Since 2017, I have tweeted roughly once per day to my Twitter handle, @timminglab. At the time of writing, I have over 15,000 followers, almost all of whom are academics. I post absolutely nothing personal. For me, Twitter is all business (at least, that’s what I tell my wife when she catches me on my phone at the dinner table . . . “But I’m working!”).
Overall, I’d say Twitter is a pretty toxic environment, what with the competitive one-upmanship and constant jostling for intellectual attention. As a matter of fact, I have found #AcademicTwitter to be very similar to peer review: you present an idea and (at least vocal) Twitter users quickly look for ways to tear you down. Having said that, I have also found #AcademicTwitter to be not only hugely useful to my career, but also, at times, a source of support and kindness.
My assessment is that, despite its flaws, #AcademicTwitter is worth the effort—that is, provided that you can brush off the haters.
In the interests of helping newcomers to #AcademicTwitter, here are my observations on what to expect and how to make the best of it.
Use hashtags. These allow folks to search Twitter and quickly identify academics. The two most common ones are #AcademicTwitter and #AcademicChatter, although individual disciplines also have their own hashtags (e.g., #EconTwitter).
Use humor and/or sarcasm. I have found that engagement (defined as “likes,” “retweets,” and “mentions”) with my tweets is highest when I am either being humorous or sarcastic. By far, my most “liked” and “retweeted” tweet is the photo of my Halloween costume when I dressed up as Reviewer 2:
People also seem to respond positively to sarcasm, maybe because we academics either are now, or will someday soon be, curmudgeons.
Don’t rush it. Everyone starts with zero followers. It takes months, sometimes years, to reach 1,000 followers. There is no short-cut. In fact, Twitter makes it impossible to quickly gain followers by putting limits on the number of people you can follow. The only way to grow your account is by producing good content.
Toot your own horn, but not too much. You got a paper published? Let folks know and post a link. You won a grant? Tell people about it. You were quoted in the media? Share the article with us. But don’t make every post about you. People will soon lose interest in your account, especially because academics are often jealous of each other’s successes (#TruthBomb).
Don’t feel obligated to follow people just because they follow you. This is especially true inasmuch as a significant chunk of your followers are bots. You can usually tell because they have a semi-nude photo of a woman as their profile pic.
Block people. Seriously, this one is important. At first I was reluctant to block people because I thought that somehow I was dampening free speech. Now, I block left and right. Life is too short to allow some keyboard warrior to drag you down. We all know that there is something about social media that brings out the worst in people. They can spew vitriol in the safety of their own homes without the the risk of getting the %$&@ kicked out of them. They will troll you. They will abuse you. They will bully you. They will make you look bad by twisting your words or making unreasonable inferences. Block. Block. Block. Out of sight, out of mind!
Roll with the punches. There won’t be any literal punches on Twitter, but there will be metaphorical ones. Haters gonna hate. It’s as simple as that. This one time I was struggling to format my tables in Word, so I posted the following tweet.
Some Twitter user had posted a similar Tweet four days earlier and accused me of “stealing” her tweet (never mind that we used different metaphors). I tried explaining to her that I’d never seen her Twitter account and that, given the widespread response to my tweet, we’re obviously not the only ones struggling to format our tables. How did she respond? She called my face “punchable.”
Calling my face “punchable” seemed to me to violate Twitters rules of not promoting violence, so I reported the Tweet. I got a quick response from Twitter saying that there was no violation and nothing wrong with the tweet. My point is, I could obsess over this tweet, or I could forget about it and move on.
Do not comment negatively about your employer. Another big one. Generic criticism about academia is fine. I do it all the time. But never mention your employer in a negative light. This is called bringing your employer into disrepute and it can mean your job.
I hope you found this blog post helpful and informative. Thanks for reading. I’ll see you out on the #AcademicTwitter battlefield.