How academics can make an impact on Twitter

By Posted in - Academics & Social Media & Twitter on March 30th, 2020 0 Comments A bird on a branch in the background. Text reads "How academics can make an impact on Twitter".

Twitter is the social media of choice for many an academic.

Of course, academics can make an impact on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn too, but the advantages of Twitter are more clear-cut.

Twitter offers you a platform to promote your research to colleagues, to the public, to the world. It allows for immediate publication, thereby offering you near-instant feedback and debate.

Twitter is an equally powerful news aggregator. It helps you to stay informed of research developments and breaking news as they unfold, on a global scale.

Twitter also develops your communication skills thanks to its mandated brevity. Condensing your thoughts and findings into 280 characters is a valuable skill for academic colleagues. It will help you simplify your messaging and engage audiences outside the realms of campus life.

But that’s not all.

Twitter can provide you with several other opportunities, outside of public engagement, which are perhaps less apparent.

Here are a few examples to offer insight into how academics are making an impact on Twitter.

1. Build a module community

Dr Christina Stanley wanted her module on animal behaviour to be fun and engaging. She therefore turned the module code into a hashtag. #BI6192 was born.

Christina encourages her students to use this hashtag when sharing or commenting on tweets relating to the animal kingdom.

Christina saw instant benefits: “In addition to helping students to improve valuable communication skills, they engaged with wider reading on their subject… and reported to me they had gained inspiration, even replies, from scientists all over the world.”

It’s a great hashtag to follow, regardless of your day job. Not only do you learn a little something about the animal kingdom, but you get the occasional GIF of two red pandas kissing. Who doesn’t want that?

Screenshots of tweets with interesting animal facts.

2. Raise money, raise support

Dr Sue Black used Twitter to save Bletchley Park.

A quick history lesson for those who haven’t seen The Imitation Game

Bletchley Park was the birthplace of Alan Turing’s Bombe machine, used to decipher the Nazi Enigma code.

Yet, at the turn of the millennium, Bletchley Park was falling apart: less The Imitation Game, and more The Dilapidation Game.

As a computer scientist, the pioneering work undertaken at Bletchley Park is close to Sue’s heart. When she discovered that Bletchley was under threat of closure due to lack of funding, she launched a campaign to transform it into a heritage site.

She took to Twitter to rally the troops: “Back in 2008, Twitter was still relatively new, but I found that all I needed to do was type Bletchley Park into the search box and I could connect with everyone who was talking about it.”

Sue’s campaign brought together thousands of individuals, from celebrities to veterans, who offered their time, enthusiasm and donations to save a historical treasure from demolition.

Sue literally wrote the book on using social media to create positive change. You can also watch her talk about saving Bletchley Park on YouTube.

3. Improve the learning experience

Dr Kardi Somerfield uses social media to improve the learning experience for her advertising students.

She created a Twitter List called AdStudent Picks to which she added a series of Twitter channels that frequently post about the advertising industry. Channels include @AdAge, @CampaignMag, @AdWeek, @TheMarketingSoc, and many more.

Kardi explains, “The particular benefits of using Twitter in this way are that the students begin to understand the research capabilities of this platform, and also acquire the good habit of including bite-size industry content in their daily media consumption.”

 4. Collaborate with your marketers

Marketing professionals throughout the education sector are tasked with promoting the research efforts of their academic staff.

Many marketers will aspire to deliver impactful, collaborative campaigns through social media.

Why not help them?

Look for requests from your marketing colleagues. Share your research. Volunteer.

University of Birmingham recently delivered their Rise of Research campaign. It championed academic research, but with a Star Wars theme, to capitalise on the hype surrounding the release of The Rise of Skywalker.

They took an omni-platform, omni-medium approach, but brought everything together with a campaign hashtag on Twitter. Search for #TheRiseOfResearch to enjoy their diverse range of content: video clips, podcast soundbites, memes, GIFs, behind-the-scenes imagery, footage of their live music event… and far, far more.

If you are curious about how Star Wars relates to mental health, water fleas, and ancient Roman iconography, then visit the Rise of Research YouTube playlist.

Screenshots of tweets by University of Birmingham about their Star-Wars event.

5. Promote your other channels

We said it in the intro.

Academics are making an impact on channels outside of Twitter.

Even so, Twitter remains a valuable platform for championing, and signposting towards, the content on your other channels.

For instance, the University of Nottingham’s Periodic Videos are a YouTube sensation with over one million subscribers. Yet they have established Periodic Videos on Twitter to share this content, reaching audiences who might not traditionally spend time on YouTube.

Similarly, Dr Vikas Shah shares real x-rays on Instagram, both in the feed and through Stories, offering radiology students an opportunity to test their knowledge. Whilst the visual benefits of Instagram are perfect for this activity, he still cross-posts the X-rays on Twitter, thereby broadening his reach.

A final example: Dr Paul Sutter produces the pioneering Ask A Spaceman podcast, addressing questions about astrophysics. However, he uses the hashtag #AskASpaceman on Twitter to request topics for his future episodes. This engages those on Twitter, whilst simultaneously raising awareness of the space podcast itself.

From the Twittersphere to the atmosphere!

We hope these examples have offered you some fresh ideas for how you can make an impact on Twitter. If you feel that your academic department, school or college would benefit from social media training, or a full social media strategy, then we would love to hear from you. Say hello.

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