Brief thoughts on Twitter

Today at noon I will be one of the panelists at a brownbag lunch session titled “Blogs, Writing Groups, Digital Classrooms, and More: Managing Your Academic Career in the Online Era” at the triennial meeting of the Southern Association of Women Historians. While our objective is to have more conversation than commentary, my part of the initial remarks focuses on twitter (for history grad students). What follows are my basic thoughts, in bullet form, and then a list of articles and blog posts about tweeting which might be useful. Please feel free to add your thoughts or recommended reading in the comments.

three columns in tweetdeck showing tweets from June 2015
Just three of my thirteen tweetdeck columns



  • Pick a username that works for you – but know that it’s (probably) possible to change it later. Also, your display name is very easy to change. If I were joining twitter today, I probably wouldn’t be @magpie; on the other hand, the username I would pick is taken by someone who never tweets. While it’s possible to change your username, it can take people a while to catch on and you might miss some tweets.
  • Don’t be an Egg! As soon as you join, upload a profile picture and add some information in the profile text. People are more likely to follow you if they can get an idea of who you are and/or what you’re interested in.
  • You don’t have to tweet everything. It’s okay to only tweet every so often. Find your rhythm. You might prefer to tweet during conferences, or only engage in conversations.
  • Think before you link accounts. You can link twitter with Facebook, instagram, and other services, allowing them to tweet from your account when you update. This can be nice, but it can also spam your feed.
  • Be aware of your audience – and that it might be bigger than you think. This is addressed at length in some of the resources below, but unless your account is locked, anyone on the internet can see what you’re saying. Don’t let this silence you – I still tweet that my cats are annoying, my nephews are sweet, etc – but you may occasionally want to ask yourself “does this need to be said by me now?” (note: composing and then deleting a tweet can be very cathartic)
  • Twitter is conversational – but sometimes your conversation partner is a good listener. It is easy to think of Twitter in a similar vein to Facebook and be disappointed when your tweets are not all retweeted, favorited, and replied to. A lack of response does not mean that people are not reading your tweets. Sometimes it simply means that they do not have a response.

A practical note: I maintain 3 twitter accounts of my own and have access to three twitter accounts for work. I would be unable to do this without two things: lists and TweetDeck. Lists are a way of grouping people you want to follow, and TweetDeck allows you to see multiple columns, of lists, mentions, direct messages, or searches. On an average day, I have 15 columns in my desktop TweetDeck client. There are other services out there which have similar functions, the most popular (as far as I know) being HootSuite.


And: PhD Comics: “Why Academics Really Use Twitter”.