Many other people have written about how to be on Academic Twitter, but imo they make it sound way more serious and scary than it actually is. Using Twitter as part of your academic work doesn’t have to be high-pressure or stressful, especially if you’re a grad student!
When I talk about Twitter with my fellow graduate students who aren’t on the bird app, I hear one of two things: either “Twitter is a cesspool” or “I want to be on Twitter, but it feels overwhelming.” This post is for you if you fit in either of these camps! While I can only speak to my experience with using Twitter as a graduate student, I think it’s a great tool for academics at any career stage. I’ll talk through why Twitter is great, why it sometimes sucks, and give you all the real advice you need for getting started on Twitter in a low-pressure way.
This post is allll about why and how to join Academic Twitter!
💖 Why Academic Twitter is Great
Let’s start with the pros– why joining Twitter is a good idea if you’re an academic (and ESPECIALLY if you’re a graduate student!)
Twitter is where Things Happen. It’s an amazing way to learn about what is happening beyond your institution.
If your department is set up anything like mine, you’re probably on a couple of listservs that get announcements about grants, events, talks, etc. sent to them. And you probably ignore like 75% of those because they don’t apply to you or are really far outside of your areas of interest. And depending on your focus, you might be the only person at your department or institution that works in your time period, region, etc! That can feel lonely. Twitter lets you get in touch with people who are interested in the hyper-specific things you work on and broader scholarly communities outside of your institution.
But that feeling of connection isn’t the best part of Twitter for me.
Top 3 benefits of Twitter, from my personal experience
- Learn about opportunities. This is a huge one for me. I learn about workshops, calls for papers, online events, and (crucially!!) jobs that I wouldn’t have ever heard about through other means. Twitter is how I learned when the NEH was hiring interns for the Office of Digital Humanities and when The Programming Historian put out a call for editors and countless other opportunities and events. Since few people in my department do DH, the odds of me hearing about these from anyone in my in-person network were slim.
- Live tweets of conference activities. People live-Tweet from conferences all the time. Conference travel is expensive and time-consuming. But it’s always so exciting to hear what people are up to! Twitter can mitigate some of the FOMO and give you a sampling of conference happenings even if you can’t attend. When a big conference in your field comes up, it’s basically a guarantee that there’ll be a official hashtag people are using to live-Tweet the talks (with permission from individual speakers). Checking in on these hashtags can be a great way to get the key takeaways from conference talks.
- Getting to know people in your field, letting them get to know you. Twitter lets you interact (if you want) casually and regularly with people in your field from all over. That kind of “networking” (as much as I dislike the term) doesn’t have to wait for conferences anymore. When it came time for me to find an outside reader for my dissertation, I emailed a person I really admire but had never technically met before. It turned out that not only had I seen them on Twitter a bunch, but they had seen me around Twitter and already sorta knew who I was! That made asking for some of this person’s time less scary. Less like a “cold call.”
👎 Why Academic Twitter Sucks
That said, it isn’t all good. Twitter has a negative reputation in some circles, and for good reasons. If you aren’t careful about curating your feed, it can be come a very negative and divisive place. It can also become a time suck if you let it!
Like the rest of Twitter, Academic Twitter occasionally (okay, often) fills up with petty “discourse” and lukewarm hot takes. Every couple weeks something new really “makes the rounds” and you might not be down for the online drama.
Academic Twitter also, especially recently, is full of (10000% justified) job market pessimism. Seems like every day I see a new thread from someone leaving the profession– sometimes heartbroken, sometimes angry, sometimes content, sometimes joyfully.
Being surrounded by negativity like that can be draining, but your Twitter experience doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll talk about how to curate your feed to mitigate some of these issues later in this post!
How to “Do” Academic Twitter
Okay, maybe you’re convinced that being on Twitter is likely more beneficial than detrimental for you. Where do you start? In this section I’ll talk through some of the questions I’ve been asked by my friends & colleagues about getting starting on Twitter.
Picking a handle
Step one, you need an account! That involves picking a username/handle– the thing that’ll be your @ on Twitter.
A lot of folks recommend using your real name, and I personally have my real name @lizfischer0 as my username, but you do not have to use your real name on Twitter to use it successfully as an academic. I follow several folks who are fully anon on Twitter and it’s totally fine.
I also know a lot of folks who have their real name as their name but have a more general/vague username. You probably don’t want your handle to be profane, but other than that there’s really no rules!
If you choose to use your real name on Twitter, it’s very likely that your Twitter will come up in a Google search of your name. Twitter ranks highly in search engines. That’s either a plus or a minus depending on your goals, so be aware of that when making your decision.
Crucially though, you can change your handle down the line if you want. So you can always start more anonymous and change it if you want! (or the reverse)
One account or two?
Maybe you already have a Twitter that you use for shitposting about politics. Maybe you’re thinking “Should I make a separate account to be my ‘professional’ account?”
I’m of the opinion that you don’t need to keep your “professional” account strictly professional. I and lots of academics I follow tweet about interests outside of work. I tweet about crafts and video games a lot! And it’s been cool to find non-work things in common with “work people” via Twitter.
