Twitter has more than 310 million estimated active monthly users and is increasingly gaining popularity among social scientists and researchers. At the 2017 annual meeting of the Population Association of America (PAA), incoming PAA president Wendy Manning noted that “We have a responsibility to share our scientific knowledge,” and social media is an effective tool for sharing. Manning also noted that there are benefits to engaging with social media as a social scientist.
Twitter is useful for staying current on trends and developments in your field, highlighting your professional expertise, and networking (both online and in person). Many people now meet first on Twitter, and later meet in person at conferences or workshops. And many people also use Twitter to stay in touch in between the times they meet in person.
Building Your Twitter Network
A simple way to begin finding other Twitter users with similar interests is to start with a conference hashtag, like #PAA2017. Find people who used the hashtag and click on their profile to see what else they tweet about. If their content seems interesting, follow them.
In addition, each person’s profile contains a “following” list, which shows all the handles the person follows. You can scan that list for additional inspiration. As you begin to post content, people will reply, retweet, or follow you. Your own base of followers will grow over time as people read and engage with your posts. You may choose to follow some, all, or none of the people who follow you. Over time you will see content that you find useful or informative and will figure out which accounts to follow (or unfollow).
Finding Your Voice
It is perfectly acceptable to use Twitter as a viewer while you get your bearings. Once you feel comfortable engaging—either replying to tweets, retweeting other tweets, or posting your own—you will also begin to find your Twitter voice. You will notice that some tweets generate more engagement than others. (Photos, videos, and numbers tend to boost engagement. More details are provided in the slides that accompany this article.) You may notice, and try out, styles used by others. Some users have success with list-format posts and some with chart-plus-explanation format. Some users prefer headline-style tweets that make you want to read the research paper linked to the tweet. Some users take a simple approach of engaging thoughtfully with others. Experiment and see what works for you.
Twitter terminology, use, and best practices can be found in this presentation (with notes): How to Tweet Like a Demographer (PDF).