Second day of #SU5DoT: Following people and sending @messages

Welcome to the 2nd day of #su5dot! Today is all about making connections and starting conversations on Twitter.

You’ve sent your first tweets, creating interesting and engaging content for your potential followers. The other side to Twitter, of course, is the stream of information brought to you by the people you follow. And if you follow people, chances are they will take a look at your profile and decide to follow you in return (which is why setting up a profile with some engaging tweets first was important!).

One of the key features of Twitter is that unlike other platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn, following is not necessarily reciprocal – the people you follow may not be the people who follow you (although they may be!). Some people have a more-or-less even match of followers and following; others follow lots of people but don’t tweet much themselves and therefore don’t have many followers; and some Tweeters, usually very well-known people or institutions, may have a large number of followers as they tweet a lot but don’t actually follow many people, using Twitter more as a broadcast medium to get their message out there.

As an individual professional, you’re probably going to get the most benefit in the first instance for the first option, having roughly the same number of followers and following. Twitter works best as a dialogue, and this won’t happen if you’re doing all the talking, or have no one to talk to! This is true even for those tweeting in an official capacity on behalf of their department or research group, although they may have more followers than people they follow, it’s still useful to follow some people, services or institutions so you have other useful information to pass on as well as just promoting your own interests. And following people will give you a sense of how it’s done when you send your own tweets.

How many people you follow is up to you, although perhaps 100 is a good number to aim for (not all today!), to ensure a useful stream of content. Think about what sort of information you want access to, and what sorts of tweeters are likely to offer it (see the list below for some suggestions). It is an organic process and will take time to build up, and don’t forget that you can always unfollow people if the content they tweet is not useful to you! The ‘follow’ button will simply turn to ‘unfollow’, giving you this option. There are ways to find out if you’ve been ‘unfollowed’, but there is no automatic alert and generally people don’t bother to check.

To follow someone, simply click on their profile (their name or picture) and click the ‘Follow’ button on the right hand side of their profile:

Caerleon Roman Baths Caerleon_Baths Twitter

So how do you find people to follow? When you first sign up to Twitter, it will suggest people for you to follow, or invite you to search for names or keywords, but this can be a bit hit and miss. Some people give up at this point, thinking it’s all pop stars and people tweeting about their breakfast…

At this point, it would be useful to know who else is participating in the programme, so I’ve compiled a list of everyone who sent the tweet I suggested yesterday, so you can find and follow each other!

Here are eight more suggestions (not exhaustive!) to build a useful feed of information that might work well for you in a Higher Education context:

1. ‘Celebrity’ academics and media dons Following well-known people and commentators in academia will give you some ideas of how to build your profile and impact, as well as offering commentary on education policy, news on developments in Higher Education, access to their own network of followers and interesting material to retweet to your followers. You could follow Education researchers such as Tara Brabazon or academics such as Athene Donald, Brian Cox or Mary Beard, who write on academia and impact more broadly.

2. Professional Bodies For updates about events, news, policy, or funding opportunities, your  professional body will be very useful. Try for example the Institute or College representing your discipline (for example, The Royal Society, Royal College of Nursing, Chartered Management Institute or British Academy. There are also general Higher Education organisations such as the Higher Education Academy or its relevant subject centres which have a Twitter presence. You can also follow specific universities’ research institutes if they have twitter feeds.

3. Funding Bodies For calls for funding and other news, follow bodies such as the Research Councils UK (@research_uk), the individual councils such as the EPSRC, AHRC, ESRC or JISC.

4. Academic and Professional Press Education press such as @TimesHigherEd, @InsideHigherEd or @gdnHigherEd will give you access to general HE news stories which may interest you or your followers. Discipline specific publications such as New Scientist, Nursing Times or the Economist also have their own Twitter feeds, and many academic journals and publishers too, such as the various Nature journals such as NatureChemistry, or NatureMedicine. The LSE Impact blog has excellent articles on all aspects of research.