Some folks I know keep separate accounts and love it, too. It’s really a matter of personal preference more than anything. Some folks don’t want their students or advisors to know too much about their personal interests, so they separate those worlds.
Speaking of students, you should NEVER tweet negative things about your students. ESPECIALLY not from an account with your name on it. It can be tempting to use Twitter as a place to vent. But students Google you. Students will find your Twitter if it’s public. They will see you saying hurtful things about them. DON’T DO IT. I have not always followed this rule myself but I am now committed to it 100%. You should be too.
Whether or not you want a separate account for your personal and professional Twitter lives, an anonymous or a named account, you should know some things about privacy on Twitter.
By default, all tweets are public. BUT, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can protect your tweets so that only your followers see them. If your tweets are protected, you can approve or deny requests by others to follow you, giving you a lot more control over who can see and retweet your posts. Check the Twitter help section for the full nitty-gritty.
If you don’t want to protect your tweets fully, you can block specific people from seeing or interacting with you on Twitter. They won’t be notified you blocked them, but if they try to access your profile they might figure it out. You also won’t see their posts, which makes blocking an important part of curating your feed.
Curate your virtual space
Your Twitter experience will be what you make it. Curating your feed takes two things: finding the content you want, and getting rid of the content you don’t want.
Find people to follow
I think for a lot of folks, especially those early in their career, figuring out who to follow is anxiety inducing. The truth is you don’t need to be following all the right people, and definitely not right away. Here are my tips:
- Start with people you know. Follow folks you know IRL whether that’s your friends, people from your department, folks you worked with once, or people you met at an event. You can branch out from there!
- Find the hashtags. Figure out what hashtags people with similar interests tweet with. If you’re a DH person, #DigitalHumanities and #DH are common. Use the tweets of folks you already know & the Twitter search bar to figure this out! Then search those hashtags to find new & interesting people to follow.
- Follow professional organizations/publications. You likely already know at least some of the major organizations & journals in your field/subfield. Follow them to see what they’re up to!
- Focus on folks in your field/sub-field. This will be a lot more satisfying and productive than trying to be in touch with “academic Twitter” as a general space. In some ways academic twitter is small, but in others it is very big. There’s no reason to be “on” all parts of it!
- Look for lists. Twitter has this feature called Lists, where people group together accounts based on a theme. You can follow the list without following everyone in it individually, and you’ll get occasional tweets from the list on your feed. This can be a great way to find people you want to follow follow. I have links at the end of this post to two such lists for DH folks!
The list of people you follow will grow naturally if you start slow! Try the things above, but don’t put hours of your time into it.
Throw out the bad
Even folks who you love to follow will sometimes tweet stuff you really wish you hadn’t seen. Thankfully, Twitter has tools for controlling what kinds of content makes it on your feed.
I learned to think of my social media feeds as places to be actively curated from the amazing Brianne Huntsman:
Your Twitter will only be awful if you let it stay awful.
Mute specific words you don’t want to see and block people you don’t want to interact with. For example, I have terms related to diet and weight-loss muted, because I don’t need that energy in my life! And I’ve muted more than one “senior academic” who I didn’t want commenting on my posts. Some for so-called “good” reasons, some just because I didn’t like the vibes they were bringing. You’re allowed to block people, even if they’re “important”! Your Twitter is supposed to work for you, so shape it into a place that will be positive for you.
Update! I got a question about muting people vs. blocking people. Like, if you see someone leaving mean replies on a thread and you don’t want them being mean to you, do you block or mute the person before engaging? Here’s what I think:
Going beyond lurking
For a long time, I used Twitter primarily to lurk. I think there’s a lot of value in lurking, and you do not need to tweet to get a lot out of Twitter.
If you do want to Tweet, don’t fret too much over what kinds of things you tweet. You’ll naturally find your people if you tweet about things you think are interesting. Not every tweet will get a lot of engagement, and that’s okay!
It might take some time to learn the nuances of Twitter communication, like how to use threads or @ tag people in a helpful way. As a shortcut, I really recommend reading this post by Paula Curtis. She talks about how to give sources for your information, how to retweet, how to use hashtags strategically, how to be the person live-tweeting from an event, and how to not be an asshole. Everything I could say about the mechanics of how to Tweet, she says better!
DH Twitter Recommendations
To round out this post, here are my personal recommendations for who to follow on DH twitter. I work a lot with medieval and early modern materials, so these lists skew that direction!
First, obviously there’s the #DigitalHumanities tag.
I also follow this list of Digital Humanities folks put together by Martin Grandjean. I don’t follow most of these folks directly, but by following the list I see tweets from them occasionally.
Lastly, I follow the bot @DigitalHumanatee that retweets DH content.
That’s it! That’s how I use academic Twitter, and all my advice on getting started. I hope you have found this post encouraging and/or helpful as you consider whether or not to join. If you’re an established twitter user, who are your DH follows? Share the love in a comment!