Academic Twitter can be an important tool for networking, we get it. But I’ve talked to more and more colleagues who have given up on Twitter because they felt that they couldn’t make it work and also didn’t want to spend unreasonable amounts of time on it. I get that too. Apart from the Twitter experiment I did in November 2020 and times where there’s relevant stuff going on, I also want to minimize time spent on social media/Twitter as much as possible. But, to my great surprise, I realized my accounts are still growing even though I’m not doing much. That’s when I thought “Wait, this could be relevant for my readers” and decided to explain to you what I did.
The goal: Setting your Twitter account up right for a relatively low-maintenance Twitter presence with some growth
In my experience, many academics sign up for Twitter and then never get on Twitter again because they don’t know how to find content and people they are interested in. But in the end, it’s like most other social networks (like Facebook or Instagram) – you need to find your friends and like your interests first. This will cause your timeline/feed to get filled with posts you are actually intersted in. So you first need to “find those friends”, i.e. follow a number of accounts you are interested in. You find those via the search function. Only once this is done (and steps 1-3/4 in the following list are completed – they are a detailled list of how to get started) can you consider your account “set up”. After that’s done, you should be able to use Twitter quite effortlessly and have your account grow slowly but steadily with time. But don’t start implementing this just yet, please read the post from start to end, then get implementing, so you understand why you’re supposed to do what and in which order. Let’s go!
The most important rules for effective Tweeting
First of all, it is essential that you more or less understand some Twitter basics (check out the other posts in this series which are linked at the bottom of this post) and respect the most important Twitter rules. Those are:
- Create a good bio (see Bio Engineering, Tweet Structure or How to lure your audience: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 3): This means you absolutely need to use a real picture of your face for the profile photo, put in your real name and ideally, institutional affiliation. If you have a current or former prestigious affiliation, it makes sense to link that too because Twitter is biased and will let you profit from all privilege you already have. If you don’t find that too cocky, put in a PhD or Prof title if you have one. It will definitely help people trust you and boost your account. If you have any energy left, add a background image which symbolizes what you do and conveys authority/expertise (maybe a picture of you giving a talk or an image of your historical objects of study?).
- Find your audience (see Retweet Bots and Hashtags: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 2): This means search for hashtags relevant to your field and people using these hashtags (follow them straightaway). These can be as broad as
#AcademicTwitteror very niche. Find at least two broad ones and two niche ones (like
#EpigraphyTuesdayif that’s relevant to you). There are some starting points on possibly relevant ones in the dedicated blog post linked above. While going through those hashtags, take note of any others that pop up in the context and follow everybody who seems remotely interesting to you. In academia, if you find somebody interesting, chances are you are in the same field and they might like you too (and thus follow back). I think you should take time to initially follow around 200-300 people found like described above. Do this by checking regularly for a couple of days. Maybe retweet or like an intersting post you came across. It’s important that you have already done the bio engineering described in 1) before you follow people because they will get notified when you follow them and then possibly ponder whether they should follow you back. Make sure there’s a trustworthy picture and maybe an informative bio.
- Create your elevator pitch for the bio (including links and hashtags): If you haven’t taken time to write a nice bio, now is the time to do that: Put in your field, your institution/affiliation, career level and topic of interest (or any combination thereof if relevant). Add 3-4 of the relevant hashtags you have identified. Link your institution in your bio if applicable. Choose the most important of those elements I mentioned because you might have already run out of characters. Don’t write full sentences unless you have a very short elevator pitch of which value/content your profile provides to others (take time to come up with something good). The idea is that people understand who you are and whether you might be interesting for them in one single glance. Over time, having a good bio like that is what will make your account grow even when your not actively putting a lot of effort into Twitter.
- Maybe come up with a pinned tweet or just wait until you have something important to say and then pin this (like “new publication out”). When tweeting about a new publication, use the good tweet formula by CareerConversations Stefanie to create “attention grabbing” posts (see links in Long-Term Twitter Strategizing: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 4).
- Tweet whenever you have something noteworthy, remarkable, relatable or retweetable to say. If this isn’t very often, that doesn’t matter! Rather privilege quality over quantity. Initially I thought you need to post content regularly for the algorithm to take notice of you but your views-to-engagements ratio is much more important: This means that a “bad post” which gets no engagement isn’t good for you. Save writing a post for stuff that’s acutally interesting and then stick to the good tweet formula. Separate sentences/paragraphs with spaces to take up as much space / viewing time as possible. The side effect will be that other users can understand your message more quickly and thus might be more likely to take notice of it (the attention span on Twitter isn’t huge!). I initially thought it was childish but I have found that posts illustrated with emojis often do better than plain texs posts. So if you can find an emoji to help “visualize” your message, think about using it.
