
Hashtag – used to categorize tweets. Popular topics are referred to as
trending topics and are sometimes accompanied by hashtags, such as
#london2012 #davidwilletts. Click on any of them listed on the home page
and you’ll see a list of related tweets from many different users. Including
popular hashtags that are already in use in a tweet may attract more
Hashtags are also used as part of ‘backchannel’ communication around
an event, be it a conference, a TV programme or a global event. An event
audience can share comments, questions and links with each other while
continuing to follow the formal presentation.
These are private messages that you can send to other Twitter users. Click
the Message menu at the top of the home page.
Given that a typical web address is rather long and clumsy, free URL
shortening sites such as bitly.com and tinyurl.com provide shorter links
which you can paste into tweets. Simply copy the web address of the page
that you’d like to share, paste it into the box on either site, and you will be
given a short link which will re-direct anybody who clicks on it back to the
original page you want to share.
Tweeting styles
Once you are happy with your profile, understanding the three tweeting styles is next.
Substantive tweets are written in complete sentences, and are always intelligible on their
own. This style can appear formal or corporate so is often used by large organisations or news
outlets, such as @guardiannews.
guardiannews Guardian news
Phone hacking: Durham police called in to
review evidence gu.com/p/32v77/tf
The final part of the tweet gu.com/p/32v77/tf is a shortened URL, used instead of a long link
which would take up too many characters. Links in the form of shortened URLs to news stories
will tend to appear at the end of the tweet.
This style is suitable for teaching-based use and for Twitter accounts linked to blogs, as well as
official department accounts. For individual academics this style may seem uptight, but is more
suitable for senior academics already known for their research intensive careers.
The conversational style is much more fragmented and relaxed, the opposite to the
substantive style, with users sharing stories from a variety of sources, engaging in conversation
with others, and making more use of abbreviations. The content is eclectic and covers
professional and personal interests, so is popular with individual tweeters from all backgrounds.
stephenfry Stephen Fry
On my way to Jonathan Ross studio now.
Spilled marmalade on my Garrick Club tie.
This style will be a comfortable fit with younger academics, and the personalized element can
help students to empathize with tutors if used for a teaching-based account. The style can work
well for blogs which thrive on comments and interaction, although is problematic for department
A middle ground or compromise style is feasible and is widely used in academia. Many thinktanks, blogs, magazines, and companies also adopt this style of tweeting, as it takes the best of
the substantive and conversational styles. Again, this tweet ends with a shortened URL.
LSEImpactBlog LSEImpactBlog
Read now: ‘Group academic letters are more
about who’s signing them‘ tinyurl.com/6xtfusf
This style conveys personality well without being too informal, and is a good fit for a smaller
academic department. However, ‘control anxieties’ or internal rivalries can complicate its use in
large departments, and it is not really suitable for whole-university level.
The table overleaf shows the pros and cons of each tweeting style in more detail.
Tweeting styles
- Tweet is always in full
- Few abbreviations are used,
except for shortened URLs
- Must be independently
- Normally each tweet is the
headline or ‘taster’ for a blog
post, web article or other
longer piece of text
- Focus is consistent and
solely professional or singletopic
- The team producing tweets
often remains invisible
- Always make sense
to all readers
- Especially
accessible when
viewed in a
combined stream of
many tweets from
different authors
- Attracts followers
with well-defined
- No conversational
element, so can
appear corporate
and impersonal
- Hence may turn
off some potential
- Takes a
professional skill to
always write crisply
and substantively
- Most or many tweets are
fragments from an ongoing
conversation with followers
- or thoughts from many
different aspects of tweeter’s
- Content is eclectic, drawing
on professional interests
but also on personal life,
commenting on current
events, etc. and so covers
diverse topics
- Includes author photograph
- Conveys personality
well for individuals,
or organisational
culture for collective
- Attracts people who
like this personality
or culture (usually
- Good at building
‘community’ and
identification with site
- Some tweets only
make sense to those
who are involved in
their conversation
- Very hard to follow
in a Twitter feed
from many different
- With eclectic
contents many
followers may not
value many of the
- Hence incentives
for some folk to
unfollow over time
Middle ground
- Most tweets are substantive
as above but some are short
and conversational
- Goes beyond a ‘corporate’
focus without being too
- Uses retweets to diversify/
liven up the tweet stream
- Uses team photos, and the
blog site or website identifies
team members well
- Injects more
personality or
culture into a
basically professional
- Most tweets are
- Some
tweets will not make
sense when read
in combined tweet
Building up your followers
Whether you’re using Twitter as an individual or for a group project, tweeting regularly will ensure
that you regularly attract new followers.
