Today’s post is a small celebration of my favourite social media site (apart from Ravelry, but that doesn’t have quite the same relevance to researcher development). Other SM sites are available and it would be great to feature these in future – let me know if you want to write your own celebration.

Twitter works for me because of the way other people use it – they post material that I find useful, in a way I find engaging. This is something that you should bear in mind as you develop your own social media strategy (and if you need help with this, look at the Social Media Strategy Template from Mark Reed at Fact Track Impact).

I’m still fairly new in my IAD role, but for many years in consultancy, twitter had a huge impact in four areas of my life and work. I’m going to talk through these and try to give some examples.

Neighbourhood. In a university you have a neighbourhood, a physical environment which I live in and interact with. I bump into people, I see notices on boards, I get emails about events – suddenly I’m part of something. Being based in Edinburgh, a fantastic city gives me another environment – theatres, shops, museums. There’s a constant flow of ideas and possibilities which come from the spaces around me. Much as I love the Scottish Borders where I live, it is a different kind of neighbourhood (although you should still visit). But even in The University of Edinburgh there are limits so Twitter helps me to inhabit a virtual space where I have news and interactions with the people and organisations that interest and inspire me.

Conversations. This leads me into the second thing that I love about twitter, which is the conversations that I have there. The 140 character limit facilitates rather than limits this as people get to the point and focus on key information. You can quickly contribute ideas and there’s a very open and democratic culture. As long as you have something interesting to say, just say it. The hierarchy is less obvious which can increase the richness of conversations as lots of different persepctives come in. Another great feature is being able to listen to conversations if you follow both/all of the people having them. I particularly enjoy these moments which remind me of my time as a young researcher sitting in our departmental tea room (yes kids, we used to have tea rooms in departments…) listening to the academics talking about research, funding, teaching and all kinds of other things. Eavesdropping aside, the conversations I’ve had on twitter have been great for strengthening my network and helped me to network more easily face to face…

Network …so it’s no surprise that networking features in this list. The connections made on twitter have led to collaborations, joint workshops, offers to write, interviews and friendships. It’s also a great “shop window” for your ideas and approach to life, so I try to be authentic when I post things. It’s a personal feed and I hope when people  meet me face to face, that I’ve represented myself accurately. If you find face to face networking challenging, you can lay really great foundations online and that initial approach when you are finally in the room becomes much, much easier.

Information flow As an enthusiastic advocate of social media I am used to hearing “but I don’t have time!” (or the delightfully passive aggressive “I don’t know where you find the time”). Twitter saves me LOADS of time. It’s where I hear about most developments from funders and key organisations; it points me to interesting ideas at conferences that I don’t have the time or money to attend; it gives me a sense of how researchers, academic leaders and people who work in roles like mine are reacting to big issues like REF, impact, funding and HE policy. It took time for me to build up the community that I follow, but now that is in place (and constantly evolving) it is an efficiency tool. There’s more here on the time wasting myth and other preconceptions that might be stopping you from getting started.

In short, twitter filled in the gaps for me and I’ve written in a previous existence about starting points for researchers wanting to build up a useful feed. As a researcher your gaps are likely to be different, but think about the role that social media – and there are many platforms available – could play in filling these.



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