Can Twitter be of use to academics?

Does Twitter offer anything of value to academic institutions?

The simple part of tweeting is publishing content; 140 characters to be precise. However, the difficulty lies in public engagement. How can the Twitterverse have any relevance to universities and academic institution?

Can anything of worth become published, when those within academia are used to journals and transcripts that are 4,000-30,000 words in length?

The microblogging platform Twitter is designed for the purpose of information exchange and to facilitate reciprocal communication. In turn, this generally causes online communities to gravitate towards each other through the interest of common topics.

LSE, the London School of Economics, published a Twitter guide aimed at training academics in ways to implement and research through the social network. The publication covers basic 'How-to' elements of Twitter, gradually processing to a discussion of using the platform as a research tool. LSE's guide can be viewed here [.pdf].

Some of the methods for using Twitter include:

  • Adopting different styles for different audiences. 'Substantive' tweets are considered formal, and used within news and corporation circles. In comparison, 'conversational' tweets are contained within a loose, fragmented style -- suitable for individual tweeters.
  • Implementing the use of collective accounts to promote research through separate academic departments.
  • Promoting your Twitter profile through blog posts, business cards, email signatures and presentations.
  • Being aware of information exchange on Twitter entering the public domain -- suggesting that academics think carefully before posting content, as statements could backfire on departments or colleagues.

Professor Patrick Dunleavy, Chair of the LSE Public Policy group and a co-author of the Guide said: “They [those in academia] can then see if it is useful for expanding their access to people, networks and up to date materials”.

Today, more academics are creating content and posting it online.

However, just because academic research is available online does not mean you will reach your target audience or gain readership. The Internet is in a constant state of data saturation, so if researchers aim to promote their work effectively, they are required to become active participants within the right circles.

Consider a social network a seminar rather than a lecture, and you've won half the battle.

The Twitterverse is not representative of the general population, nor could Twitter users be perceived to be a homegenous sample when it comes to research projects. However, the microblogging platform does have some key elements that can contribute to studies.

Surveys, for example, can be immediately promoted to thousands of people, simply by signing up for a Twitter account and following other users. You can choose other online users based on their interests and fields, and through this begin to gather responses of more people that you may otherwise have the resources for.

Using social networks effectively in academia can promote the engagement of new, wider audiences and has the potential to enrich research projects.