A tweet caught my eye yesterday:
‘Interesting academics on Twitter who have thousands of followers but only follow 50 people, must like the sound of their own tweets.’ Les Back (@academicdiary)
This got me thinking about how more academics are joining twitter by the day yet using twitter and engaging through twitter are two different things. I know this and some academics who have been using social media for a while know this, but all academics need to understand the difference between the two and why it is the conversation that is key to twitters value. You see, there is lots of information out there, more information than anyone can process. If your time is already limited then more information, if not directly relevant at the time, is likely to be ignored. However, if someone poses a question on which you may have a response, then you often feel obligated to make your view heard and engage with the person posing that question. Surely though, as a busy academic you may be thinking “Do I have time to engage with all of these people?”. I would question, however if you can afford not to. After all, if people are interested enough to follow you on twitter, they are probably sufficiently interested in your work to read it, consider it, and possibly offer a perspective on your work that may not have entered your consciousness. Is this not one of the reasons why presenting papers at conference is so valuable, the ability to start conversations and enter into debates about your work.
Lets take this a step further then, think about the questions you get asked at a conference. For each of those questions, I’m sure there are another half a dozen people who wanted to ask a question but either didn’t have time in the allocated slot or, were too nervous to ask it within that context. I know I certainly have been guilty of not asking questions at times for both those reasons and yet, I would not hesitate to tweet those questions. So maybe now is the time to reconsider twitter. Think of it as the coffee break at a conference that never ends, the off the cuff comment that provides the kindling for the next flame of an idea. Unlike a coffee break of a conference, you have the chance to explore the perspectives of a far wider audience, those who you may never have been able to reach with your research in the past.
Now tell me that you can afford not to engage in the conversation?