You’ve now 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. There is no obligation to follow someone just because they follow you.
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 as 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 or organisations 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.
To follow someone, simply click on their profile (their name or picture) and click the ‘Follow’ button below their details.
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 that it’s all pop stars and people tweeting about their breakfast!
Alternatively, you could mute certain people (some people post huge numbers of tweets which can swamp your feed) and occasionally visit their profile to catch up on their tweets. In some cases this is preferable to completely unfollowing them.
Here are eight more suggestions (not exhaustive!) to build a useful feed of information that might work well for you as an academic.
- ‘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 academic impact more broadly.
- 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 which have a Twitter presence. You can also follow specific universities’ research institutes if they have Twitter feeds.
- Funding Bodies: For calls for funding and other news, follow bodies such as the Research Councils UK (@research_uk), the individual councils or bodies such as the EPSRC, AHRC, ESRC or JISC
- 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.
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.
- 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 from your email account, especially JISCmail lists. Following the ‘backchannel’ of tweets around large annual conferences are a good way to find out who’s on twitter.
- Academic mentors: There are several academic 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 @earlycareerblog and even @phdcomics Do you know of any others?
- 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 UoBs official twitter feed. Try also the UoB Radio Show. You could also follow commentators such as Ben Goldacre or Simon Singh.
- 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 researchers, 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 Enactus Bedfordshire, The Library, Student Services, The Student Union, International Students team, Employability or The Press Office.
- 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 committee for Education. You could also follow bodies such as the QAA, HEFCE, Sutton Trust or HESA.
- 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).
Twitter is partly about the information you tweet, but also about the information you gain from the people you follow. Spend some time reading your Twitter feed to see what comes up!
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’.
Retweets – people you follow will retweet things they think might be of interest to others. Keep an eye out for interesting 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 a convention on Twitter that on Fridays where you tweet the names of people you think are worth following. 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 gear icon next to the ‘Follow’ button, and selecting ‘block’. It’s as well to do this, especially as people may be looking through your followers for ideas of who to follow, and it doesn’t look good if lots of your followers are spam!
So – 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! Remember to keep an eye out for tweets from @bedsCLE