One of the hardest bits about writing is usually starting, at least that’s what I find. You have all these great ideas and then you wonder about exactly how much exposition to give. Starting fiction is usually relatively easy – there is a simple rule that says start with a bang (or the equivalent if you are writing something fairly sedate) and get to the exposition later. Let the dog see the rabbit, or in this case, the reader the main character. Writing a paper or a chapter is again, relatively simple, in my experience, because you know exactly what it is you want to say and you know where your research sits. But writing something that is essentially an opinion piece is quite difficult, at least I think so. I’ve made my feelings on experts , as has Michael Gove (he says, immediately dating the post). This post is meant to be about Twitter, so I’m not planning on getting all political, but I think it worth noting that I for one am fed up with so-called experts, pontificating about anything they feel like, without the need to justify their credentials to speak on a specific subject.
Hence, I’m not an expert on Twitter, so feel free to look away now…
…Thanks for staying with me! So now that we’ve begun, I guess I should introduce a character, and they don’t come much more characterful than Dr Suze Kundu, alias @funsizesuze. There are any number of topics of conversation that you shouldn’t get her started on, but like me, you’ll have to learn them the hard way (just kidding Suze!). Suze is a fantastic communicator of science (I’m so pleased we managed to steal her from Imperial) and you should check out her blog over at Forbes. Cutting to the chase, Suze tweeted earlier today, to say that she was running a seminar on Twitter, mainly focussing on those new to Twitter, and did anybody in the Twittersphere have any essential tips and tricks to share? She came back later on with this.
Which got me thinking. I’ve racked up 4235 tweets as of writing this blog post, am following nearly 300 people (no, I’m not a serial stalker…) and have just over 200 people following me (These are not huge numbers in the twitterverse). Within those two last numbers are people who I’ve never met and am unlikely to meet in real life, but with whom I have conversed via Twitter, because they are saying interesting things, and I hope that what I say is of interest to them.
So from my experience, what would I suggest to an alien arriving on Earth and discovering Twitter, or more realistically to someone who has just signed up/is thinking about dipping their toe in the water?
- To thine own self be true: why do you want to tweet in the first place? I started tweeting because I wanted to drum up interest in my local IoM3 branch, the West Surrey Materials Society. In this I signally failed, partly because I had no following, and partly because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Over time, as time allows and events warrant, I’ve broadened my scope somewhat. The focus is still Materials, and in that I’m quite catholic (note the small ‘c’), with a particular interest in multidisciplinary stuff. I also try to support the postgraduate researchers who are getting into twitter, usually as a result of a push from 23Things. I retweet things that I find funny, or things that I think are important, although, as the saying goes, retweeting does not imply endorsement. I’m not terribly political, but #Brexit has of course earned some tweet time. But at heart, my tweeting is about science, cool stuff that is happening and that people are doing. Oh and writing, I’m engaging with a lot more writing themed content at the moment. I try not to tweet what I eat.
- Beware of the trolls: Like any forum where there is the potential for anonymous users to interact with you in a quasi-personal way, there are trolls. I’ve been lucky and avoided them for the most part so far, but the best advice that I think that I can give here is, DO NOT FEED THEM. If someone comes back to you with a comment that is offensive, or nearly so, just ignore it. Block them. Report them. Trolling is not acceptable.
- Hashtags:You can find out all sorts of things from looking up different hashtags. In the same way that it became almost a meme to say ‘there’s an app for that’, there is almost certainly a hashtag. Where it becomes a little confusing is that quite often there are several hashtags for the same thing. It is possible to end up with a very skewed view of what is going on because you end up with a group of people who use a particular hashtag, and there is a parallel conversation going on somewhere else.
- Twetiquette: Again, as with any community, there is a certain amount of jargon, and a certain amount of etiquette. Portmanteaux based on “Twitter/Tweet” + ______ abound, and there are people who are referred to as the twitterati (as well as all sorts of other things). To some extent all you can do is watch the natives and see what they do, but see #1. Fundamentally, Twitter is a tool, so it is up to you what you want to do with it.
- #FF: When you are limited to 140 characters, there is a tendency to want to slim things down as much as possible, but that does mean that you can miss some really great things. #FollowFriday is a thing, but it’s usually #FF in order to reduce the count. The idea is that you give a shout-out to someone who you think people should follow, but you also need to give a reason, not just a namecheck. So you might say “#FF: @Funsizesuze – brilliant commentary on Materials, Science and Shoes”.
- (1/5) or /1 or…: Sometimes, 140 characters just isn’t enough. Sometimes you need to spread over a couple of tweets – the longest that I can remember seeing was spread over eight. In such circumstances, it’s considered a good idea to link them somehow. Somepeople will retweet or reply to themselves, some people indicate a connection by providing a timeline. If you think that a long message is crucial, then it is usually a good idea to draft the message first, then break it down and put the links in, however you prefer to do that. For your followers sake, however you choose to do this, it is usually good practice to make it clear where the thread ends…
- Don’t tweet in anger or haste:There are a few tweets that I wish I hadn’t sent. They seemed like a good idea at the time. Most of these will sink without trace, but you never know when something is going to come back. Twitter is meant to be a pretty instantaneous thing – you see something, you comment on it. We come back to #1 again – why are you on Twitter? Whether it’s personal or professional, Twitter is a tool that you are using to support your core brand. What you say on Twitter says something about you, so whether you tweet a little or a lotto, to coin a phrase, at least take the time to read through what you typed before you press the button.
What do you think? What do you wish you had known when you were starting with Twitter? What’s your golden piece of advice? What would you like to know now?