A Beginner’s Guide to Joining Academic Twitter

Sarah Mojarad
12 min readMay 5, 2020

Filling out a Twitter profile, learning to tweet, and connecting with other scholars might seem overwhelming as a new user, but I’m here to guide you through the process.

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

In this article, I will share tips that were developed from years of teaching and from my experiences with conducting social media workshops and seminars around the world for students, academics, and professionals in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). I originally shared these ideas as a “tweetorial,” but this article expands further on what I had shared last year.

My goal in writing this article is to help you, a new user, build confidence in navigating the digital space, and to empower you to join the conversation.

Let me begin by saying: Welcome to Twitter. You belong here.

Pick a username.

Select a username that is timeless

Your Twitter username, or “handle,” is part of your professional social media identity. While you can change it at any time, I advise people to pick a one that won’t need updating.

Keep it simple. Use your name for your Twitter handle.

Pick a profile photo.

Update: Twitter is verifying the accounts of COVID19 experts. Nonetheless, this advice still applies.

Your new Twitter account is now part of your professional online presence. Use a professional-looking headshot for your profile picture.

I encourage people to post the same image that’s used in university directories and other professional online spaces because it shows consistency and intention. Plus, your audience quickly can distinguish your information from people who may share the same first and last name as you.

What if you don’t have a headshot? Do you need to hire a professional photographer? No. Luckily, cellphones can take high-quality photos that can be used as a profile photo.

Consistency with profile photos is best

I use the same image for all of my professional social media accounts because I want my audience to find me. Whenever I update a profile photo, I make the change on all of my profiles.

Online Professional Branding Tip: Be consistent with usernames and profile photos on the Internet. Make it easy for your audience to find you online.

Your profile photo should be an image of you.

Your profile photo should represent you — not a landscape, university crest, or family pet.

Don’t hide behind sunglasses or hats! Use an image that shows your full face.

Even though the image is used for a social media account, remember the account was created for professional purposes. Use an image that has an appropriate backdrop. The image above on the left is too casual and my face is hidden behind sunglasses.

The image on the right was taken by a friend. It’s much more appropriate for a professional Twitter account.

Also avoid using any outdated images.

A caveat: The advice I’m sharing in this article does not apply to people who intentionally choose to use an anonymous account and image due to safety and online harassment concerns.

Fill in your bio.

Include important details in your bio

Think of your Twitter bio as a brief introduction or overview. Keep it brief! The maximum amount of characters is 160.

Some employers require employees to use a disclaimer in social media accounts that include the company or university name. I encourage people to include a short disclaimer regardless of internal policies because it separates the person’s opinions from his/her employer.

Online professional branding 101: If people don’t know who you are and what you’re about, they won’t know why they should follow you.

Your bio won’t be perfect and that’s ok.

Don’t stress! Put something down and edit as needed.

As is the case with academic writing, the first draft is always the most difficult to write. Fill in your bio with some information about yourself. You can refer to other people’s Twitter bios for ideas on how to present your details.

Make small tweaks to the information as needed. Here are two recent versions of my Twitter bio

Complete your bio by including a link to a university directory, personal website, LinkedIn, Google Scholar page, etc… Taking this step will make it easier for your audience to find out more about your expertise and professional experience.

Depending on your goals and career level, you may wish to use a website that lists your email address. By providing that contact information, people will know how to reach you for potential collaborations or speaking invitations.

Let “personal rules” guide your posts.

It’s interesting to read this tweet a year later. Some “rules” remain while others have changed.

Create your personal rules of engagement to establish boundaries and guide the content you post. Taking this approach also will make Twitter feel less like a lawless space.

In the above tweet, I identified hashtags I would use in my posts and I described appropriate behavior on Twitter. Setting these parameters narrowed the types of engagements from broad topics to more specific and intentional discourse.

I still stick to all of the “personal rules” in this tweet!

Why else should you define rules? As a new user, your “personal rules” can help you overcome initial fears and barriers with posting on Twitter.