Collective accounts for departments, research projects, and multi-author blogs are the easiest
to keep active because there is a constant stream of news and information to tweet about.
It is perfectly legitimate to repeat tweets in a rephrased form throughout the day, as not all of
your followers will be paying attention all the time.
Individuals might want to decide how often they want to tweet and try to stick to that, once
a day is the perfect starting point. The speedy and concise tweets will become a part of your
routine and you’ll realise that you’ve become a regular tweeter. Try to send out tweets at a
time of day when most people may be looking out for them, usually 10-11am, or 2-3pm for UK
readers, but bear in mind that international readers will access at different times.
Individual tweeters rarely repeat tweets, but some respond to comments in ways that help direct
attention to the original tweet. Also learn lessons from which style of tweet works best for your
audience. Which get retweeted or bring in most readers for your blog or research papers?
Updates from special events (like seminars, conferences, research trips) can be interesting
for your followers. Departments, projects and professional bodies can use also conferences and
events to tweet more often. Aim to provide those who could not come in person with details of
what is going on, commentary or gossip, links to podcasts or webcasts of the conference, details
of where to download papers, and so on.
Many conferences now assign a Twitter hashtag (#) to their event. Using the main search bar
you could do a search for the relevant hashtag, then scroll through the results to see who else is
attending and is worth trying to talk to at the end. Others will be flattered that you’ve seen their
tweets, and will no doubt have tips to exchange.
Following other users is an important reciprocal means of growing your followers. If you
consider following someone, look through their tweets first to make sure, because being a
follower is a kind of endorsement. If you follow them, they are likely to follow you.
Promote your Twitter profile through your email signature, business card, blog posts and
presentations, and encourage others to contact you this way if it is appropriate.
Being careful with Twitter
It is important for all those in the public eye to manage their online
reputation. Academics and researchers still need to bear in mind the
importance of not broadcasting views on Twitter that could radically
backfire with their employers, colleagues, students and other
university stakeholders. Remember, all tweets are public unless you
change your settings.
It is best not to tweet if you’re feeling ratty late at night and never
when drunk either! If you do happen to tweet anything you regret, you
can find the delete button if you run your
mouse over the offending tweet.
Using Twitter for research projects
A Twitter operation can add extra value to almost any research project in several ways.
Tweet about each new publication, website update or new blog that the project completes. To
gauge feedback, you could send a tweet that links to your research blog and ask your followers
for their feedback and comments.
For tweeting to work well, always make sure that an open-web full version or summary of every
publication, conference presentation or talk at an event is available online. Summarize every
article published in closed-web journal on a blog, or lodge an extended summary on your
university’s online research depository. In addition, sites like www.scribd.com are useful for
depositing open web versions.
Tweet about new developments of interest from the project’s point of view, for instance, relevant
government policy changes, think tank reports, or journal articles.
Use hashtags (#) to make your materials more visible – e.g. #phdchat. Don’t be afraid to start
your own.
Use your tweets to cover developments at other related research sites, retweeting interesting
new material that they produce. This may appear to some as ‘helping the competition’, but in
most research areas the key problem is to get more attention for the area as a whole. Building up
a Twitter network of reciprocating research projects can help everyone to keep up to date more
easily, improve the standard and pace of debate, and so attract more attention (and funding) into
the research area.