- When you tweet, respect some basic rules: The first sentence from your tweet should be about the reader, i.e. something which will give value to them like “Do you want to know how to…” or something relatable (“Do you know the feeling when…”). If it’s emotional you will get more attention and people are more likely to engage. Use hashtags wisely so Twitter knows whom your tweets should be delivered to / who might be interested in them, causing your tweets to get served in a more targeted way to users who are more likely to engage with them (which is what you want). If you get engagement, keep it going. I.e. if you get comments, like the comment and reply to every single one! This will always double the engagement of your tweet.
- Maybe look into doing an engagement experiment at some point if you want to actively do sth about your Twitter growth (see Improve your Twitter Strategy: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 1). However, this is already the point where the “effortless” Twitter usage ends. Having observed Academic Twitter for a few years, it has been my experience that you can get between 1000-2000 followers with minimal effort. The academics who have many more are either super important (like profs) or have come into the public eye for some reason – or they just use Twitter a lot (like multiple tweets and comments daily, which I personally wouldn’t want to spend my time on).
My experiences of steady Twitter growth with little effort
I have used this approach with my professional account (
@SarahALang_) right from the moment I set it up and this account has grown much more quickly than any accounts I have had/maintained before. I’m sure this has something to do with me having some experience already but still. I think these tips can help you get started much quicker even if you don’t have any experience of your own yet.
In the end (if you want to use social media for networking), you need to consider these networks as a game: In the beginning the rules (the behaviour of the algorithm) aren’t known to you, so you need to observe how others (who are successful) behave in this space and do a few experiments to get the most out of it.
Check which of your tweets work best every once in a while: Is there a pattern (either in terms of structure or content) which your audience seems to prefer? Try to do more of that. But don’t stress. Think of this as networking which should be fun. And see it as a long-term project: In my experience the number one factor determining whether you have 200 or 1200 followers is how long you have been semi-active on Twitter (and also whether you follow the rules above).
You should post content which is relevant or interesting to your audience so they engage with it and want more of that. In my experience, the longer I am in the DH and the more visible I become through the occasional publication, talk or conference attendance I tweet about, the more followers I get.
As long as I’m somewhat active, posting once every 2-3 weeks at least and maybe liking or retweeting something in the meantime (retweeting is actually an extremely low effort and low creativity way to not get forgotten by the algorithm, 2mins a day suffice), I get a steady influx of occasional new followers. Ergo my account grows slowly but steadily. Things like defending my thesis or our recent decryption success have generated a somewhat increased interest in my profile.
If you’re an activist of some sorts, this creates engagement too because Twitter pushes polarizing and/or emotional content. Just make sure to not post when angry and be careful about what you say: It’s easy to take things out of context in Twitter and people have lost jobs over that. As long as you keep it academic, you don’t need to be afraid though.
I felt that getting past the 200-300 follower mark was the most difficult. If you’re able to gain some traction after that, steady growth will likely ensue on its own. But don’t stress if you can’t seem to get the hang of it: switch things up and if nothing works still, the problem might simply be that your field isn’t all that active on Twitter and don’t want to engage/discuss with you.
Try engaging with bigger accounts in your field of interest by commenting on their posts and following the people who discuss with you in the comments – they are potential Twitter friends (and obviously willing to engage).
It’s probably easier as a Digital Humanities person than in other more traditional fields… but if you look hard enough you might still find your crowd, so maybe keep looking a little longer and keep promoting your work. If it’s good work and communicated well, at least somebody must be interested. You just need to figure out how to reach them!
But yeah, that’s my experience and I’m quite sure you will be able to achieve the same if you just give it enough time and more or less respect the rules laid out in this post. If you stay in Academia or have been in it long enough, there will be more than enough things happening so that you have at least something post about once to twice a month. This will be enough to keep things going and your (very necessary!) self-promotion is done with relatively little effort.
So, that’s it for today. Stay tuned for the next episode.
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Other posts in The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide
- Improve your Twitter Strategy: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 1
- Retweet Bots and Hashtags: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 2
- Bio Engineering, Tweet Structure or How to lure your audience: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 3
- Long-Term Twitter Strategizing: The Ninja’s “How to better promote your content on Twitter” Guide. Part 4