As a Research Uptake professional I’m fascinated by the power of social media, especially using Twitter to communicate interesting discussions, observations, and insights surrounding research and evidence themes in the development field. It has really been interesting to observe the extent of interest and attention that a mere handful of tweets surrounding an event can trigger, engaging in various ways audiences from diverse contexts. For research in particular, these discussions and debates are of great value not only for sharing and using evidence, but also for informing policies and programmes at local level. Just tagging a government body in a tweet about reforms required in a particular policy provision can actually prompt that agency to take immediate action.
But how do we do our best to ensure that our tweets create an impact? Here are some of my tips based on personal experience:
- Do your homework: Preparation matters. Know the basics about the conference themes. Prepare points about relevant reports/statistics or links to evidence related to the discussion.
- Be punctual: Seems basic, but if you miss the inaugural session, you may miss out on key messages.
- Seating matters: For public events without seat reservations, you don’t want to end up at the back where it’s harder to listen well or capture good photographs. Come early, sit near the front, and choose an aisle seat so you can get up and take pictures of the stage without disturbing those around you.
- Keep your phone fully charged: Taking photos and live tweeting can give your battery a work out. Make sure your phone is fully charged so you don’t lose power just as the event is heating up.
- Don’t rely on wifi alone: Not all venues will provide strong, consistent, and reliable wifi access. Invest in a mobile data package to ensure there’s no delay to your live tweeting.
- Listen carefully and pick your words: During a 10-minute long speech, it is important that you listen carefully to understand the crux of the speech. Try to use phrases from the speakers themselves rather than paraphrasing them. Listening carefully also helps you to catch some powerful words that you can use to structure your tweet. You can emphasise them using inverted commas, but not too often that they are distracting to read.
- Build a Tweet Bank: Take the time before the event to research a Tweet Bank of relevant people and institutions to tag.
- Take photographs to grab people’s attention: Tweets with photographs tend to attract more attention than text-only tweets. Also, with photographs you can tag at least 10 handles, giving you more reach than text-only tweets.
- Relate to your work and your world: Live tweeting for conferences is about not only research communication but also research uptake (including yours). It’s always better to link a tweet about the event to a follow-up tweet relating to your work. This time, the links to outputs or events from your work that you saved will come in handy to enhance visibility of your work.
- Timing and frequency matters: You can build a story while live tweeting – starting with a tweet with the event banner or registration event right through to the closing event. Striking the right balance in frequency is tricky, and practice helps. I prefer one or two tweets of each speaker at a day-long conference so that at the end of the day you’ll have 8-10 tweets with key messages – a helpful resource for your conference reports and blogs as well.
Did I say Top 10? Bonus! Here are three more:
11. Contextual understanding matters: An informed tweet always makes an insightful tweet. Your tweet can show how deeply you understand the context too, so frame your words carefully so your readers know that you really know what you’re talking about and they’ll want to know more from you.
12. Use twitter options for good: Hashtags make you visible, but only choose really appropriate ones. Too many hashtags can be distracting. Use the Twitter thread option too, to develop a sequence of tweets that will allow your readers to follow the discussion in order.
13. Learn from the experts: Watching how more experienced people live tweet is a great way to learn. Everyone has their own personality and techniques, as well as their own research uptake goals, but observe what works for others, and then try it yourself. Keep a record of what works for you and what doesn’t, and adjust as you go. You’ll get more and more effective with practice.
And of course, sometimes, these experiments work, sometimes they don’t! It’s an evolutionary process, so don’t get discouraged before you build up your contacts, reputation, and content.