Twitter is a microblogging service and, as such, can pose a challenge for researchers. Fitting your message within the space of 140 characters is not easy, and many researchers may not understand how such tiny bits of information could benefit their work. Twitter can, however, be quite an indispensable tool in research: it helps you grow your network, keep up with world events and condense your message.
The Academy of Finland’s Programmable Materials Academy Programme (OMA) invited Stuart Cantrill, the chief editor of Nature Chemistry, to its final seminar at the ChemBio Finland fair to talk about science and social media. Nature Chemistry actively uses Twitter for a wide range of communication purposes, and the journal currently has more than 180,000 Twitter followers. Although no longer in the lab, Cantrill still considers himself to be a scientist and is an avid social media user, so we asked him to list five reasons why researchers should use Twitter in their work.
1. It helps you do more networking
“Twitter is an excellent networking tool. If you’re active, you’ll get noticed. I’ve been invited via Twitter to speak at conferences, for instance. At Nature Chemistry, if we see an interesting tweet about an interesting topic, we might ask the person behind the tweet to contribute to our journal. So, Twitter can also be a useful tool professionally. Through Twitter, I’ve encountered people from a broad range of scientific disciplines. Nowadays, when I attend a conference somewhere around the world, I always meet people that I know from Twitter.”
2. You learn to be concise
“Twitter teaches you the art of editing. On Twitter, you have to get your message across in a very limited space, but still in a comprehensible format. You’ll learn to write concisely. The character limit is a good thing. Although it can sometimes be a bit annoying when you write the perfect tweet only to find it’s a few characters too long. On the other hand, even if there were more space, I’d always want a few characters more. Brevity is what makes Twitter so unique.”
3. It’s fast and interactive
“Twitter hasn’t revolutionised the way science is communicated, but it has provided a medium for fast-paced and interactive communications. If you reach out to a researcher via email, you might not get an answer. On Twitter, however, the threshold for interaction is much, much lower. Twitter is always open for your questions, and there’s always someone ready to help. Particularly early-career researchers can find support on Twitter from peers who have faced similar challenges.”
4. You know what’s going on
“I no longer read newspapers systematically (online or at home) in the way that I used to, because I don’t need to. Twitter supplies me with news from across the world, instantly. Twitter is my own, tailor-made news feed, providing curated content from the people I’ve decided to follow. And I can filter out excess noise by choosing who to follow. Twitter may seem like an endless stream of fleeting information. But any piece of news that is interesting enough will eventually get retweeted, so that people can keep up with what’s going on.”
5. There’s nothing to lose
“A major reason why people don’t use Twitter is that it may be difficult to understand its benefits. On the other hand, you won’t get any benefits if you don’t give it a go. No-one taught me how to use Twitter – I just tried it and was hooked. A good thing to remember is that you can open and close Twitter as you please. There are days when I don’t open Twitter at all, because I have too much work to do or deadlines to meet. If you use Twitter at work, it can quite easily become a laboured affair. But if you integrate it into you daily life, you’ll find it much easier to use.”
Original Finnish text by Kira Keini
Follow Stuart Cantrill on Twitter: @stuartcantrill