Don’t overthink it! Your “personal rules” should be simple guidelines that encourage you to tweet and engage others.

Start small. Your “rules” should be different from the ones I shared.

Expect that the personal guidelines will evolve as you become comfortable with the platform. Modify them as often as you wish!

Follow high-value accounts.

A shortlist of high value follows

Whenever I conduct beginner workshops with STEMM audiences, a common concern expressed by new Twitter users is that the platform will be more of a distraction than a beneficial tool.

Set yourself up for success by strategically choosing which accounts to follow and minimizing unnecessary notifications. Colleagues, thought leaders, and journals within your discipline are shaping the conversations in your area of research. Following them will improve your understanding of the Twitter landscape and how people are communicating within your field.

You don’t need to follow everyone at once

I previously suggested several types of accounts to follow. You don’t have to follow everyone at once if you feel overwhelmed. Pick a few key accounts and develop familiarity with the platform. You can add more people to follow whenever you’d like.

Social media is a tool for communication. How you use it will determine if it is an added distraction or an asset.

If you are a student or trainee, leverage Twitter at your next conference and use it as an icebreaker. People love hearing that their efforts on social media have offline impact. I’ve never met someone who did not enjoy hearing from others that their work on Twitter is appreciated.

Reach out to more experienced Twitter users you know IRL.

In general, STEMM colleagues tend to be very supportive and helpful to new Twitter users. Seek out guidance from these folks because many are willing to provide advice to peers who have just joined Twitter.

Publish your first tweet.

Use this tweet as a basic framework for your first post

Even with a professional photo and complete profile, hitting send on that first tweet is scary. I find that people overthink the first post and stare blankly at the screen trying to figure out the right idea to tweet.

You aren’t expected to compose the perfect first (or second, or third…) tweet. Don’t worry too much about writing something that illustrates your expertise and professional experience. Instead, introduce yourself.

A quick and brief introduction serves two purposes:
1. It lets other users know who you are and that you are new to the platform.
2. It helps you overcome the anxiety with posting your first tweet.

Using appropriate hashtags will help the right people find your message

Every Twitter user knows that the first tweet is the most difficult to post. It’s a big hurdle! Follow the template and you’ll do great.

Share your ideas and research updates.

The term “self-promotion” is frowned upon in academia. Perhaps better terms to use might be self-advocacy or social media science communication.

Sharing publications and recent works is an important and common practice with Twitter. Some studies suggest that Twitter shares lead to higher downloads and citations. Take it with a grain of salt though. More research in this area is needed to accurately conclude the citation claim is true across disciplines.

If the idea of tweeting updates about your work is uncomfortable, try amplifying the work of others within your field. Retweet colleagues’ posts or offer congratulations to others for recent career advancement. It’s always appreciated.

Since my area of expertise is in social media, I often use tweets in presentations. If I do so, I like to give credit where it is due. Following a workshop or lecture, I will share the slide with someone’s tweet on Twitter and tag the author. It’s a nice way to recognize the value and effort that someone has put into voicing opinions and posting research on Twitter.

Try out the Eric Topol Method.

He has a specific style and approach to tweeting

Dr. Topol is one of the leading physicians and researchers in the field of cardiology. He has a massive audience on Twitter, and he often tweets the articles he is reading.

Topol tweet

In the caption of his posts, he will briefly summarize the article or share an important takeaway. He typically includes a link to the publication, figures from the article, and relevant hashtags. Notice that he added the Twitter handle of the journal and author at the end of the caption, too.

Dr. Topol has developed a strategy for using Twitter that is beneficial to his audience of over 237k people and himself. His style of tweeting provides a nice snapshot of each article he reads. If he refers back to the tweet at a later date, his notes on the article are available.

I have never heard of anyone running into issues with copyright when using the Eric Topol Method. Given that Dr. Topol has posted over 25k tweets, it’s safe to assume this is a good approach to tweeting. Just be sure to avoid sharing the full publication if it is behind a paywall.

Use hashtags.

