A quick guide to Twitter for scientists
For many scientists I’ve worked with, being active on social media is an experience that enriches their work. Procrastination aside, regularly logging on to your social media channel of choice can provide daily opportunities to share and talk about research findings directly with interested members of the public, policymakers, clinicians and other professionals, or to ask questions and discuss challenges with international peers.
With some research linking dissemination on Twitter with increased citations, one of the first questions I’m generally asked by scientists looking to build their profile or disseminate their findings is “how can I get my research seen on Twitter?”
It’s no secret that social media is a long game to play. Regardless of whether you’re on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or even Instagram, building a following and gaining traction often takes considerable time and effort.
Exactly how you produce that winning series of tweets depends on what you have to say, and the people you’re trying to reach. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, so here a few basic tactics that every scientist can use to help build a relevant following and rack up those likes, comments and retweets.
1. Know your Twitter audience
First and foremost, consider your audience. When launching yourself on Twitter for the first time, spend a few minutes thinking about who it is out there you want to speak to. You may be looking to use Twitter to recruit participants into your latest clinical trial (though make sure you get ethical approval first for this), or you have new findings that could make a real impact on the way some doctors treat their patients. List your audiences and why you want to interact with them and keep this firmly in mind, and see if you can tailor your posts to their interests.
Don’t ignore the benefits of using Twitter to simply find your professional community of practice. Much like conference networking, Twitter is a great space for connecting the like-minded.
2. Tweet about lots of things
The varied and interesting day-to-day activities of a research-active scientist present so many opportunities for great social media content. Here are a few things you could tweet about daily:
- Your publications, blog articles, podcasts;
- Invite feedback from others in your research area on new ideas for research or pilot studies;
- Tweet about new developments in your research area, such as a research paper from a colleague, a government policy change, a think tank report, or a new journal article;
- Tweet quotes from speakers at conferences using the conference hashtag;
- Is your research area in the news? Post something you published a while ago, it’s still relevant and could pick up a few retweets. Recycling content can give you so many more opportunities to engage with your community.
Just be careful of open peer review on Twitter, you never know when you might come face-to-face with the author at a conference. And be sure to check out your institution’s/employer’s social media policy for guidance before tweeting for the first time as a professional, universities and Professional Membership organisations (such as the General Medical Council) will have these.
3. Tweet more than just a link to your research
If you have just published a new research paper then your post, or a thread of tweets, can include more than just your title and a link to your paper.
For an engaging tweet about your research paper, try including all, or most, of these:
- The name of journal or Twitter handle;
- Your findings in accessible terminology;
- Your institution’s, funder and co-author Twitter handles;
- A direct link to your paper;
- A relevant image or graph from your paper, or a specially commissioned video or animation;
- 1-2 hashtags;
- Getting a paper published in a journal is a long, long process, so why not share your excitement and celebrate with your co-authors: “WE PUBLISHED A PAPER! Yay!”
4. One tweet is not enough, keep up the momentum
You might think that sending out one tweet when you publish your research paper is enough – box ticked, job done. Think again.
Posting regularly about your research increases the chances of the right people seeing it. So ask your colleagues to share your tweet and ask your institution to retweet. Also try posting different versions of your tweets for a few days or over a few weeks, if you’re stuck for content then select different aspects of your paper to communicate.
To save time, use a tool like Tweetdeck to schedule your posts in advance, but keep checking back for comments and mentions and respond to them if appropriate.
5. Boost your Twitter audience reach with hashtags
Every Twitter for scientists guide will mention hashtags, as using hashtags in your tweets can help you to reach broader audiences, with research showing that tweets with hashtags receive on average twice as much engagement as those without.
I could write an entire blog post about hashtags, so I’ll keep this brief – don’t get too hashtag happy. The optimum number of hashtags to use on Twitter is one or two, as Tweets with more than two hashtags generally see a 17% drop in engagement. Think about hashtags that your audience might be using (like the name of your research area, or #AcademicTwitter and #phdchat for general discussion) and use those.
6. Include an image or visual content
According to Twitter, tweets with images are retweeted 35% more than text-only tweets. They’re also more visible on packed feeds when a user is scrolling through, so tend to be more eye-catching.
Not all research is visual, so here are a few ideas you could try:
- A photo of your research team;
- A written quote lifted from your paper and shared as a jpeg;
- An infographic of your results, if your intended audience are responsive to infographics;
- If you’ve published data or graphs, then these can sometimes do quite well on Twitter if your goal is to appeal to other researchers;
- An image from your research, particularly relevant to the life sciences or imaging studies;
So there you have it, six top tips for getting the most out of Twitter for scientists to help build a relevant following and disseminate research.