Purposefully Procrastinating on Twitter

No one works at full speed 100% of the time.

Sometimes we are tired and we just want to spend some time browsing social network; and there is nothing wrong with it!

However, when procrastinating online, try do so on Twitter. Indeed, Twitter could be a valuable tool to expose your work as a researcher (while also connecting you with your international community).

Twitter is a micro-blogging social network. Twitter users could send a short message of at most 280 characters (known as a tweet).

Twitter is more interactive than a traditional blog. Anyone can jump in and comment on a tweet, which often leads to conversations (known as a thread).

The main Twitter feature is the “feed’’, which is the most recent tweets made by your following users. Similarly, your tweets also appear in your followers’ feed. The more users you follow, the more dynamic your feed is. The more followers you have, higher is your reach.

Unlike other social networks, such as Facebook, in which you are supposed to follow your friends (or someone you already know), on Twitter, you don’t have this notion of friendship (at least it is not crystal clear). Instead, we could follow anyone based on your interests. This creates a new set of connections and opportunities.

Here I distill some tips that I think might contribute to your online research profile.

Build a professional profile

Since Twitter could help to disseminate work, you might have to treat Twitter as work as well. In the same way that you spent some time to get dressed to go to work, you should invest some time in building a professional profile on Twitter. What does it mean?

First, put your name and upload a nice photo. I have seen many Twitter profiles without a real name. Twitter also has a default avatar for those that did not upload a photos If you have neither a name nor a picture, you are not a user; you are a bot.

Second, write down a rather brief bio; More interesting, however, is to mention what do you tweet about. Thus, your potential followers might know what expect by following you. If #hashtags make sense, feel free to use them. If your website is already up and running, link it to your profile. Don’t forget to upload the header photo (the picture highlighted behind your profile’s photo), but don’t upload a random image. Upload something that users can relate to you. It could be a photo of you giving a talk, a picture of your lab, a view of your city, etc.

My twitter profile (@gustavopinto)

Third, pin a tweet. A pinned tweet is a tweet that will appear at the beginning of your profile so that everyone who opens your profile can see this tweet first. You could see your pinned tweet as an extension of your profile. Let’s say you made a tweet that was important for you (e.g., get a paper accepted, get a new job, get a new grant, etc.), and you want it on your profile’s front page. Just pin it.

My pinned tweet

People will only listen to you if you show some credibility. Some people have a lot of credibility outside Twitter. When they join Twitter, their credibility follows them (meaning thousands of new followers overnight). But if you are still building your credibility (online and offline), your profile is your online credibility.

Promote your work

Twitter is not a place to be shy. You are the best advocate for your work, and self-promotion is a proven way to drive research dissemination.’

Let’s say you have a research paper accepted, and you are eager to share the news with the world. This is a timely opportunity to promote what you have achieved to your followers. But remember that a tweet has at most 280 characters; therefore, it may be challenging to describe your whole paper (motivation, method, results, etc.) in a single tweet. Instead, focus on the central message of your study. What is your tweetable finding?

Give a reason for your followers to read your paper. Just saying that you had a paper accepted may not motivate your followers to read your work. Try your best to summarize your manuscript (i.e, finding the tweetable finding). After summarizing the principal findings, it is also a good idea to provide a link to a preprint so that your followers could read the full report. Please, do not link to a paywalled site; give the readers your full text without barriers. If one tweet is not enough, it is also fine to create a thread with two, three, four tweets. But don’t go overlong. Twitter is not a blog, and Twitter users know and expect it.

Moreover, Twitter allows one to add media such as photos or videos on tweets. If you have (or want to acquire) such skills, consider promoting your work by, for instance, by making a 30-second video about it or by creating an infographic. These mediums seem to be more appealing and could attract more impressions (number of users that saw the tweet on Twitter) and engagement (number of users that interacted with the tweet, for instance, by liking it). However, Twitter users spend just a few seconds on every tweet, so avoid creating long threads, long videos, or long charts — unless you are a terrific storyteller.

Remember that science is about sharing, and by sharing your research achievements on Twitter, you could also increase the citation rate of your paper in the future. Share early and share often. Aim for at least one tweet per day.

Find your community

In my research field, software engineering, there are many active researchers interacting regularly on Twitter. I follow many of them, even if they don’t tweet so regularly. I do so because I believe any tweet from a researcher I admire is an opportunity to learn something new. Sometimes I learn about their latest work (the state of the art), when they are promoting their work on Twitter. Sometimes I learn about professional opportunities, when researchers are sharing openings at all levels. Sometimes I learn about when is that conference. You can also learn what researchers do when they are not working — yes, this could happen.

Try to find your peers online. If they aren’t, invite them to join. Also, look for the known researchers in your research field. Follow them systematically. Twitter also has a nice feature called lists. Anyone could create a list of Twitter users about a given topic. For instance, a colleague of mine created a list of software engineering researchers, and added to this list software engineering researchers with a Twitter profile. This list is handy for newcomers who are looking for researchers to follow but don’t know any. If there is not a list about your research community, consider creating one.

Interact with your community

Perhaps the beauty of Twitter is that you could engage in any conversation. It does not matter if Madonna is talking to Paul McCartney; you can always join the conversation and share your thoughts. The same is true for your research community. For instance, when other researchers are discussing a paper, feel free to join the conversation (even if you don’t know the discussants). Before joining, make sure you have read the paper and build your arguments. Keep engaging in others’ discussions. Eventually, other researchers will notice you, and they will join in your conversations.

If your timeline is too quiet, it’s perhaps your turn to start a conversation with someone else. It is also fine to talk alone. Your followers are listening, even if they don’t interact immediately with you.

If you happen to like this blog post, consider purchasing a copy of my ebook “1+5 Habits for Young Researchers”, which I discuss this and other good habits that would help your researchers to find their path in academia.

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Assistant professor @ Federal University of Pará

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Gustavo Pinto

Gustavo Pinto

Assistant professor @ Federal University of Pará

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