Why all #academics should have professional @twitter accounts


I started my professional Twitter account @leekgroup about a year and half ago at the suggestion of a colleague of mine, John Storey (@storeylab). I started using the account to post updates on papers/software my group was publishing. Basically, everything I used to report on my webpage as “News”. 

I started to give talks where the title slide included my Twitter name, rather than my webpage. It frequently drew the biggest laugh in the talk, and I would get comments like, “Do you really think people care what you are thinking every moment of every day?” That is what some people use Twitter for, and no I’m not really interested in making those kind of updates. 

So I started describing why I think Twitter is useful for academics at the beginning of talks:

  1. You can integrate it directly into your website (like so), using Twitter widgets. If you have a Twitter account you just go here, get the widget for your website, and add the code to your homepage. Now you don’t have to edit HTML to make news updates, you just login to Twitter and type the update in the box.
  2. You can quickly gain a much broader audience for your software/papers. In the past, I had to rely on people actually coming to my website to find my papers or seeing them in journals. Now, when I announce a paper, my followers see it and if they like it, they pass it on to their followers, etc. I have noticed that my papers are being downloaded more and by a broader audience since I joined. 
  3. I can keep up on what other people are doing. Many statisticians have Twitter accounts that they use professionally. I follow many of them and when they publish new papers, I see them pop up, rather than having to go to all their websites. It’s like an RSS feed of papers from people I want to follow. 
  4. You can connect with people outside academia. Particularly in my area, I’d like the statistical tools I’m developing to be used by folks in industry who work on genomics. It’s hard to get the word out about my methods through traditional channels, but a lot of those folks are on Twitter. 

The best part is, there is an amplification effect to this medium. So as more and more academics join and follow each other, it is easier and easier for us all to keep up with what is happening in the field. If you are intimidated by using any social media, you can get started with some really easy how-to’s like this one.

Alright, enough advertising for Twitter, I’m going back to work.