As my Twitter @meermini was quickly approaching 1k followers last week, I’ve been reflecting about who is following me and why. And on whether what I assume about my audience is influencing my tweeting behaviour. And I remembered an article I had read a while back by Coté and Darling (2018):
“Scientists on Twitter: Preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?”.
The question being discussed in the article is whether Twitter mainly serves scientists for inreach (“preaching to the choir”) or outreach (“singing from the rooftops”). Turns out that this typically depends on the number of followers an account has. There is a point at around 1k followers when scientists’ accounts typically start reaching audiences beyond other scientists and are therefore starting to be more useful as an outreach tool (outreach being defined in the article as reaching an audience of mainly non-scientists).
This doesn’t seem too surprising: Most scientists, when they start out on twitter, first follow people they know personally. Those are likely mostly scientists from within, or close to, their own speciality. But as the network grows, at some point the pool of those is “used up” and the network has to eventually expand to people who aren’t so close to that speciality any more, or even within science. I have certainly observed this for my account at just below 1k followers, probably enhanced by starting a non-academic job about a year ago that opened up a whole new world (and network) on and off Twitter.
Did the number of followers influence your tweeting behaviour, and if so, how?
I started out tweeting in the microblogging sense that I wanted my parents to be able to see pictures of my life in Norway without me having to email them. At that time I didn’t have any followers, nor did I follow anyone, so I would tend to not count this as actually “using Twitter”. But my handle @meermini still stems from that time. Nowadays I would probably choose something else for professional use… ;-)
After a little while, I began to realize the potential of using Twitter professionally, and I started following more people and reading more on Twitter. I was still mainly a passive user. I remained passive for several years, only at some point starting to have my blog automatically tweet the title and link to new blog posts as they were published. But for the longest time, I didn’t even bother to modify the tweet and really just tweeted out the title & link. This is not the best communication strategy, obviously, but it did help build an audience slowly and steadily, mainly of people who were really interested in my blog and thus my core topics.
As more and more people became interested in my kitchen oceanography stuff, I eventually started modifying the automated tweets to contain more than just the title of the blog posts, and I started thinking about what images to use as featured images on my blog, since they would be tweeted with the link & title. But I would only do it when I had time and mental space for that. I still put a lot more effort into the blog posts themselves than on advertising them on Twitter.
These days I am aware of how many people potentially see my tweets (but there are those rare times when it doesn’t register at all, too). I use the automated tweets that post with scheduled blogposts, as well as Twitter in general, a lot more purposefully now. I now pretty much always modify the automated tweets to include more information than just the blog post’s title. I also try to always include a picture in tweets. Either there is one in the blog post already that I think works well, or if there isn’t, I go find one. Sometimes I include hashtags in those pictures to make it easy to see at first glance what the post is about. I schedule blog posts (and thus the automated tweets) for specific days, so I can use meaningful hashtags on Twitter, like #SciCommSunday (that I am using for this post, btw) or #WaveWatchingWednesday or #FlumeFriday, and thus reach specific audiences.
I also try to put topics of my blog posts into context for people who aren’t in my own little #KitchenOceanography and #WaveWatching bubble. By, again, using hashtags, but also by just writing more generally about what the blog post I am linking to is about. And also when tweeting without it being automated tweets from my blog, I am definitely thinking about whether people will be able to put this into context if they aren’t exactly in my field.
So for me, things have definitely changed as I got more followers, but also as I recognized more how powerful Twitter is in terms of creating — or finding — conversations around topics I care about.
What would you recommend for when you are starting out Twitter? Do it your way or start out with a strategy?
Obviously, it depends on your goal. If you want to reach a large and non-scientists audience fast, you should probably think about a strategy and put efforts into writing nice tweets that match what your target audience would be interested in and how they would like that information presented.
But if you are just dipping your toes into Twitter, I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing what I did, and just feeling your way into it. Yes, your audience won’t grow as quickly, but maybe that means that it’s growing at a rate you are comfortable with. And if it’s too much of a hassle to tweet — just take a break, the world won’t end and neither will your career. And I am a strong proponent of the “you can only know what you are potentially missing out on for networks that you are a part of”: Even if you don’t want to spend a lot of time on Twitter, even checking in or tweeting once every couple of months is better than not doing anything at all. And who knows, you might realize that it is of more benefit to you than you thought it could be, and start spending more time and effort there. Or not. Only one way to find out!
For me, having those automated Tweets from my blog was a great way to recognize how many people were really interested in my topics, and as I recognized their interest, realizing that I wanted to present that information in a nicer, more appealing way. And I am grateful to have this platform for my topics now: Both within the ocean community, and then also — noticeably! — more and more beyond it!