Three PhD students ponder…is Twitter worth it? Part II: Barriers and opportunities

When people think about whether to invest their energies into cultivating a professional online presence, they’re usually most interested in the costs and benefits.  How much time is this going to require?  How much effort do I have to put in?  What are the rewards that I could reap by investing my time and effort into developing my professional identity through social networks?  I teamed up with Chris Brandner (@ChrisBrandner) and Nathan Lee (@NathanAndyLee) to examine both sides of the coin – barriers and opportunities – in this post, part two of a four-part series on the value of Twitter in academia (click here for part one: “How and why we use Twitter”).

Were there barriers that initially discouraged you from using Twitter?

Chris: Time. I was already juggling full-time PhD research, teaching, and a part-time industry position – how was I going to find time to learn how to use Twitter? I was already not using Facebook to its full potential due to my workload, so why would I bother with another social media platform?

Nathan: To be honest, not really. I didn’t consider Twitter to have much of a negative. My rationale was that, worst comes to the worst, I have a Twitter account that doesn’t get used often and no harm is done. In fact, I had a Twitter account for a year before I started to use it frequently to send my own tweets.  Conveniently, this turned out to be beneficial; I took this time to learn Twitter lingo and etiquette, which can be overwhelming at first.

Jacquie: No, I am a bit of an early adopter when it comes to technology, so I started using Twitter in its infancy purely out of curiosity – it was new, unknown, and exciting.  I was also motivated to try it out because most of my friends overseas had quickly become frequent tweeters and I was eager to stay up-to-date with their lives through their tweets (yes, even the mundane ones)!

“I was already juggling full-time PhD research, teaching, and a part-time industry position – how was I going to find time to learn how to use Twitter?” – Chris Brandner

Has your Twitter presence led to tangible, professional opportunities?  If yes, how?

Chris: Yes. The power of Twitter is that you can connect with people that you have never met before, on the other side of the world, with shared interests. I like to live-tweet from conference presentations, which has given me a huge following – mostly from people that are interested in the work being presented but cannot be there themselves. They can then re-tweet the information to a much wider audience, which has proven to be a great way to share cutting edge research.

Chris Brandner live-tweeted from a workshop delivered by Andy Franklyn-Miller, who subsequently re-tweeted Chris Brandner in turn.  This "signal boost" from Andy has helped maximise the reach of the tweet to the tune of 122 retweets at the time of writing this blog post!

Chris Brandner live-tweeted from a workshop delivered by Andy Franklyn-Miller, who re-tweeted Chris Brandner in turn. This “signal boost” from Andy has helped maximise the reach of Chris’ original tweet to the tune of 122 retweets at the time of writing this blog post!

Through connections made via Twitter, I have been fortunate enough to be an invited speaker at two Strength and Conditioning Professional Development seminars where I have presented some of my PhD research. I am travelling to Europe for the first time in mid-2014 for two conferences, and Twitter has provided a platform to contact other conference delegates to organise accommodation and coordinate travel plans. While I am there I will roll out a “working holiday” to  meet with sport scientists and strength and conditioning coaches, which will ultimately help me further my practical experience.

Nathan: No specific opportunities yet. As I am still in the early stages in my studies, I am hoping this will soon change. Perhaps I should make this a primary short term goal for my Twitter usage. Having said that, I don’t actively try to achieve this in the way I currently use Twitter. For now, I am happy using the platform to stay up-to-date with the latest content being shared, and to engage with others within my field. If any professional opportunities manifest as a by-product of my Twitter use, I would consider it an added bonus…the “icing on the cake”! I have no doubt that Twitter enhances the likelihood of this taking place. Who knows what might arise from the professional relationships I have already developed on Twitter?

Jacquie: 1) February 2013 – Webinar for Sports Medicine Australia (SMA).  Of the major representative organisations in Australian sport and exercise, I see the team at SMA as being at the forefront with their use of social media.  My first experience of their well-executed social media strategy was at be active 2012 in Sydney, where a dedicated conference Twitter account actively engaged in conversations and content sharing with delegates on the #beactive2012 hashtag.  Following on from the conference, it was an absolute thrill to be asked by SMA to be a guest presenter for their first ever webinar, on “Social Media for Sports Practitioners” (read the Storify summary of the webinar here).  During the webinar, I was asked to draw on my experiences to provide insight into how social media can be used effectively in professional sports and exercise contexts.  I never envisaged that I would ever be asked for my “advice” on these kinds of topics, but there’s no doubt that this unique opportunity came about because of my active and long-standing Twitter presence.

