Tweet or perish! The new rallying call for researchers?
If you are just starting out with Twitter it is easy to wonder whether it is worth the effort and time. When you create an account, you are at your lowest point: Tweets 1 (hello world!) following 1 (Stephen Fry) followers 0 (why hasn’t he reciprocated?). It would be easy to stare at your profile and wonder if it is worthwhile investing the effort in building up a network. Other blog posts have discussed the nuts and bolts of getting started on twitter, but I wanted to write a few words about the value of tweeting at all.
A couple of years ago I carried out a study of digital scholarship at the Open University. I interviewed a range of people who were especially engaged with Twitter, blogs and other social media. These were people who were already sold on Twitter, some had tens of thousands of followers and a typical rationale for using it was:
things like Twitter enable you to keep up with a community of practice or scholarship, or whatever you like, in a way that you couldn’t. To toss things around blog posts, and bits and pieces, a sharing activity and other sorts of sharing, let you share ideas around in a sort of looser rough form, which is a bit like conferences, but this is, most of those are a level down I think from a conference contribution. It’s all you know, its all part of an ecosystem producing good stuff (Pearce 2010: 15)
Twitter was seen as part of the open agenda which is touching all corners of academia (open data, open-access publishing, open education). It’s a way of sharing early thoughts and getting feedback from peers which helps to shape those thoughts into something a bit better. I use it often in this way. I might blog an idea which is the germ of a future paper and then get useful responses (sometimes comments on the blog, sometimes tweets, sometimes emails) that have helped strengthen my ideas or made me aware of other people, projects and papers. Twitter can be a useful way of sharing funding, employment and publishing opportunities too. These are a couple of the ways a strong twitter network can be really useful in the day to day activities we all do.
Even amongst Twitter’s early adopters there were notes of caution. Some worried about leaking their ideas early and then being unable to publish them in journals. Another worry was that online activities and influence were not recognised as much as more traditional metrics, such as journal articles. This last point is important, especially in areas where progress is so rapid that the long publishing timescales of most academic journals render their articles redundant at birth. Twitter is more useful for broadcasting ideas quickly, even if it is less acknowledged on a person’s CV. However, against these negatives came invitations to present keynotes and publish that came about through Twitter networks, and which may not have happened otherwise.
I think that the value of Twitter (or any other tool) is in making sure that it integrates with your current practice. It is important not to keep it separate from your offline professional self, or to expect it to be a magic fix for your problems. A well developed Twitter network is a really useful way to enhance and deepen your ties with your network of peers. You get out of it what you put in. So start following, tweeting and retweeting and build up that network. It might not transform your life, but it will come in handy!
Posted by Simon Hettrick on Friday 14 September 2012.