Twitter provides many opportunities for ‘crowd sourcing’ research activities across the
sciences, social sciences, history and literature – by getting people to help with gathering
information, making observations, undertaking data analysis, transcribing and editing documents
– all done just for the love of it. Some researchers have also used Twitter to help ‘crowdsource’
research funding from interested public bodies. You can read more about crowdsourcing at the
LSE Impact blog.
Reaching out to external audiences is something that Twitter is exceptionally good for. Making
links with practitioners in business, government, and public policy can happen easily. Twitter’s
brevity, accessibility and immediacy are all very appealing to non-academics.
At the end of each month, Twitter can be used as a painless metric
to assess how your tweeting is working for you and your project.
Showing the growth in your followers and the number of people who
read your research blog can also be helpful for funding applications.
You could make short notes on the following:
• The number of followers you have
• The names of those who could be useful for future collaboration
• Invitations to write blog posts or speak at events, which have come
via Twitter
• Number of hits to your own blog posts via Twitter
Read more about creating an impact file at the LSE Impact blog.
Using Twitter in departments
All of the above points also apply to using Twitter for university departments. But in addition,
there are other plus points.
Departments have regular outside speakers and events going on. Twitter is great for alerting
people to details of talks, seminars, guest lectures and parties. Add in tweets of highlights from
people who are there and ‘the place to be’ factor is strengthened.
Many large departments are sub-divided into groups that may not keep close tabs on what
each bit is doing, or on developments in neighbouring departments. Again, Twitter’s brevity and
immediacy is great at fostering internal communication.
A Twitter feed is also great for reaching students, PhD students, and part-time researchers, often
the groups that are last to know about events they could attend.
Don’t try to combine departmental administrative alerts (e.g. about essay or exam deadlines)
into a single departmental Twitter stream. It is best to run those through separate teaching
Using Twitter alongside blogging
The synergies here are very strong, especially for multi-author blogs updated frequently. Make
sure that every page of your blog includes a visible Twitter logo (usually grouped with Facebook
and RSS logos), and tweet about every new blog that you post, perhaps two or three times
over a few hours with somewhat different phrasing. Popular items, or older blogs which become
topical because of new developments, often merit ‘reminder’ tweets.
It is a good idea to use substantive narrative titles for your blogs that give a condensed summary
of the argument. These can then be reused as the main tweet text, along with a shortened URL.
You could also use Twitter to source guest blog posts from your followers. Doing this regularly
will grow your followers and interest in your project.
If you are new to blogging
and would like to learn more
about how others have used it
as part of a larger
communication strategy, head
to the LSE Impact Blog.
Downloadable resources and a
wide selection of useful guest
posts, including this one by
Stephen Curry on the role
blogging has played in
increasing the impact of his
research, are all available.
Using Twitter in teaching
Course twitter accounts
You could consider setting up a separate Twitter account for each course or programme, i.e.
a feed that is different from your personal Twitter feed. This will give you a finite, maximum
audience size, namely the relevant student group, all with similar needs and priorities. Choose a
username which includes the name of the class or the course code, such as
@LSEGV101 or @GovernmentClass101.
Use regular tweets to give advice on each week’s tasks, reading or problems, aiming for a
conversational style that will support students. Congratulate people who do good presentations
and whole groups for having good debates or making progress on tough problems or
experiments. Use Twitter to take up questions raised by students in seminars or classes and to
point to extra answers or literature.
You need to try and get all students to become followers, or equity considerations may arise. If
some students don’t want to set up Twitter accounts, you must make arrangements for all tweets
to display as an RSS feed in virtual learning environments such as Blackboard or Moodle.
If you use Moodle or Blackboard, you can add a feed using a ready made widget. This helps
to keep students up to date when they log in, and hopefully also demonstrates the links between
what they are doing and external activities and user groups.
To add a widget:
1. Choose from one of three widgets at the Twitter Resources page, at http://twitter.com/about/
Use the Profile widget to display your own tweets, the Search widget to display a hashtag, or
the List widget to display tweets from a group of Twitter users.
