You’ve sent your first tweets, creating interesting and engaging content for your potential followers. The other side to Twitter, of course, is the stream of information brought to you by the people you follow. And if you follow people, chances are they will take a look at your profile and decide to follow you in return (which is why setting up a profile with some engaging tweets first was important!).
One of the key features of Twitter is that unlike other platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn, following is not necessarily reciprocal – the people you follow may not be the people who follow you (although they may be!). Some people have a more-or-less even match of followers and following; others follow lots of people but don’t tweet much themselves and therefore don’t have many followers; and some Tweeters, usually very well-known people or institutions, may have a large number of followers as they tweet a lot but don’t actually follow many people, using Twitter more as a broadcast medium to get their message out there.
As an individual early career researcher, you’re probably going to get the most benefit in the first instance for the first option, having roughly the same number of followers and following. Twitter works best as a dialogue, and this won’t happen if you’re doing all the talking, or have no one to talk to!
How many people you follow is up to you, although perhaps 100 is a good number to aim for, to ensure a useful stream of content. Think about what sort of information you want access to, and what sorts of tweeters are likely to offer it (see the list below for some suggestions). It is an organic process and will take time to build up, and don’t forget that you can always unfollow people if the content they tweet is not useful to you! There are ways to find out if you’ve been unfollowed, but there is no automatic alert and generally people don’t bother!.
So how do you find people to follow? When you first sign up to Twitter, they will suggest people for you to follow, or invite you to search for names or keywords, but this can be a bit hit and miss. Some people give up at this point, thinking it’s all pop stars and people tweeting about their breakfast!
At this point, it would be useful to know who else is participating in the programme, so I’ve compiled a list of participants – everyone who sent the tweet I suggested yesterday, so you can find and follow each other!
Here are ten more suggestions (not exhaustive!) to build a useful feed of information that might work well for you as an early career researcher in the sciences.
1. ‘Celebrity’ academics and media dons Following well-known people like Cambridge’s @AtheneDonald or @ProfBrianCox will give you some ideas of how to build your profile and impact, as well as offering commentary on scientific policy, ideas for teaching and outreach, access to their own network of followers and interesting material to retweet to your followers. LSE’s Impact of Social Science blog has a list of STEM academics on Twitter
2. Professional Bodies For updates about events, news, policy, or funding opportunities, your subject’s professional body will be very useful. Try for example @royalsociety, the Institute of Physics (@PhysicsNews) or the Institute of Medicine (@theIoM). You might also follow a teaching-related body such as the Higher Education Academy’s subject centres, like @HEASTEM
4. Academic and Professional Press Scientific press such as @newscientist, Scientific American (@SCIAM), @TimesHigherEd or @guardianscience will give you access to news stories which may interest you or your followers. Following their journalists too might be a way to raise your profile in the press. Many journals also have their own Twitter accounts which are useful for updates on calls for contributions or new contents. Try the various Nature journals such as @NatureChemistry, @NatureNano or @NatureMedicine
5. Academics in your field Search for people you know to see if they have a Twitter account. Look for both more senior academics and peers (PhD, PostDoc and junior lecturers). Search by name or by keyword, or import contacts from your LinkedIn account or email.
6. Research Centres in your field, both here in Cambridge and elsewhere, for events and news.
7. Academic mentors There are several bloggers and tweeters who create a supportive community for other early career academics, who have really useful advice and experiences to share on the various aspects of being or becoming an academic, from writing and publication to managing your career. Follow @thesiswhisperer, @researchwhisperer, @ECRchat, @ThomsonPat, @NetworkedRes and even @phdcomics
8. Public Engagement Following the university’s public engagement teams and other researchers interested in impact will help you be aware of events which you might volunteer for, or interesting ways to present research to other audiences. Try @camscience or @NakedScientists. You could also follow commentators such as Ben Goldacre or Simon Singh.
9. Associated Services and professionals There are lots of people on Twitter who can feed you useful information, but aren’t academics. You could follow @jobsacuk for jobs and career-related articles, or university services such as your department library (for example, @CJBSInfoLib) for news, tips and updates.
10. Industry and other sectors To keep an eye on developments in the sector, possible future impacts and applications of your research, or developments which might affect what you’re working on, you could follow some of the professional bodies or companies which represent the types of sector related to your research.
How to grow your Twitter feed from here:
Twitter will suggest people for you to follow based on who you’re currently following. This can be a bit random at first, as you’re not following many people. There are other ways to add people to your twitter feed
Snowball – look at the profile of the people you’re following – who do they follow, and who else is following them?
You can see who’s following you, or anyone else, by going to your or their profile, and clicking on ‘followers’. If you suspect one of your new followers is spam, you can ‘block’ them using the head icon next to the ‘Follow” button, and selecting ‘block’.
Retweets – people you follow will retweet things they think might be of interest. Keep an eye out for retweets from accounts you don’t yet follow, and add them. We’ll cover retweeting in future Days.
Hashtags – especially around livechats or livetweeted events such as conferences. Joining a discussion around a hashtag is a good way to find more people interested in that topic or event. We’ll also cover hashtags in future Days.
#FF or #FollowFriday – this is a convention on Twitter that on Fridays you can tweet the names of people you think are worth following to others. Watch out for these, or tweet your followers and ask them for recommendations!