I first joined Twitter some two and a half years ago following a course I attended on research leadership. (Crucible Cymru if you are interested @welshcrucible ) One of the sessions was on academic use of social media. I had used Facebook previously and although I had never really engaged with the platform I had found it useful for research purposes, particularly for staying in contact with research participants. During the presentation on Twitter one of the other course attendees turned to me and said “Twitter is for idiots who just like the sound of their own voice and have got nothing to say” and that made me think it was probably a well suited medium for academics.
When I first started using Twitter I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, particularly when it came to Tweeting myself. I really didn’t know what to say or how to say it, 140 characters is quiet alien to the academic school of writing which valorises wordiness over brevity. My intention when I first signed up was to use it mainly for academic interests, finding out about other research and publicising my own, as reflected by my use of Twitter name @DrNostromo.
It didn’t take me long however to find out that Twitter was a very powerful tool for engagement and engagement with various audiences. As I have built up my followers I have been lucky enough to link with some leading academics in my field such as Graham Scambler (@GrahamScambler) and Peter Beresford (@BeresfordPeter ) and at the click of a button I can interact with them if there might be some issue I want to discuss. On the other hand I can just as easily interact with other “ordinary” people whose opinion and take on events I also value, such as @devine__ a young woman living in the north of England who works as a waitress and in childcare and @EastAnglear who works as a volunteer in a Citizens Advice Bureau and daily deals with the impact of recent government policies on the lives of everyday people. Twitter is a great leveller in this respect, unlike journals or other forms of publishing all you need to get your voice heard on Twitter is access to a mobile phone or a computer.
I can just imagine that there are some of my academic colleagues reading this huffing and puffing and rolling their eyes and thinking to themselves “ well why should I possibly want to engage with such people, what use would it be to my research, what use would it be to my career?” I’ve got no real answer to that question but when I was asked to write this short piece I asked my Twitter followers what they felt I should say and what was their opinion of academic Tweeters. One of the best observations came from @ItstartswithBee who tweeted “many an academic speaks excellent academia but poor layman and humanity.” For many a layman the world of academia is a remote and mysterious one and in relation to day to day activity is more often than not an irrelevance. I don’t think academia is an irrelevance or should be thought of as one but unless academics engage as academics in the growing social media discourse through the likes of Twitter and Blogging I fear that they will increasingly be viewed as such.