How to use Twitter (for scientists!)

People try to use Twitter all the time and often give up with a shrug: it seems useless to get anything from that noise, with their voice getting lost in the roar. It’s a shame, because Twitter is one of the most useful ways to keep up-to-date on science. Remember how you used to have to wait for a physical magazine to be delivered to you to get up-to-date scientific research? And how unbearably slow that now feels? That’s how scientific life feels without Twitter, once you’ve used it.

In that sprit, here is my advice on how to use Twitter.

1. Find some interesting people to follow.

Here are a few lists of scientists on Twitter. When following, note how often they tweet. Also note how often they retweet other people or respond to other people’s questions.

2. Next, if you see a conversation that you think is interesting, see who else participated in the conversation.

Are they interesting? Perhaps try to participate in the conversation if you can. But be warned, jokes often fall flat.

3. Interact with people.

Twitter is useful because of the people and their interactions, not the content per se.

4. Have something worthwhile to say. Say it.

Whether it is content that hasn’t made the rounds yet, or new content of your own, if you have something useful to say let other people know! Again, this is why twitter is useful.

5. Know your niche.

It helps if you have something unique to say. What do you know about that a lot of other people don’t? Often this is a hobby or what you are passionate about. Cheese-making? Gustatory cortex? Anatomy? Be broad, and be specific.

6. Try for a while. It takes time.

Twitter kind of sucks at the beginning. It’s like being the new kid at school: everyone already knows each other and is having a great time talking. You try to say something – and kind of get ignored in favor of a friend. But if you keep at it – and keep interacting with people – you’ll grow your network and find out how useful twitter can be. Remember that every voice is important and interesting!

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