Is Twitter only about self-promotion? Engaging in Science Communication for Academics

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Is Twitter only about self-promotion? Academics, if you want to give it a try and don’t know where to begin / don’t feel comfortable with the idea of promoting your work, read this!

1/ You don’t have to be super visible and active immediately.

It’s totally fine to test the waters by:

  • asking questions to the community (“I’m stuck with my writing, what can I do?”, “References on X, anyone?”)
  • interacting (maybe first with people your already know) and reacting to other posts (likes, retweets, then comments)

It may even be recommended to begin by interacting with your community rather than posting a first tweet on your newly published paper or a thread on a topic you’re excited about out of nowhere. If you already know your audience, have engaged in academic debates, you also get to understand the (social, communicative) norms on the plattform.

2/ In fact, I don’t think you have to become active *at all* if it’s not for you.

It’s totally fine to read only. The tips are thus for those who feel like they have things to say, want to be active members of the community, but are afraid that their message doesn’t come across.

For instance, in his book Twitter for Scientists by Daniel S. Quintana, Twitter is framed as something academics HAVE TO do (point 4: “actively contribute to social media” as the only way to get your research known if you’re not famous) & I think THIS pressures (many of) us to be on Twitter as a necessity coming on the top of all the other things we’re doing (publish, teach, innovate, get funding, apply, revolutionize your field) instead of seeing Twitter as a wonderful platform if you’re doing it also/primarily for YOU (see point 8 as well).

3/ If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your own work, engage with the work of others!

I think this is a great way to foster a culture of #OpenPeerReview by telling the authors publicly how you read their work while summarizing it for other audiences. Here is an example of a paper I really enjoyed reading:

4/ Talk about things you’re an expert about, but not necessarily your research topic (it can be daunting at first!).

For instance, if you had to give a class on a certain topic, and get inspired by a tweet on this particular phenomenon, go for it, make a thread about it!

Here a thread on German grammar:

And here one on deictics in French. The idea is just to wrap up a few thoughts on a topic, as if you were explaining it to someone who has no prior knowledge of what makes you really happy and excited (all things related to language in my case):

5/ Share (random/still unprocessed) thoughts on a topic that means something to you.

So, for me, language. Almost every time I see someone writing *anything* about language, it raises questions. Sometimes, I share them on Twitter, as a simple comment/interrogation.

For instance, I got confused about the discourse about lockdown in Germany, so I tweeted about it. THIS is also/already #SciComm! This is giving access to how some debates are framed within your (academic) community (mine is linguistics).

6/ Tweeting as an academic does NOT mean tweeting about (your) research only!

Tweeting about #AcademicWriting or #Teaching can be other points of entry into your work:

7/ Make Twitter YOUR Twitter!

Always feel free to mute/block accounts that are making you feel uncomfortable. #SelfCare Curate your feed & never feel guilty if you want/need to leave the platform (for a few days, or for ever) #MentalHealth

8/ Don’t become active just because you think you need to be visible.

There are other ways: Twitter should not become a stress factor. You don’t need to tweet about each paper that got published (or rejected, for that matter) and show all the time what an expert in your field you are.

9/ Rather think about contributing to a larger debate.

— about your discipline, but also about your values and research ethics, the role of science in society…

We’re coming back to the first point: Engage with people you know, imagine that you’re just chatting.

10/ Finally, resist the temptation to see Twitter as a mini research paper.

This is another format. You’ll say things differently, sometimes people won’t get it, you’ll make typos—it’s all fine, leave them! (I used to delete and/or correct every single tweet, so I feel you.)

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This blog post is based on this Twitter thread posted on 18 November 2020:

Cite this article as: Naomi Truan, "Is Twitter only about self-promotion? Engaging in Science Communication for Academics," in Ici et là, 19/11/2020, https://icietla.hypotheses.org/2065.

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