Can and should academics tweet?

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The shortest international bridge (10 metres long), linking Canada and the USA.

By Dr. Tammy Boyce

A blog on bridges and relationships between academia and policy is remiss without a discussion about the role of social media and Twitter in particular.

Dr. Jeremy Segrott is proof academics are embracing Twitter. DECIPHer’s top tweeter and user of social media, Jeremy’s research focuses on young people, alcohol and family relationships – including his recent work on the Strengthening Families Project – Project SFP Cymru. He uses Twitter to increase the visibility of his own and related research and often tweets reactions to news stories or conferences he’s attending.

He spends about 30 minutes a day on social media – and at various points in the day he will tweet and write or read blogs. As well as his university web pages, Jeremy has his own website that hosts his blog, Route 85.

Another way Jeremy uses Twitter to reach more people is through hosting a fortnightly writing group, #Acwri, with Dr Anna Tarrant from the Open University. Each week #Acwri invites an academic to discuss a topic and followers ask questions/make comments at an arranged time. The conversation is published on PhD2Published.

Engaging with serious issues in 140 characters?


It is possible. Tweets disseminate information and encourage interacting with a wide range of people. Dave Buck, Senior Fellow in Public Health and Inequalities at The King’s Fund, says Twitter is particularly suited for policy work and useful in breaking down walls and barriers to research. He says “Twitter is an excellent dissemination tool and a very efficient way to become aware of new work, insights, and broaden breadth of knowledge. The ‘greyer’ world of views, including things like governmental and NGO reports were hard to access before Twitter, but now they are astonishingly easy to access.”

Impact

You can be overwhelmed by Twitter (and waste many minutes, drifting into hours). But it can be an invaluable tool to help academics increase their impact. 90 per cent of the visits to Jeremy’s blog come via Twitter. ‘Retweets’ (when followers forward his tweets) extend reach to a wider circle. One of Jeremy’s followers with over 10,000 followers retweeted a link to Jeremy’s paper on the Kids, Adults Together Programme and in a seminar hosted by Jeremy almost half the audience heard about it via Twitter. Twitter is helping academic research reach out to wider audiences.

In less than one year Jeremy has collected over 1000 followers – that’s over 1000 people reading about his research that would most likely not have done so in the past. His followers include;
  • Mark Easton (BBC Home Editor);
  • Branwen Jefferies (BBC Health Correspondent);
  • BBC Radio Cymru;
  • Graham Allen, MP for Nottingham North and Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.


You can easily measure impact as Jeremy does, by looking at the number of visits to webpages, and seeing which blogs are most popular and how visitors have reached the blog (for example via Twitter or Google).

Figuring who is an expert and who just has a good opinion can be difficult – as Dave Buck says, one of Twitter’s key problems is “separating the wheat from the chaff, differentiation of quality becomes more important and harder”.

Jeremy’s Twitter recommendations:
@amcunningham
@fuse_online
@martinwhite33
@jeanmadams
@dotbirch

You can also follow Jeremy and DECIPHer on Twitter:
@DrJeremySegrott
@DECIPHercentre

Dr. Tammy Boyce (@TamBoyce) works with DECIPHer as a Knowledge Exchange consultant.


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