Following individual journalists too might be a way to hear about interesting stories or even raise your own profile in the press. Many journals also have their own Twitter accounts which they may use to interact with potential contributors or interviewees.

5. Colleagues in your discipline Following other colleagues in your field on Twitter is a fantastic way to network. Search for people you know or have heard of to see if they have a Twitter account, both senior and more junior academics. Search by name or by keyword, or import contacts from your LinkedIn account or email, especially JISCmail lists.

6. Academic mentors There are several bloggers and tweeters who create a supportive community for other academic professionals and research students, who have really useful advice and experiences to share on the various aspects of being or becoming an academic, from writing and publication to managing your career. Useful advice to pass on to your students, and possibly useful for you too. You could try jobs.ac.uk for career advice or follow @thesiswhisperer@researchwhisperer@ECRchat@ThomsonPat,  @NetworkedRes and even @phdcomics Do you know of any others?

7. Public Engagement and Impact Following the university’s marketing and public engagement team and other researchers interested in impact will help you be aware of events which you might volunteer for, or interesting ways to present research to other audiences. Follow Swansea University’s official twitter feed. Try also Swansea University’s list of SU twitter accounts. You could also follow commentators such as Ben Goldacre or Simon Singh.

8. Associated services and professionals There are lots of people on Twitter who can offer you useful information, but aren’t in your profession. Follow librarians, disability advisers, employability advisers, learning technologists and researcher, learning and staff developers…all useful people to learn from and collaborate with, and stay in touch with what’s happening around the university! Follow the Library, the Student Union, the Research Impact team, the Arts & Humanities Researchers (RIAH).

9. Policy makers If you’re interested in government education policy, you could always follow individual politicians, the Government department for Education, WONKHE or the select committees for Business, Information and Skills or Education.You could also follow bodies such as the QAA, HEFCE, Sutton Trust or HESA.

10.Politics, Industry and other sectors To keep an eye on developments in the sector, possible future impacts and applications of your research, or developments which might affect what you’re working on, you could follow some of the professional bodies or companies which represent the types of sector related to your research. if you’re interested in UK Government policy on science, you could follow for example individual politicians and ministers, or  the relevant Select Committees e.g.Science or Health (or the equivalent in other countries).

How to grow your Twitter feed from here:

Twitter will suggest people for you to follow based on who you’re currently following. This can be a bit random at first, as you’re not following many people so there’s nothing for its algorithm to work on. There are other ways to add people to your Twitter feed:

Snowball – look at the profile of the people you’re following – who do they follow, and who else is following them? You can see who’s following you, or anyone else, by going to your or their profile, and clicking on ‘followers’.

 Sam Oakley rscsam Twitter

Retweets – people you follow will retweet things they think might be of interest. Keep an eye out for retweets from accounts you don’t yet follow, and add them. We’ll cover retweeting in future Days.

Hashtags – especially around livechats or livetweeted events such as conferences. Joining a discussion around a hashtag is a good way to find more people interested in that topic or event. We’ll also cover hashtags in future Days.

#FF or #FollowFriday – this is a convention on Twitter that on Fridays you can tweet the names of people you think are worth following to others. Watch out for these, or tweet your followers and ask them for recommendations!

Follows You will be notified when new people follow you – look at their profile to see if they are someone you want to follow back. If you suspect one of your new followers is spam, you can ‘block’ them using the head icon next to the ‘Follow” button, and selecting ‘block’.

Task 1: go find some people to follow and in spare moments through the day watch the feed of tweets and information they’re sending. If you find any other interesting people you think others should follow, let us know!

Sending @messages
You’ve sent some tweets, followed people and hopefully gained some followers of your own. Some people prefer to listen more than they tweet, which is fine – the only thing to consider is, the more you say about your interests and interact with others, the more people will know what kind of information might be useful to you, and direct relevant things your way. It’s a way of fine-tuning your twitter feed as well as providing useful information to others.

