Like many of the best things in life, I kind of fell into Twitter almost by accident. For me it's an information network - a way of sharing what you are doing, and tapping into all sorts of interesting currents of information, opinion, events and interesting people.
I use it to promote my research to people and organisation that might be interested in it (or who I'd like to be interested in it), make new connections with those organisations and people, to find out about topics that interest me, and share some of that stuff with the people that follow me. It's a great (and highly efficient) way to publicise events, new papers you've written, and point people in the direction of your website. And it's brought me some media work which has been great experience.
For me one of the most exciting ways in which I've managed to use Twitter is the academic writers support group - #Acwri which has been running since February, organised jointly with @DrATarrant and @Phd2Published. Twitter has its limitations (and a recent blog post by Daniel Spielmann looked at some that might apply to #Acwri). But #Acwri has given me the opportunity to connect with and share problems and strategies with other writers, and I'd argue that it's helped improve the quality of my writing, and my experience of writing.
I've always been a late adopter when it comes to new technology (computers, mobile phones, the Internet, learning to drive, and so on and so on), and for once it's nice to feel, if not a pioneer, then someone who has engaged with Twitter at a point when it still feels new and unfamiliar to many, and some people think a hashtag is a new kind of hash brown. Being social media savvy has become a bit of a niche for me in the DECIPHer Centre where I work, where it's nice to be asked to share the experience of using Twitter with interested colleagues.
So what have I learnt? Well, tweeting is easy, but getting Twitter wrong is also easy, and doing it right requires a bit of thought. The best piece of advice I've had (from @amcunningham) is that you need to be clear why you're tweeting. Are you mainly promoting, sharing, commenting, or curating? What President Obama had for breakfast might make illuminating reading, but do you really care what I had for mine? No, thought not. It was a bacon roll, by the way (or toast if you're reading this on Tuesday). Equally, whilst you might follow a political commentator for their views, those of us in the Twitter business as 'networkers' might easily alienate or offend, and can end up in a lot of hot water if our mis-judged take on the latest controversy gets associated with our employer. On Twitter the banal quickly vanishes, but the fascinating, insightful and controversial often goes viral with alarming speed. Sadly my tweets are not always that infectious, but here's an example of how a naughty dog went viral on YouTube.
I've tried to integrate Twitter with my work as an academic researcher, using it to share the things I really want to share, linking it into my website, and thinking about how my social media work forms part of what I'm trying to achieve in my career. Sadly, tweeting doesn't seem to get my papers written (though see comment above on #Acwri) so I try to strictly ration tweeting time, and make Twitter work for me, not the other way round. And I use 'dead time' (no not the hour after lunch) like the commute home to tweet and see what others are tweeting. For instance, this week I saw a tweet which linked to a fascinating blog piece by @anniecoops on leadership. Without Twitter I'd probably never have come across it.
Sometimes less is more, and I've come to realise that just like in the real world it can be good to wait until you have something interesting to say before you start to speak (even if my followers have to be patient). And just like the World War 2 posters which asked 'Is your journey really necessary?', maybe I apply that principle a bit more to my re-tweeting. Will my followers be interested in the tweet I'm about to RT, and if so can I include some comment that helps them decide (that was a point made by someone in a recent #Acwri chat)? And hashtags are like paper key words - best used sparingly and in ways which help other people to find out what you're saying.
Completely contradicting my comments above, I've realised the World is a big place, and it is no use expecting lots of American followers to pick up my UK tweets in the middle of the night. So if something is worth tweeting it's maybe worth tweeting once, twice, or possibly three times at different hours - if people don't see your tweet straight away the chances are it will disappear down their timeline pretty fast. Hootsuite is great for that, as it allows you to choose when your tweets are sent, and avoids sleep deprivation. Storify (another of Anne Marie Cunningham's suggestions) is also great for curating what goes on in Twitterland.
Sadly, I've done more looking back than looking forward since writing the title for this blog piece. But a year on, Twitter has become part of what I do as an academic researcher, a curious person, and a teller of appalingly bad jokes. So I think I'll stick with it and see where it takes me next.