Three PhD students ponder…is Twitter worth it? Part III: Making the most of your time

Maybe you’ve decided to take the plunge.  You’ve signed up for a Twitter account, and you’re trying to figure out how to use it, how to tweet, and what the hell is a hashtag anyway?!  But once you’ve progressed beyond these teething stages, it’s important to think about how to maximise what you get out of Twitter for what you put in: your valuable time and energy.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that is generated – 500 million tweets are sent every day! – and while some of it will be useful and interesting, much of it will be irrelevant to you.

How do you separate the signal from the noise, to find the information you want?

How do you connect with other like-minded professionals on Twitter and become part of their online community?

With Chris Brandner (@ChrisBrandner) and Nathan Lee (@NathanAndyLee), we pooled together our advice for getting the most out of your time on Twitter.  This post is part three of a four-part series on the value of using Twitter professionally (here are links to part one and part two).

Time-To-Tweet

What are the best ways to maximise the “returns” on your time investment?

Chris: Tweet information that you think is relevant to your position, and your network of followers. The good thing about Twitter is that you don’t have to follow people you don’t have shared interests in. So hopefully, the information that you are putting out there will be of interest to others as well. It allows you to ask questions, seek answers, stay on top of up-to-date information in regards to research, employment opportunities, and also a platform to disseminate your research… in just 140 characters!

Nathan: a) Embrace the nature of Twitter and be proactive (by tweeting and re-tweeting), but not hyperactive. Twitter is great in that it is centred on short, sharp messages due to the 140-character limit. Don’t make a habit of working around this feature by compiling 10-tweet replies as the norm. Get straight to the point. And remember that the onus is on you to follow up content that interests you: start the conversation and keep it going!

b) Follow the right people, and tweet information that your followers may be interested in. Share useful information that you come across. We’re all in it together!

c) Become adept at being concise and using visual aids. I enjoy looking back at my favourite tweets every now and then; it’s almost like a trip down memory lane of some of the great content I’ve come across. In looking back, it’s no surprise that many tweets I have “favourited” include a simple and telling diagram, while a large proportion also include one-line phrases or impactful comments and quotes.

Jacquie: Understand that the internet works on a trust economy; if people are going to engage with you, they need to feel like they know you to some degree. If you’re thinking of signing up to Twitter or another social network, it’s important to understand that there is a considerable time investment upfront, BUT the time required for upkeep can be quite minimal. So when you first sign up, be prepared to provide information about yourself, about your work, and know that is completely normal to have little or no interaction with others in the early stages. Don’t be disheartened, though; if you keep putting the time into sharing useful or interesting content, people will come to learn what you’re about over time and will develop a kind of trust in the messages you’re putting online.

To maximise your returns, you really need to know why you’re using Twitter in the first place. What would make your time investment worthwhile for YOU? For some, it might be an opportunity to share links to your publications. After all, tweeting links to journal articles has been associated with higher article downloads and higher citations (Eysenbach, 2011). Or maybe you want to connect with other like-minded professionals around the world? A great way to do this is to participate in a live Twitter chat. For example, regular live chats are organised for PhD students on the #phdchat Twitter stream, and for early career researchers on the #ecrchat Twitter stream. There are many worthwhile professional uses for Twitter, but it is important to identify what you’re aiming to get out of Twitter and then invest your time in those activities, predominantly.

lots-of-tweets

Is there anything about Twitter that you wish you’d known earlier?

Chris: There is still heaps I don’t know about Twitter. I am lucky in that I had a bit of a Twitter mentor when I first began, and still call on this person when I am having problems today!

Nathan: It is amazing, and well worth the time! Had I known this, I would have actively used Twitter earlier. The exposure to content and people that goes both ways is amazing. Twitter has so much potential and hosts users with diverse backgrounds, as people across many different fields use Twitter. It can stimulate thoughts and ideas outside of your own interest area, and I love branching my knowledge out to other fields.