2. Customise the widget with various colour settings. Use ‘Test Settings’ button to preview.
3. Use ‘Finish and Grab Code’ Button then copy the code.
4. In Moodle add an HTML Block
5. Switch to the <> view and paste the code, saving the changes.
Engaging with PhD students will help keep you on your students’ radar. It will enable
them to follow updates in your research and workload, and expose them to your newer work
which they may be unaware of. This will enable them to judge your schedule better and help
them to understand why you have not yet responded to their email. Twitter provides ongoing
communication which can serve to reassure both parties that the other is interested and
engaged in their work. The space for continuous, brief debate that Twitter allows could make a
difference to the research produced by both teacher and student.
Postgraduate and Master students are only based on campus for a short time (at most
two calendar years) and can miss out on developing their interests and relationships with
supervisors or lecturers. A quick and simple way of keeping in regular contact with students, and
alerting those interested in your work, is by sending regular tweets.
Academics on Twitter
In the run up to launching this guide, we asked
our followers to recommend their favourite
tweeting academics. Over 700 suggestions have
come in since September 2011, covering:
the social sciences
humanities and arts
STEM subjects
media and journalism, and
higher education resources
Click through to each list above, or see the lists
in full on the LSE Impact Blog.
Related blog posts
• Dunning, Alastair, 2011. Innovative use of crowdsourcing technology
presents novel prospects for research to interact with much larger audiences, and much more
effectively than ever before. LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog. Published 25th August
2011. Available at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2011/08/25/innovative-use-ofcrowdsourcing/
• Quinnell, Sarah-Louise, 2011. The use of social media in higher education can be a
positive step towards bridging the digital divide, but it is not a fail-safe measure. LSE Impact
of Social Sciences blog. Published 1st August 2011. Available at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/
• Curry, Stephen, 2011. There are no easy answers to the problem of determining impact,
but blogging is here to help. LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog. Published 21st June 2011.
Available at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2011/06/21/there-are-no-easy-answersto-the-problem-of-determining-impact-but-blogging-is-here/
Guides and articles we recommend
• Miah, Andy, 2010. Best Top 10 tips for using Twitter. AndyMiah.net Published 31st July 2010.
Available at http://www.andymiah.net/2010/07/31/the-best-top-10-tips-for-using-twitter/
• Reed, Mark & Evely, Anna, 2011. Top Twitter Tips for Academics. Living With Environmental
Change. Available at http://www.lwec.org.uk/sites/default/files/TwitterTips.pdf
• Kietzmann, J.H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I.P., & Silvestre, B.S. (2011) Social media? Get
serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54,
• Mandavilli, A. (2011) Trial by Twitter. Nature, 469, 286-287.
• Java, A., Song, X., Finin, T., and Tseng, B. (2007) Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging
Usage and Communities. Proceedings of the Joint 9th WEBKDD and 1st SNA-KDD Workshop
The Impact of Social Sciences Project
The Impact of Social Sciences is a joint project between the London School of Economics and Political Science,
Imperial College London, and the University of Leeds that aims to investigate the impact of academic work in the social
sciences on government and policymaking, business and civil society.
The project, funded by HEFCE, aims to demonstrate how academic research in the social sciences achieves public
policy impacts, contributes to economic prosperity and informs public understanding of policy issues and economic and
social changes.
Our first publication is Maximizing the Impacts of your Research: A Handbook for Social Scientists. It aims to discuss
impact in theoretical terms but also offer tips, best practice, and advice on measuring and increasing your own impact.
The handbook is available to download for free on the Impact of Social Sciences blog.
The blog is the main site for disseminating the research findings from any of the partners working on the project, as well
as our publications such as the handbook. It is updated daily with news articles and comment pieces on impact in the
UK and abroad.
About LSE Public Policy Group (PPG)
PPG undertakes pure and applied research, policy evaluation and consultancy for government bodies, international
organizations and major corporations active in the fields of public sector innovation and productivity, citizen redress,
policy evaluation, public engagement, budgeting and audit, and e-government, survey and focus group research, public
opinion, and the design of election systems.
Jane Tinkler, LSE Public Policy Group, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London
Email: [email protected]
Tel: (020) 7955 6064
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First edition: September 2011.
© LSE Public Policy Group 2011
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