To tweet or not to tweet: why use social media?

I’ve recently been bitten by the twitter bug.


A little birdie told me.

I’ve had an account for years (Twitter says since 2011), but I’ve only started using the social media platform in the last couple of months. A recent conference here in Montreal had a big social media push, and several of my friends and colleagues are tweeters, so I tried my hand at it. I have since been posting fairly regularly. Not only have I learned that live tweeting is a lot harder than it looks, but I’ve also learned that twitter is a pretty awesome tool. Here are some of the things I think are the most useful about it:

1) Low commitment

Joining requires nothing more than an email and a name. You should add a photo too, unless you like being an anonymous egg. Once you have an account, you don’t actually have to write anything if you don’t want to. You can add interesting people, journals, newspapers, websites, etc., and then simply dip your toe in the stream from time to time to see what’s going on in the world. And if you do want to write something, the 140 character limit makes it pretty easy to write. Of course, you should take at least a little time to write a tweet – it is public after all – but a tweet can be as simple as a link to an interesting article or retweeting someone else’s link to an interesting article.

2) Networking

Those interesting people, journals, newspapers, websites, etc. that I mentioned above? Those accounts are (often) real people. Real people who have interests that are similar to your own, be they research or “real life”. And this can be a really easy way to connect with them. Or to learn more about what the interesting people you know in real life do outside the office!

3) I saw that on twitter!
There are so many papers coming out these days, that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all of them. All those interesting people and institutions that you are following are also reading and publishing papers, and they are probably talking about them on twitter. This is a great way so hear about papers that may have fallen off your radar, to promote your own work (just don’t overdo it), or to let the world know about something cool you just learned. If you get nothing else out of this tool, this is the one that probably makes it the most valuable.

4) Outreach

Making science and research accessible and interesting to non-scientists is becoming a big deal, which is as I think it should be. There are a lot of people who aren’t scientists or researchers on twitter, and this is an easy way to reach them. The constraints of posting means that you are forced to be clear in your message, which is something that most of us need to practice.

5) Make the world smaller

I was able to virtually attend a whole bunch of interesting talks at a conference in Europe without leaving my desk at McGill, thanks to others who were live-tweeting the event. Not only can you connect with people around the world, but you can also listen in on events that you can’t physically attend. And hearing about a talk from several perspectives can give you a really good idea of what happened. This is definitely harder to do than other people make it seem, but as someone reading about a conference from miles away, your efforts are definitely appreciated.

As anyone who has interacted with me directly in the last few months can attest, I really think that twitter is a worthwhile tool. If you need more reasons why this might be a good use of your time, check out Crystal Ernst’s posts on social media right here on the GradLife blog. Why not give it a try?

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