by Camille Gamboa, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Director, SAGE Publishing
At the time of writing this article, thanks to one @ElonMusk, Twitter has been all over the news. Questions are swarming around what his real intentions are, what this acquisition will mean for free speech on the platform, and a lot more (as you likely know too well).
Whatever you might think of this hubbub, or about social media use in general, the fact remains that many use Twitter as a professional communication tool. And it’s a tool that can uniquely straddle the personal-professional divide (a topic I’ve covered before) as people share candid, human thoughts about their professional lives as well as professional expertise about their ‘human’ lives. It can be used to build relationships, share news, discover new research resources, and for many other professional capacities in our academic space.
But even though set up doesn’t take long (here’s a 10-step guide created for academics) or require expertise, becoming a regular Twitter user is not all blue skies. Below are some pros and cons from some experienced Tweeters in our space for those who have thought about joining in or bringing life back to their neglected accounts (and it doubles as a good list to follow if you already Tweet like a pro).
A.J. Boston, Scholarly Communications Librarian at Murray State University, @aj_boston
- Pro: While I do present and publish professionally, I find that tweeting is a medium that suits my communication style very well. My thinking usually produces ideas that you might classify as either a non-sequitur or a rambling tangent; both of these are native file types of Twitter. Most things I tweet would never add up to a full conference proposal and would lose all life if distilled into an abstract. Even so, I like to think that some of the things I tweet still hold value as shared thoughts. I know that the feedback I receive in response is often of value to me.
- Con: Conversations on twitter are highly contextual to each other. It can be difficult to dip in casually and fully understand what’s going on. To be a proficient reader or writer on Twitter, it feels like you have to dive into the deep end and stay there awhile, and that can be exhausting. There are corners that are toxic, incentives that are perverse, and groupthink that can be difficult to recognize. For better and for worse, your brain gets rewired.
Dan Chibnall, STEM Librarian and Associate Professor of Librarianship at Drake University, @bookowl
- Pro: Discovering helpful, unique ideas in threads by other professionals is one of the biggest pros of using Twitter. I tend to create Twitter Lists where I can organize people I follow by topic, field, hobby, etc. and this is where I often learn about a new program, teaching concept, or research article that I can try in my library. Plus, I can then have a conversation with the author and others about it in the thread without having to worry about emails in my inbox.
- Con: Having to sift through a constant river of memes, news, and suggested follows can make Twitter a difficult place to be, initially. However, there are plenty of tools that can help you form lists so you can separate your personal from your professional from your hobbies. It takes time, energy, and organization but once you find great people and groups to follow, Twitter can be a positive, valuable tool for learning more about your field or just the world in general.
Lettie Conrad, PhD, Independent researcher & consultant, @lyconrad
- Pro: Expanding my horizons – from meeting new people to encountering new perspectives, my #scholcomm Twitter community is a channel for learning and enlightenment!
- Con: It’s an investment – building a #scholcomm community requires time and patience, to connect with the right folks, to prune the ads and other irrelevant distractions, to stay fresh and engaged, but it’s worth it!
Matt East, Education Lead at Talis, @mdleast
- Pros: Being able to connect to a like-minded community across a global stage has been incredibly valuable for me professionally. This has enabled collaborations from research projects to speaking opportunities at events.
- Cons: There’s always a dark side. You can run the risk of losing sight of reality due to echo chambers. I feel like Twitter is incredibly valuable but, as with any tool, has to be used correctly. Coming at conversations from a critical lens is very important.
Erin Leach, Librarian, University of Georgia, @erinaleach
- Pro: Twitter has been beneficial for me in making professional connections and keeping current on the conversation about my various professional interests. I’ve been able to make professional connections and I routinely find new things to add to my to-be-read list that might not have found any other way.
- Con: On the flip side, Twitter can be a website full of “hot takes” and venting. Too much of either can leave me feeling dispirited so I have started curating my list of follows more carefully in order to engage largely with people who have informed ideas and engage thoughtfully with others on the site.
