In October the DECIPHer research centre held a symposium, and I tweeted that I was attending this. A colleague who was also attending read the tweet and suggested that I could tweet 'live' on some of the papers. I tried this, and during the day a number of people starting following and re-tweeting me, potentially communicating key messages far beyond Cardiff. It was then that the potential power of Twitter began to dawn on me.
One of those tweeter was @amcunningham, who is a prolific tweeter. She made some very helpful suggestions to me, including using a dedicated # (hashtag) for our next conference, and some of the different ways I could use Twitter.
Perhaps the most important thing I learnt was that as with other spheres of life, simply churning out lots of and lots of information isn't likely to be effective - and that you need to think about how you're going to use Twitter and what you want to achieve. It could be just to receive updates from people or organisations in which you have some interest. You might want to use it to promote your work and what you're doing. Or you may want to 'curate' information by creating Twitter lists. And then there are commentators - people who set the agenda.
Over time I've found a way of using Twitter which I'm comfortable with, and meets my needs. I use it to promote my work including my publications, keep up to date with news, research and debates in my field, and to ffind out who else is doing research on parenting, families and alcohol issues.
Three months on I've gained 164 followers. A single tweet which I send on my work can reach many hundreds or even thousands of people (if-re-tweeted). And this kind of impact is cost free and takes literally a minute or two to achieve. Twitter has been immensely helpful in keeping me up to date with new reports that are published, interesting debates among academics and health professionals, and a way of developing links with fellow researchers. A single tweet I sent last week also generated two requests to do interviews with the BBC on topics relating to parenting and alcohol. Now, instead of searching the internet on topics, I often find the information comes to me in the tweets I receive from other people.
Twitter isn't going to be for everyone. But it lends itself to a variety of uses, styles of communication and intensity of engagement. It has a lot of potential for academic research, but that potential isn't always being realised.
Twitter is never going to replace other media and outputs such as websites, journal articles or reports. It complements these more traditional outputs by providing signposts to web pages and reports/journal articles, and allowing you to create a personalised stream of information - as much or as little as you want. For instance, you can follow particular journalists or subject/area specific BBC news feeds.
Twitter teaches you to think laterally, and it works both as an entity in its own right, but also through constant two way interaction with other media. For instance, a Twitter account can direct people to your web site and vice versa. Having a Twitter 'widget' - see mine here on my website is another labour saving device. It keeps your web page looking fresh and up to date but without any extra work. And it's also easy to have all your Tweets appear on your Facebook page - see mine here.