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This is a GradHacker post by Andrea Zellner, PhD candidate in Ed Tech/Ed Pysch at Michigan State University, @andreazellner
Here at Gradhacker, we've written about online identity and the use of Twitter before. In this post, I thought I'd tackle less of the "how to use Twitter" and move into the idea of leveraging the power of Twitter to improve your online presence and academic identity. I also can resist making new words with "tw" in the front of them.
The name thing: In Katy's earlier Branding piece, she pointed out the importance of linking all of one's online spaces with one's name. I decided a long time ago to switch my Twitter username to my given name precisely for this reason. I have a not-so-common name, so this was relatively easy, but with the land grab for Twitter handles, it may not be so easy for everyone. Never fear: the new Twitter interface now publishes both a Display name and a Username. For example, my account now publishes "andreazellner" as my username and "Andrea Zellner" next to it. So even if I hadn't grabbed my given name as my Twitter handle, folks can now more easily associate my account with my professional identity. If you haven't done so, make sure that the Display name is the one you associate with other online spaces, and most importantly, your professional work.
Find other academics: Early in my academic career, as I'm sure will be a familiar to our readers, I learned about the "snowball" method of research. Read an article or a book, see what they cited, read those, see who they cited, read those, and so and so forth until I have a good sense of a topic. Twitter works similarly: people using Twitter professionally are going to interact with other people using Twitter professionally. Find other graduate students or follow conference hashtags and, before you know it, you'll have a nice set of folks to follow. Twitter's new suggestion feature, while imperfect, will often suggest other similar folks once you begin.
Now interact with those people: Retweet what they say. Respond to their questions (even if it means you have to Google something). Some of them won't respond back, but when they do....then you know you are cooking with gas. The amount of help and support I get from my Twitter network blows my mind on a regular basis. I know that if I tweet out a link to a new blog post that expresses some struggle I am having with my research or a new idea, my Twitter network will read it and offer feedback to make my work for school better. This is because I make sure that I take every pilot survey they send out, I respond to their blog posts, I answer their questions, and retweet their good ideas. A network requires participants to both give and receive.
Be yourself, but avoid being crabby, snarky, or mean: The internet is forever and it is easy to vent on social networks. Be careful if you do. I try to be very cautious by recognizing that, while I am often talking to friends, I may also be broadcasting to future employers. I don't hide that I am politically active, and that is a risk I am willing to take at this time. It may not be a risk you want to take. I also like to joke around on Twitter and have fun: I like interacting with people who don't tweet like robots. Decide what your level of comfort is and stick with it. One of my rules is that I don't post about my family very often, and I never post pictures of my children or name them. This is because I strongly feel that my children should be in control of their own online identities. I am a total hypocrite in this regard because I will click on any picture of a child tweeted by folks in my network (what can I say? Kids are cute.).
For more on academic uses of Twitter, see this post co-written by me and my good friend, Leigh Graves Wolf (@gravesle).
What suggestions to do you have for using Twitter to improve your online, academic identity?