How to tweet about your science #sciencestorm #bitesizescience

Everyone should tweet about their science. Not only will other scientists on Twitter see it, but plenty of other scientists who are not active on Twitter – but pay attention to it! – will see it as well. But the way that you write your tweet will make a huge difference in the amount of attention it gets. No matter how interesting your science is, no matter how finely crafted your paper is, if a tweet isn’t written well it won’t diffuse through Twitter very well.

I’m also going to see if I can start a hashtag: something like #sciencestorm or #bitsizescience added to the first tweet that describes science. I love reading these stories and I wish they were easier to find. Adding a hashtag lets people quickly search for them and find them.

Here are a few tips in no particular order:

  1. Don’t just tweet the title of your paper and add a link. That’s a good first start – but what you really want is a series of tweets that slowly explains what you found. Think about this as your chance to provide an accessible narrative about what you found and what you think is most interesting.
  2. Be excited about your research! People will be excited for you. It’s infectious seeing how happy and excited people are when their papers are published. They want to be supportive and congratulate you.
  3. People want to learn something. If you can condense the messages of your paper into short facts, it will get more traction.
  4. Always, always, always include an image. It almost doesn’t matter what the image is – just being there will add a huge uptick in people paying attention to it. But the best image lets a person look at it and understand the paper in a single shot. It can be a figure from your paper, it can be a schematic, it can be a few figures. People want to learn something.
  5. If you can, add a video. People love videos even more than they love images! Doing optogenetics? Show a video of a light going on and your animal immediately changing their behavior – people love that shit. Doing cell biology? Show a video of a cell moving or changing or something.
  6. This is stupid, but the time that you tweet matters a bit. Be aware that fewer people are paying attention at 2AM PST than, say, 9AM PST. Think about who – across the world – is awake when you are tweeting.

Let’s go through three examples (which I have been trying to collect here).

The first is a series of tweets (“tweetstorm”) by Carsen Stringer describing her work looking at the fractal dimension of neural activity. Now just typing those words I’m thinking “ugh this sounds so complicated” – and I have a masters in math! But that’s not how she described it. She slowly builds up the story starting with the central question, providing examples, explaining concepts. Even if you have no clue what fractal dimensionality means you will learn a lot about the work and get excited by the paper. In a way that a single tweet would not.

She also makes sure to use explanatory pictures well. Even in the absence of explanation, the simple act of having a picture drives people to engage with the tweet. Look at these examples side-by-side:

Which of the two above looks more interesting? The plain boring text? Or the text with some friendly fox faces? Pictures make a bigger difference than you’d think (which is not to say that every tweet needs a picture – but they help, a lot).

Another example is this from Michael Eisen. This is in a slightly different style that starts off describing the historical background:

What the tweetstorm also provides is insight into how they made their discovery. You get to feel like you are being carried along their scientific process!

The final example got me right away. I saw this tweet and I couldn’t help but smile. Dom Cram is studying meerkats so he made some meerkat legos. I didn’t even know if I cared about the study but I definitely cared about looking at more lego meerkats (and then I realized I thought the study was interesting)…

If you enjoy this kind of thing, get creative! It’s fun and people want to have fun and learn about your science at the same time.