3 tips for managing institutional, project and group twitter feeds in #HigherEd

In the last few years I’ve jointly or solely managed a whole range of twitter feeds – including @sociowarwick, @bsatheory, @bsapgform, @bsadigitalsoc, @lsepoliticsblog, @bsarealism, @digital_change, @soc_imagination, @asexstudies, @dis_of_dissent, @warwicksocsci and probably some others that I’ve forgotten about. Along the way I’ve learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Given that we seem to be in the very early stages of some sort of corporate twitter presence being expected for research groups or academic departments (etc) I thought I’d offer some tips about how to manage these kinds of twitter feeds in a way which will generate an audience, won’t cause any controversy and won’t take up too much of your time.

  1. Tools like Buffer app are essential to manage multiple twitter feeds effectively without it taking over the rest of your life. They stagger your tweets according to a predefined scheduled over a certain number of days. This can be 2 or 3 tweets only on week days. Or it can be 25+ tweets every day. It’s up to you. It’s worth playing around with it at first. Try out different  schedules, taking into account both the content & time available to you. But once you get to grips with it, it means Twitter scheduling can be a weekly activity rather than a continual demand on your time. For instance I would schedule the @LSEPoliticsBlog feed (30 tweets a day at one point, 20k+ followers) two or three times a week. It took two hours max. 
  2. However this talk of ‘content’ which I slip into these days with distressing ease poses an obvious question: what ‘content’ do you have? This is where you need to think through what the point of the twitter presence is. Is it to disseminate project news? Is it to raise awareness of the project? Is it to network with likely outside constituencies? For research projects this question can be a bit tricky. Which is why combining this presence with a blog can be a strategic masterstroke at this stage. If you can get members of your project to write articles about the issues you’re engaging with and their past work (etc) then this can be a valuable way of generating content for the Twitter feed. For research projects this is admittedly rather complex – listen to this interview with the manager of the enormous FP7 funded MYPLACE project if you’re looking for some inspiration. For academic departments, it’s a lot easier, though this depends on how organised you can be. When I was employed to manage the Sociology@Warwick online presence (prior to joining the LSE’s Public Policy Group to manage the LSE Politics Blog) I curated a collection of open access papers, books and media appearances of all the staff within the department. I then used buffer app to periodically tweet links to these, as well tweeting departmental news/events and retweeting tweets by staff members where appropriate. Now that more sociologists are using Twitter on a regular basis, it becomes possible to imagine a department twitter feed as aggregating the more appropriate aspects of individual users within the department. This could even take the form of a rebel mouse page like this one which I use to automatically curate my online activity.
  3. One of the most important features of Buffer is the analytics it offers i.e. it tells you how many people click on links and how many people retweet or favourite the tweet itself. Once you have been managing a Twitter feed for some time, it can become possible to see trends emerging in the kinds of content you’re putting out through it. This allows the management of the feed to become properly reflexive – are people interested in the work of a certain academic within your department? Then tweet more of it. Does video and audio get a good reaction? Then ensure that all appearances by department members on youtube and vimeo (sometimes the individuals themselves are not aware these videos are out there!) feature in your regular cycle of content. Furthermore, it’s ok to push out the same links more than once. But be selective about how you do it, watch the analytics and try to put a different spin on it as you do.

Part of the difficulty with this sort of activity is that there’s not a natural home for it in most institutional structures. Which is a shame because social media is, in most instances, a necessary (though insufficient) component in an impact strategy for social scientists. If you’re finding it difficult to establish a twitter presence (or to grow an established presence) then the above points will hopefully be of use. If you’d like further help, I’m always available for short term consultancy – here are some nice things people have written about work I’ve done for them and I’ve got a dull but informative social media portfolio document with stats available on request.

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