Ray Pun, PhD, Librarian, @RayPun101
- Pro: If you are looking for insights or thought-provoking ideas or conversations in the field, Twitter is a great place to start finding such discussions, particularly during a conference. It may inform your current thinking or offer perspective that you may not have considered before.
- Con: It can be overwhelming to go through the site because it can often feel like an endless stream of posts to go through.
Sara Rouhi, Director of Strategic Partnerships at PLOS, @RouhiRoo
- Pros: You can always lurk – follow folks and never post. Many people follow key opinion leaders in their fields, joke accounts, anything that’s interesting without ever posting.
- Identify communities you want to engage with and follow them based on twitter recommendations. I rant on politics, scholcomm, and comedy so those are the folks that see me and I see them.
- Determine BEFOREHAND what you want this to be — all in (personal and professional?) just personal? Just professional? If just professional, are you just focusing on one thing? Observe how people you’re interested in use their accounts. Some people are very good (and happy) to mix personal/professional. Others find it too draining or aren’t comfortable.
- Cons: Twitter is not real life and can be super draining.
- Observe your behavior and observe if your interactions are making you stressed/drained/glum or are energizing and interesting. It’s very easy to get lost in the algos and end up … like Colin Robinson’s victims 😂
- Always ignore the trolls
- For good faith engagers, stay upbeat when disagreeing and avoid getting sucked in to emotional contagion and personal attacks. If it’s making you feel bad, LOG OFF.
Roz Tedford, Director of Research & Instruction, Wake Forest University, @roztedford
- Pro: Allows you to find diverse voices on issues you are interested in when those voices are often missing from mainstream academic or news publications.
- Con: The algorithms determine how your feed is ordered and this clogs your feed with ads and the most engaging posts (usually the ones that make people angry), not the most important posts. I sometimes get so frustrated with that that I will go weeks without checking it.
Courtney Young, University Librarian and Professor in the Libraries at Colgate University, @librarycourtney
- Pro: it allows you to build an informal community of practice. Colleagues you may or may not know offer interesting ideas and perspectives on a challenge or opportunity you’re faced with. Often the responses are pretty fast and others you don’t know are brought into a thread to add to that conversation.
- Con: the elasticity of use. Some people regularly use it. Others only use it when they attend a conference. Others set up an account and never use it, even to lurk (and there can be value in lurking). Particularly during this pandemic it has been so valuable to connect and converse via the platform. The good news is that colleagues can return and I’m always hopeful in those cases.
My own thoughts (@camillegamboa): I am not the most consistent of Tweeters, but I’ve found that when I need it, there is nothing else that will serve in its place. Below are my own pros and cons.
- Pro: Access to individuals who would not have known I existed otherwise. It can give a speck of voice – even power – (280-characters worth at least) to those nearly inaccessible powerful voices (e.g. policymakers, business leaders, and other influential voices). For those who dive in, don’t feel shy about tweeting at those types when you feel you have something important to say (and when they tweet back, it’s a thrill!).
- Con: Because I’m not on very day, when I do log on, it’s easy to feel overwhelm or even a bit of FOMO. It can feel as if everyone else is always sitting in the Twitter club interacting and up-to-date, and my inconsistent visits make me a permanent ‘club outsider’. But in truth, using the platform only as-needed and as-useful (including for comic relief or for a break) might be the best way to do it (because if it’s needed or useful, what would be the point?).
I’m sure I’ve left out some awesome tweeters in this short list, so please reach out (or comment below) with others or pros and cons of your own.
About the Author: My name is Camille Gamboa (she/her) and I’ve joined The Charleston Hub’s blog to write about all things communications. I am the corporate communications and public affairs director at SAGE Publishing, where I employ various communication strategies to brand SAGE amongst the scholarly community, media, policymakers and public. I also work with groups in the US and across the trans-Atlantic to demonstrate the value of social and behavioral science to those outside of academia. I have a Master of Arts in communication from Pepperdine University and a certificate for women and leadership from Antioch University. I currently reside in the greater DC-area with my husband and two young daughters. @CamilleGamboa