to tweet or not to tweet? tips and tricks for sociology grad students

Earlier this week, I was asked to help organize an event for graduate students seeking advice on the “responsible use of twitter for grad students.” Of course, my first instinct was to crowdsource advice from #SocTwitter itself. In this post, I gather together some of the advice suggested by others, including a list of already published or posted resources and guides.

To start, Inga Popovitae responded to my query with a great list of questions about which students might be seeking advice that are worth untangling:

How to use Twitter to actually connect with people? How to balance self promotion with meaningful conversations? Why/how to grow audience? How to balance personal/academic content? When to start using it? How to translate Twitter network into offline/collaboration relations?

To which I responded, yes, all of the above!

Jess Calarco offered these four tips, which are a great starting point:

  1. Watch and learn – observe a while before you post
  2. Diversify – follow junior scholars, scholars from marginalized groups, scholars from other disciplines
  3. Give more than you get – promote other people’s work
  4. You don’t always have to be kind, but please don’t be cruel

Mike Bader chimed in with three more suggestions:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Treat conversation on Twitter like you would those in a hallway, they can be personal but rarely private (also see 1 for how you handle that)
  3. Follow journalists whose beats cover your research

The second of those is an especially useful metaphor, I think, as it captures how Twitter sometimes feel very intimate or private until all of a sudden it doesn’t, and someone you don’t expect enters the conversation.

Nicole Bedera also emphasized how Twitter is like a conversation:

The best advice I ever got was to think of Twitter as a conversation. You aren’t screaming your own thoughts for others’ approval. You’re discussing big ideas with other people you respect.

Rashawn Ray advised on how to avoid trouble:

  1. Be deliberate. People pay attention this stuff.
  2. Think about what you are using Twitter for. If professionally, treat it that way.
  3. Try not to get into personal feuds but have professional disagreements.
  4. Aim to carve out a key audience of academics and non scholars.

There are other great comments on the thread, and I recommend them. Finally, here are some of my own thoughts (some of which duplicate those from other commenters):

  1. You can just follow people and use it as a feed and that’s fine & low risk/energy.
  2. You can engage a lot and get involved in conversations & build a following. That’s higher risk/energy.
  3. You can’t just fire off the occasional tweet and have anyone see it.
  4. By default, Twitter makes everything public and remembers it forever. You can change these things, somewhat. Setting an auto delete after a certain time frame can help prevent context collapse as an old tweet gets picked up at a different moment.
  5. That doesn’t eliminate the need to be careful in what you tweet but it’s the kind of thing you’ll want to think about especially if you tweet about anything controversial either broad politically or in your field. (Read up on Salaita and Grundy to understand how this happens).
  6. As with most networking, the most valuable connections are often lateral. Other scholars at or near your stage working on related things at other schools or on other places are the folks you will get feedback from, coauthor with, put together panels with etc.
  7. “The failure mode of clever is “asshole”.” Some people are good at being clever and knowing when a clever comment will work. But context and tone are hard on twitter so be careful if you think you are about to tweet something you think clever.
  8. In general, avoid criticizing your students. If you need advice about handling an issue, Twitter may be a good resource for soliciting advice but that’s not the same thing.
  9. You can criticize scholarship and twitter can be a great place for certain kinds of academic conversations. But like the hallway chatter metaphor, keep in mind that it might get back to whoever you are criticizing (even though most of the time it will get completely ignored).
  10. One excellent genre of tweet is “here is this thing I liked and a bit of detail about why I liked it!” There’s an overwhelming amount of Content out there. Helping identify what’s useful or interesting is a valuable skill and service and great way to find your community.
  11. Another excellent genre, for similar reasons, is “what should I read to understand x?” It gives people an opportunity to tweet in the previous genre and to promote their own work or others’ that they find useful. And it’s Twitter, so no one is obligated to respond or engage.
  12. Make Twitter work for you, whatever that means. You don’t owe anyone a follow (and vice versa). Mute and block whenever you find it useful. Life is short and you don’t anyone on Twitter anything. Especially if they aren’t otherwise in your life in an ongoing way, eg another academic in your field. A person can tell if you blocked them so I use that very sparingly if it’s just someone I’m annoyed by. But I’m also a white man who gets a relatively small amount of outright abuse (one or two anti-Semitic trolls in the last five years?), and so muting has been sufficient for me in a way it is not for many others.


Here is a collection of resources, largely drawn from suggestions on the Twitter thread.

“How to use Twitter for networking in academia.” A very helpful primer by Christina Bergmann on the basics of starting an account, deciding what to tweet about, and so on.

“A Naysayer’s Introduction to Social Media” and “Demystifying Social Media”. A pair of short documents by Kerice Doten-Snitker. The first helps explain why you might want to tweet, the second gets into the basics of how to do so.

“Ten simple rules for getting started on Twitter as a scientist.” A paper by Cheplygina et al aimed more at natural scientists but with advice that applies pretty well to sociology. Includes a handy and short twitter glossary of terms (like “HT” meaning “hat tip”, to acknowledge the source for whatever you’re tweeting).

“Networking with Twitter.”  A set of presentation slides by Sarah Jacobson with a ton of great examples.

“Using Twitter.” Tyson Smith has suggestions, with a focus on hashtags and controversies.

“Let’s talk about Twitter.” At Inside Higher Ed, Kerry Ann Rockquemore of the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity responds to a question about scholars who are torn between their desire to engage a broader audience and a desire to not be targeted for their opinions, especially on topics like race and racism.

“A history of white violence tells us attacks on black academics are not ending (I know because it happened to me).” In this article, Saida Grundy recounts her experience being targeted by conservative groups for her comments on Twitter.

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

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