Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How To: Use Twitter

Here at New Voices we like to stay on top of the new things going on in the world. In the process, we realized we haven't been able to go anywhere without hearing about people tweeting. So we sought out a friend of New Voices, Allison Bland, to tell us about the (not so) new social media tool Twitter.

By now, you’ve probably heard of Twitter. You may have even tried it out.

How do you use this thing? What is Twitter all about?

I manage the Twitter account for Research!America, and while it continues to be a learning process for me, I think it’s a helpful advocacy tool and an exciting new way to communicate. In 140 characters or less, Twitter users broadcast messages to “followers” who read a stream of tweets from users they have chosen to follow. Users can respond to each other by adding the @ symbol before another username or respond to threads of conversations by adding # in front of an agreed upon tag for the topic (#science and #health are some of my favorites).

I’ve been happy to discover a lively group of Twitterers who frequently tweet about the evolution of science communication. You might be interested in following @BoraZ, @nancyshute, @girlscientist, and @Bridge2Science.

Some tips for your tweets:

Share. Twitter is a great way to get a message out to a receptive audience, but you add value to your tweets by helping others and providing useful information: alert your followers to new Twitter users they might be interested in, link to original content, and retweet relevant tweets.

Talk to the right people. Finding the right audience for your tweets can be one of the biggest challenges. How do you know if your followers are really listening? I use bit.ly, which is primarily a URL-shortening application, but it has a lot of other neat features. Your bit.ly account will show how many people clicked through the links in your tweets and who retweeted the same link. Using bit.ly, I’ve found that global health-related links are especially popular with our followers.

Listen. I imagine Twitter as a huge room of people having a conversation. Tune in and tap into what people are saying to stay connected. A quick scan through the latest tweets will give you a sense of the most current topics, whether it’s a major conference or Ashton Kutcher and malaria nets.

Stay active. Twitter is habit-forming, so this shouldn’t be a problem, but make it a point to be an engaged user. Tweet every day, follow people who have followed you back, and participate in conversations. Soon your network will grow and you will be part of the Twitterverse!
Follow @ResearchAmerica!

Allison Bland is a communications intern at Research!America and a recent graduate of McGill University with degrees in English and history of science.

This is Part 3 in the New Voices series on helpful technology for science communicators and advocates.
Part 1 - How To: Subscribe to Your Favorite Websites
Part 2 - How To: Use Google Reader

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