Sometimes you might want to address a tweet to someone – it will be visible to other followers, but you want to catch a particular person’s attention with it. This might be because:

  • you are replying to or responding to one of their tweets,
  • asking them a question,
  • because you think they might be particularly interested in the information passed on in your tweet and want to make sure it catches their eye,
  • or because you mention them in the tweet and want them to know, for example, if you retweet one of their tweets or are talking about their work.
  • It may also be that you don’t follow that person, or they don’t follow you, but you still want to catch their attention with one particular tweet: they will still see it if you include their @username.

For example:

To call someone’s attention to a tweet with an @mention, you use their username or ‘handle’ preceded by a @ sign. For example, to let me (Sam) know you’ve mentioned me, you would include ‘@rscsam’ in the tweet. If you click the ‘reply’ option which appears in grey in each tweet, Twitter will automatically insert the person’s @name into your tweet (we’ll look at the other options that appear in each tweet later!)

Tweets with replies by Sam Oakley rscsam Twitter

This is another reason to keep your Twitter name as short as you can – it uses up some of the 140 characters! This is a feature that originated with the users of Twitter, which was then subsequently designed into the platform. It’s what has turned Twitter from a broadcast medium of updates into a conversation, and that’s Twitter’s real strength.

Note – as the @ sign is reserved for marking people’s handles, you can’t use it as an abbreviation for ‘at’, for example, ‘let’s meet @6pm @cafe’ – it will treat these as an @message, and it’s likely that someone, somewhere, will have chosen @6pm or @cafe as a handle!

A small but important point is where you place the @username. If you are responding to a tweet, using the ‘reply’ button, then Twitter will automatically begin your tweet response with the @username, and you can then type the rest of your message. However, if the very first thing in the tweet is someone’s @username, then only that person and those who follow both of you will be able to see it. If you want the tweet to have a wider audience, then you either need to put a full stop in front of the @ sign like this: .@rscsam OR you could include the @username later on in your tweet as part of the sentence, for example: ‘reading @rscsam’s blog post about Twitter – some useful tips!’

Why might you want a wider audience to see conversations between you and another user?

What’s in it for them:

  • It’s polite to acknowledge them if you’re retweeting something they’ve said, or to let them know if you’re commenting on their work
  • You are drawing attention to them and their work to people who don’t already follow them – they get publicity and new followers

What’s in it for you:

  • You gain a reputation as a polite, helpful, knowledgeable and well-connected professional
  • You may also gain new followers or make new connections

What’s in it for your followers:

  • They get to know about someone’s work which they may have been unaware of, and a new person to follow
  • They are offered a chance to contribute to the discussion too, and thereby gain new contacts and audiences
  • If replying to someone who’s passed on useful information to you specifically, it’s helpful to copy in their reply to your tweet response, in case your followers are also interested in the information.

Of course, there may be times when you don’t want a wide audience to see the interaction, if it’s not going to be understandable out of context, or of interest to them but just cluttering up their feed, and in these cases, you can just start the message with ‘@’. Remember that Twitter is a very public medium, and whether you @message someone or not, your tweets will be visible to anyone who views your profile. If you really want to send a message to just one person, but don’t want it publicly visible to anyone else, Twitter allows you to send them a DM or Direct Message IF that person follows you (if you want to practice sending a Direct Message, feel free to contact one of the organisers! Let us know so we can follow you first (if we’re not already).

To see @messages directed at you, click on the tab marked Notifications with the Bell icon, at the top of the screen:

Twitter Notifications

They will also appear in your Twitter stream, but you may miss them there! Depending on your settings, you can also receive an email when someone @messages you. To set your account to email you when someone mentions you, click on Settings (accessed via your Profile Picture at the top) and then ‘Email Notifications’ in the left hand menu.

Task 2 – send some @messages to people you follow – ask them a question, draw their attention to something, comment on something they’ve tweeted! Reply to anyone who messages you, to be polite, if they appear genuine and professional. And remember to send either one of us an @message to tell us how it’s going ( @rscsam or @benfelen).

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