2) April 2014 – British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) special issue co-edit with Caroline Finch on “Implementation science and social media”.  At the end of 2013, I was contacted by Nello Marino (Chief Executive Officer of SMA; @SMACEO) who had a proposition for me: would I like to be involved in co-editing an issue of the BJSM alongside Prof Caroline Finch (@CarolineFinch), on behalf of SMA?  …I couldn’t say YES fast enough!  Together, we put together a special issue of the BJSM which showcases the here and now of sports medicine research: the need to translate our scientific knowledge into meaningful change through considered intervention implementation, with an eye on the technologies available to deliver and monitor these interventions.  During the process, I was also aided by Nello, Prof Jill Cook (@ProfJillCook), and Prof Karim Khan (@BJSM_BMJ) – each of them are outstanding examples in their own fields and individuals that I have become better connected with through Twitter.  It was also satisfying to have come full circle: my professional interests in sports science and sports medicine colliding with my personal fascination in technology and social media.

Twitter can lead to real and tangible professional outcomes for academics. In this instance, Jacquie's existing Twitter relationships were the starting point that led to the opportunity to co-edit an issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine (alongside Prof Caroline Finch and Mr Nello Marino, on behalf of Sports Medicine Australia).

Twitter can lead to real and tangible professional outcomes for academics. In this instance, Jacquie’s existing Twitter relationships were the starting point that led to the opportunity to co-edit an issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine (alongside Prof Caroline Finch and Mr Nello Marino, on behalf of Sports Medicine Australia).  Click the image to read the accompanying editorial.

Are there alternatives to Twitter that you use frequently?  If not, why do you prefer this platform?

Chris: As I have already mentioned, I use Twitter to connect with other professionals in similar research and coaching areas as myself. Facebook is useful for my personal account. I do like to use Storify to link together multiple tweets that tell a story. I also have a LinkedIn profile which is somewhat up-to-date, but haven’t taken the time to use it to its full potential as yet.

The other that I use is Hootsuite, which allows me to view several Twitter streams and accounts simultaneously. The Hootsuite feature that I like best is that it allows to schedule tweets for a certain date or time, and you can even match these to when your profile is most viewed so your tweets are reaching as many people as possible. I have also started experimenting with “live-tweeting” during my own conference presentations by scheduling tweets to send out in real-time as I talk through a presentation. I haven’t seen anyone else use this function yet and I think it is a pretty novel approach to announcing my research to the world!

Nathan: ResearchGate, LinkedIn, and Academia have also been useful. I don’t use them as frequently though. You can find lots of great information and discussions on these platforms at times, however, I prefer Twitter as you get a lot less fluff, just information that is straight to the point (ed: gotta love the 140-character limit!). Communication on Twitter is also a lot more personal and casual compared to the way you would communicate with people on the other platforms. In addition, the capacity to reach a greater volume and range of readers on Twitter far surpasses the other platforms in my opinion.

“I prefer Twitter as you get a lot less fluff, just information that is straight to the point.” – Nathan Lee

I am also beginning to use Flipboard to collate some of my favourite content I come across each month. This can give a nice chronological overview of the content I have read when looking back throughout the year. It would be interesting to review or re-read some of the content I have previously read, and intriguing to see whether my interest areas shift over time. Sharing my monthly Flipboard may also provide a dense collation of content in one convenient place for readers.

Jacquie: I have a website which is a hub for my professional and leisure interests (www.jacquietran.com), and Twitter is one part of what I broadly consider my online identity.  I also maintain a few blogs, and am active on other social networks – Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook – for personal / non-work-related purposes.  The choice to intertwine my personal life and my professional activities on social media is deliberate: I love what I do but I am not my work, so I make an effort to ensure that my online identity is fairly represents the multiple dimensions of “me”.

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Who are we?

Chris Brandner is a PhD student from the Centre of Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (C-PAN) at Deakin University. His Doctorate focuses on the neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and perceptual responses to blood flow restriction strength training. Chris has a long history of conducting strength and conditioning programs within elite sporting environments, working extensively in Australian Rules Football. Chris currently trains state and national level Track and Field development athletes and is an accredited Level 2 Strength & Conditioning coach through the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, and Level 1 Sports Power/Olympic Lifts coach. You can follow Chris on twitter (@ChrisBrandner) or contact him via email (c.brandner@deakin.edu.au).

Nathan Lee is a PhD scholar from the Sports Performance Optimisation Research Team at the University of Tasmanian, and at the Tasmanian Institute of Sport (TIS). His research surrounds utilising countermovement jump performances as an indicator of fatigue and physical readiness predominantly from a strength and conditioning perspective. As part of Nathan’s PhD studies, he is involved in the strength and conditioning servicing for athletes at the TIS. Nathan has previously provided sport science services, in particularly performance analysis data for elite and professional netball teams, and is also a keen basketball coach. You can follow and contact Nathan on Twitter (@NathanAndyLee), or via email (nathan.andy.lee@gmail.com).

Jacquie Tran is a final year PhD student whose program of research has investigated the accuracy of training load measurement in rowing, and the utility of athlete wellness monitoring for distinguishing between successful and unsuccessful rowers.  Beyond her PhD, Jacquie’s professional interests include elite athlete performance, sports technology, and science communication.  Send her a tweet (@jacquietran) or visit her website for more information (www.jacquietran.com).

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