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Practical tips for scientists using Twitter

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Practical tips for scientists using Twitter

Twitter is increasingly important in science communication as a way to share published work and talk to fellow scientists and the general public alike. In this article, you’ll find tips to guide you along your way into the Twitter-verse.

In a previous article, Paige Jarreau shared some common goals that scientists have when using social media, as well as an outline of which social media platforms and approaches might best fit those goals. Here, I focus on some practical aspects of Twitter and how to use it at its best to share your science. 

Twitter can be used for several purposes, namely to promote your own work. But another way scientists use it is to keep up with research in their field. Twitter allows you to follow fellow scientists, discuss topics with them and read what they share about their current work. It can also be very useful for building your network or finding out about opportunities: jobs, grants, meetings and so on. There is a big academic community on Twitter chatting about all the aspects of academia other than the research itself. You can find out about these things with relevant hashtags like #ScienceTwitter or #AcademicChatter.

Similarly, Twitter can enrich a conference experience. If you use the conference # before and during the event you might be able to meet interesting people virtually. That way, you can start some amazing conversations with them before the conference, have some follow-up chats during the meeting, as well as stay connected afterwards. 

Getting started

Make sure you have a good bio and handle (Twitter name). You need to add a photo, cover image and short bio to show people who you are and what kind of things you will talk about. Ideally, you should use your bio to link to relevant accounts. For example: “Researcher at @ucl working on xxx funded by @fundingbody”. It also helps to add common hashtags of the topics you will talk a lot about: #scicomm, #SciArt or #OpenScience, for example.

Make lists

If you want to follow lots of people without being lost in too many subjects, making lists is amazing for that. You can then focus on tweets from a specific list. I also find them very useful for events. I add all the people I met at a certain event to a list. It’s like sorting out the people you follow. You can have public lists if you want people to be able to access them and subscribe, and private lists that only you can see. 

Tweeting the world

Avoid jargon if you want to share your science with the public. Research shows that complicated terms confuse people even if a definition is given [1]. Try being succinct, using layman’s terms where possible. 

Make threads about publications

Don’t just share the link to a scientific paper. The title is usually confusing and hard to understand for people outside your field. The best way to share a paper, whether it be yours or someone else's, is to make a thread – several tweets linked together. To do this, you write a tweet, then click on the + sign at the bottom to add a new one, and then keep adding. The first tweet serves as a cover of the thread, so don’t forget to explain what article you are talking about and add the link if possible. A PhD student, Timothy Fuqua, recently made a really great and fun example you can get some inspiration from. 

Add visuals that everyone can understand

Images are your way to catch people’s attention as they scroll down the newsfeed. Richard Becks put together some advice to make diagrams for science communication [3]. 

Be careful with sensitive data

Sometimes you might not be sure about your data and whether you can share them on social media. If this is the case, don’t give away too many details. You can explain the importance of repeating an experiment, for example. Don’t claim you have discovered a new treatment when you have only done the experiment once. 

Twitter-specific hints

If you are tweeting about a paper or a particular scientist, include the journal or scientist’s Twitter handle in the tweet. For example, if I tweet about a Hindawi paper, I would include “@Hindawi” in the tweet to show the editor your interest and maybe start a dialogue. The same goes for the authors. 

Don’t start a tweet with @, especially when you want to promote a person or initiative. Tweets starting with @ are considered as replies by the Twitter software so they are hidden from everyone’s newsfeed meaning they are not seen by everyone; only the people following you and the account after the @. You can start with .@ if you want to be sure, or find a word or emoji to start your tweet. 

Finally, if you want to do some science communication on Twitter with a large audience, you can apply to take part in curating generic scicomm accounts like @realscientists. They offer the possibility to tweet on that account for a week, sharing your work and life as a scientist with their followers.

Follow your metrics

With Altmetric you can measure online attention that your article received. Not only on social media but a lot of different online media like blogs, Wikipedia and media outlets, too. It can be a very useful tool to quantify online activity around your scientific articles.

If you’re not convinced yet if you should use social media, then maybe the data will help. A study from 2020 showed that scientific papers, which were tweeted, in turn received 4 times more citations on average than ones not shared on Twitter [3].

I hope those tips will be helpful and that you enjoy getting on Twitter.


References and links

[1] July 2020, https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00580-w.

[2] https://richardberks.co.uk/blog/tools-for-creating-diagrams-for-science-communication.

[3] J. G. Y. Luc, M. A. Archer, R. C. Arora, E. M. Bender, A. Blitz, D. T. Cooke, T. N. Hlci, B. Kidane, M. Ouzounian, T. K. Varghese and M. B. Antonoff, “Does tweeting improve citations? One-year results from the TSSMN prospective randomized trial,” The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, vol. 111, no. 1, pp. 296–300, 2021, doi:10.1016/j.athoracsur.2020.04.065.

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.

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