It seemed like a great idea. Tweet all the academics featured in the journal, with a link to their article. It was a neat way of promoting the journal and the writers in one easy step. As the editorial assistant on the journal – student job to fund the PhD – I was adding value and not just sitting there staring at a screen all day.
It didn’t work.
My great idea sank after the third tweet. I found out that many of the academics were not Twitter. At first I thought it was just the ones featured in a Canadian journal of cultural studies. Maybe it was our usual reticence about promoting oneself. It turned out that age was the issue.
Academics under 40 used Twitter. Academics over 40 years of age did not.
The younger crowd grew up with social media. They made and consumed millions of posts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or other platforms. Social media was as familiar to them as the pimples on their faces.
The older crowd of academics are familiar with the wrinkles on their faces, but do not know how or appreciate the value of sharing them on social media. They are missing a great opportunity for promoting themselves and their work.
Especially for middling academics – the majority of us – who now realise that their cutting edge research has generated little change but has caused plenty of paper cuts.
Using social media is one way of creating a tiny, perfect universe of followers who are interested in the academic’s ideas. It’s better than the global shrug of indifference.
So here are the benefits of using Twitter:
1. Promote Yourself. And the vitally important work you are doing – even if that importance is just in your own mind. A tweet can connect you to others interested in the same area.
2. Find Friends and Allies. Twitter is an efficient way of finding others who are interested in your area of work. It increases the possibility of collaboration on research projects or conference presentations. Your Twitter followers can give you feedback on work in progress.
3. Spy on the Competition. Conversations on Twitter are fast and fleeting. It is a great way of checking out what your competitors are doing, thinking or writing about. Savour that feeling of realizing that you have more followers than your rivals.
4. Cross Boundaries. Academics are forced to focus on a narrow area if they want to be successful. With Twitter those boundaries can be crossed by using and following hashtags that appeal to a wide range of users. For example, #RaceAndSpace tweets are from academics in social justice, geography, outdoors recreation and conservation.
5. Follow the News in your Field. I use Twitter to find out about the latest jobs, conferences, calls for papers and funding opportunities. These are announced long before they reach print publication or get buried on specialist websites.
6. Boost Book Sales. Use Twitter to promote your old and new books. A weekly tweet with a link to the books will do wonders of the sales. Or at least raise awareness that your books are out there, waiting to be read.
7. Gossips and Scandals. Who got fired and why? Who is being sued? How did the university handle/cover that up? Twitter is fantastic for showing the hidden side of academia and what people really think about the hot potato issues of the day. You can join in the conversations or just listen to them. Either way it is riveting.
Twitter is the electronic equivalent of the chats around the office water cooler. We know that the best conversations often happen there.
So older academics, get over your fear or condescension about social media. Get on Twitter. It takes about a minute to set up an account. Do so and start tweeting. Let the world know about you and the vitally important work you are doing.