Which one of these examples is easiest on the eyes?

As a new user, you should consider including a couple of hashtags in each of your tweets to increase visibility and reach of your posts. Don’t overdo it! Every word in your tweet doesn’t need to be a hashtag. Use too many and you risk looking like a bot.

Plus, not all hashtags are created equal. Make sure to use the right type of hashtags to target the appropriate audience.

You can add # to any word to create a hashtag, but it’s a skill to use the right ones for your intended audience.

Experiment with hashtags!

If you want your tweets to be seen by people within a discipline, add # to field-specific jargon. For example, the number of users adding #zeolites to posts is a lot fewer than people using #science.

This is a useful strategy if you are trying to reach or build an online network of specialists.

Popular hashtags will reach a wider audience, but keep in mind many people are using them in their tweets, too. I suggest using a mix of discipline-specific and popular hashtags in each post.

In addition to the previously mentioned hashtags, consider including some of the following if they are appropriate to your message and/or audience:
#AcademicTwitter
#AcademicChatter
#PhDLife
#PhDChat
#PostDocs
#Neuroscience
#Biology
#SciArt
#DoubleDocs
#NurseTwitter

Get creative! Make your own hashtags

You can create your own hashtags that are specific to your lab or the courses you teach. It’s a great way to curate posts and establish a record that you can quickly access.

Use emojis if you wish.

We are living in a digital world and emojis are used more commonly than in the past. You don’t have to add them to your posts, but the emoticons can help convey tone when it is otherwise ambiguous.

Emojis are creative and fun. They add personality to a tweet or they can be used in place of words when a character limit is a concern.

The lock emojis can indicate whether a publication is open access or behind a paywall. Other emojis, such as the white envelope with the “E” on it shown above, can replace words. In this case, the emoji replaces the word e-mail.

The spool of thread emoji is often used in a tweet to indicate a Twitter thread is in progress. In the example above, typing “thread” and using the emoji are redundant. Either using the emoji or typing the word out would suffice.

A snippet of a Twitter thread

Twitter “threads” are a series of tweets from one author that are interconnected to form a long, cohesive thought. I have plans to put together an article on this topic. For now, as a new user, understanding the concept and focus your attention on getting familiar with Twitter.

Avoid sarcasm.

If your audience must infer tone or needs context to find a tweet funny, reconsider whether it is appropriate to post publicly. Some jokes are best delivered offline.

If you do decide to post jokes on Twitter, aim for wholesome ones. Never post a joke if it is at the expense of someone else.

Don’t plagiarize tweets.

Unfortunately, this behavior comes up on occasion. Credit people for their contributions by tagging the author in the post or linking to content.

Credit the original author

In the example above, I found an interesting video on Reddit that I wanted to share on Twitter. I checked to see if the Reddit user was on Twitter. Unfortunately, no one was found.

Instead of posting the video without reference, I specifically mentioned the author’s username on Reddit and linked to the content.

Don’t feed the trolls.

While social media is meant to be social, you are not obligated to engage everyone who replies to your tweets. Your time is valuable. Trolls will drain it with an endless amount of bad faith questions and rebuttals.

Choosing to not engage in a discussion or disengaging before it has concluded takes restraint and self-awareness.

Avoid trolls and use the block button often when needed.

Include your Twitter handle in places where you list other contact information.

Once you’ve put in the effort to create an account on Twitter for professional activities, make sure people know where to find you.

I have my Twitter handle listed on business cards, slides, and email signatures. I also cross-list it on my other social media platforms and share it on my website.

Most importantly, have fun!

Twitter is a fabulous network for academics. It’s a tool that provides tremendous opportunities for the exchange of ideas with other academics from around the world. Have fun on Twitter by joining weekly tweet chats or participating in events like #FollowFriday.

If this article has encouraged you to create a profile, I hope that you’ll reach out on Twitter and say hello. I’d love to help you navigate the space and build community.

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Sarah Mojarad

Educator | Digital Communication Specialist | Public Speaker