Jacquie: Nothing stands out in terms of “things I wish I knew”. I’m pleased that my use of the service has evolved and improved as I’ve adapted to how Twitter itself has evolved over time. I consider myself lucky to have been involved as an early adopter, because it gives me great perspective now to appreciate that how Twitter is used right now is so much more powerful, fluid, adaptable than when I first started using it.

Do you have any advice for those who are new to or considering joining the Twittersphere?

twitterChris: 1. Just do it!  It honestly doesn’t take that long to set up a Twitter account and start using straight away.
2. Figure out why you want to use Twitter. Personal use, professional networking? Whatever the reason, figure it out to maximise your audience.
3. Re-tweet. RT other researchers, academics, and industry professionals to start building a profile of your own. These RTs will also begin to tell your own story by sharing your interests with your followers.
4. Follow others. I have found that on most occasions, if you follow someone they will follow you back if you both have similar interests. This allows your network to grow, so you can tweet more information to a much wider audience.
5. Don’t tweet about what you had for lunch; nobody wants to see that stuff anymore!

Nathan: a) If you are umm-ing and ahh-ing, then just join Twitter and give it a whirl! As I said, no harm will be done. You could start small, and follow just a couple of people that tweet information in the area of your interest. You can even sit tight, and soak up all of the tweets from other users. No need to rush into sending tweets yourself! It is also worthwhile to see who the people you follow, are following.

b) Don’t be intimidated or hesitant to tweet a question or reply, or retweet people who are at the peak of their respective industry or profession. I find that the professional bridge that may exist between an industry leading professional and a student as an example, is virtually non-existent on Twitter. This makes for a welcoming, “open arms” environment.

c) If you enjoyed reading someone’s work, I’m sure they would appreciate that feedback, and give them a re-tweet. It helps to build your online profile and presence, but also, sharing is caring! If you enjoyed the content, I have no doubt that someone else will.

Jacquie: If you’re considering joining, it’s worth identifying what barriers have stopped you before or continue to make you apprehensive:
– Are you concerned about how much time it might take out of your day?
– Are you worried that you don’t have anything interesting to tweet about?
– Or worse still, are you worried that no one else tweets about anything interesting?!

These are all valid concerns, but my counter-argument really comes down to something very simple: Twitter is a social network, the operative word being “social”. In any context, online or offline, socialising is about relationships, and relationships grow and shrink with the time, care, and attention paid to them. Similarly, the benefits of being active on Twitter shift with how much time and effort you put in. If you want to get something out of being active on Twitter, then you’ve got to be willing to give something of value: your opinion, your research, your practical insights, but maybe even a little of your personality, your values and beliefs. If you’re not willing to commit some time and energy to Twitter, if you don’t have the patience to allow these relationships to develop over time, then you’re not likely to get much benefit out of having a Twitter account.

If you’ve just joined Twitter, great! It can be useful to find someone to mentor you in the early stages – if you don’t know someone personally that can play this role, then hop on Twitter and source a mentor from the crowd! I’ve found Twitter to be, by and large, supportive and encouraging, so don’t be afraid to tweet someone you admire or respect and ask for their help. If you’re more of a self-directed type, then one of my favourite resources for new Twitter users is the website “Mom, This Is How Twitter Works”. It’s a great primer on the ins and outs of Twitter, presented in plain language that just about anyone could understand 🙂 It might seem a bit overwhelming as a newbie – “where do I even start?” – but one of the great strengths of Twitter is that you’re not pigeonholed into using the platform in a certain way, dictated by others. Instead, you get to dictate how you wish to use Twitter. For example, I maintain separate accounts for personal and professional use, but I like to let some of my personality and non-work interests “bleed” into my professional account from time to time; I think it’s important that others know there’s a real human being on the other side! On the other hand, many sports scientists and sports medicine professionals choose to use Twitter strictly for work-related tweets, to maintain a consistent stream of information and eliminate the risk of sharing sensitive or private information. There’s no such thing as “one right way” to go about it, so my advice is to experiment with a few different approaches to find one that best suits your purposes and needs.

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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