Twitter is a form of blogging, also known as microblogging. Posts are called “tweets” and are limited to 140 characters. It is a quick and easy tool to use, with the potential to engage people who would otherwise be hard to reach.
It’s also a platform with immense reach. There are several hundred million active users on Twitter, posting about 500 million tweets every day. Some 29% of users check Twitter multiple times a day. If you’re not there, you might be missing important conversations. But your tweets can be lost in the cacophony, so there are important ways to ensure your voice is heard above the crowd.
Setting up a Twitter account is quickly and easily. All you need to get started is an email address and then:
Fill in the “New to Twitter? Sign Up” fields. Create a password.
Choose a username (on Twitter these are known as handles; they begin with the “@” sign and are not case-sensitive)
Twitter will guide you through finding a unique username.
Twitter requires new users to go through a set-up wizard. Begin by clicking “Next.” The guide will prompt you to follow five people to “Build your timeline.”
Because Twitter is all about keeping messages short, abbreviations and symbols are used to help achieve this. Here are a few helpful explanations of the most common abbreviations and symbols:
RT or R/T Stands for retweet. If you come across a tweet that you want to quote and share with your audience (followers), use the “Retweet” tool (two arrows). This will also give credit to the original user who tweeted.
You may also choose to “quote” a tweet, which gives you the option of commenting on its contents.
DM is a direct message, sent to specific Twitter users in your network.
A username or “handle” is preceded by the @ symbol. Use the @ symbol followed by the username when you want to talk to or about someone on Twitter. For example, when I include @scibraai in a message, this user (or person) will be notified about my tweet.
The # symbol is also known as a hashtag on Twitter. Use it to highlight keywords, topics, events or even emotions in a tweet. Using a hashtag turns a word or phrase into a link that lets you filter tweets containing the same tag. In other words, the hashtag is like a search filter. Searching for #scicomm yields a list of all recent tweets where anyone on Twitter (whether you are following them or not) included that hashtag in a tweet. It is a great way to find new people interested in the same things as you are, or to join popular conversations. You can create your own hashtag or use other popular hashtags. If you’re not sure if a hashtag already exists, simply search for it.
You can create your own hashtag for an event, conference or course and ask all your participants to use that hashtag. Keep it as short as possible, because it “uses up” some of the 140 characters allowed per tweet. If you decide to use, for example, #scicomconf2016, make sure the specific hashtag is not already used by someone else. That enables you to collect all the tweets carrying that hashtag by simply entering this hashtag in Twitter’s search box. You can also collate all the tweets using the “Storify” function on Twitter.
Live-tweeting a science event is a fun, collaborative and interactive way to tweet. When you hear a great quote from a speaker, or “tweetable takeaway”, type it up and tweet it to the world. Your followers will see the tweet, and so will everyone following the event hashtag. Others can retweet, favourite, or reply to you.
Once you have set up your Twitter account and feel comfortable with some of the Twitter jargon, you are ready to “join the conversation”. Here are some suggested steps to follow:
If you are using Twitter for the very first time, it is a good idea to spend a bit of time searching for keywords that relate to your area of interest to discover what other people are already tweeting on these topics – who/where they are and what they are saying.
Follow some of these users and observe how they use it. Think about what they are saying and how they say it.
Retweet comments and links that you like, find interesting or agree with. You can also quote someone’s tweet if you’d like to add your own comment to it.
Reply to people’s questions and, if there’s something relevant to you, comment on people’s tweets.
Tweet your own views – remember to keep your tweets relevant to your Twitter biography where possible. In other words, if you tweet as a research communicator on behalf of your organisation, don’t include personal tweets. (It is best to keep your personal and professional social media platforms completely separate.)
Share photos, videos, opportunities and interesting links to opportunities and events. Links to good photos and relevant video clips will attract more attention than just text.
Connect with other delegates at a conference by searching for the conference hashtag in advance so that you can see who else is going to be there and start a conversation.
Some more Twitter tips
Keep it short. Twitter limits you to 140 characters (fewer when you include a photo).
Write to grab attention. Often your text will just be a link to online information, and your purpose is to get people to click on that link.
Use hashtags creatively in your own tweets. Learn from how other people use it.
Start each sentence with a capital letter. Avoid ALL CAPS.
Read your tweets before sending them. Spelling, typing and punctuation errors are unprofessional. (It is acceptable to join words when preceded by a hashtag, for example #brainscience.)
Twitter also allows you to embed a tweet. Embedding a tweet means you get a URL and you can paste it to you web/WordPress article as a tweetable sentence (watch the character count).
Track your tweets using Tweetreach (free) or Hootsuite (requires a subscription fee). Tweetdeck is also extremely versatile and free if you use just the basic version. These programmes help you to manage your tweets and provide powerful analytical tools to help monitor your social media impact.
You cannot edit a tweet once it has been published, but you can delete it, and rewrite/repost if you notice an error. Once other people have retweeted or copied it, there is nothing you can do about that.
Twitter moves really fast, but remind yourself not to post in haste. The best way is to constantly ask yourself – “would I say this in front of a live audience of thousands of people?” Many savvy communicators have had their careers cut short because of a poorly conceived tweet.