Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read other users messages called ‘tweets’. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page. Users may subscribe to, or ‘follow’ other author’s tweets. Users can send and receive tweets via the twitter website, compatible external applications for desktop or smartphones, or by SMS.
Twitter’s simplicity means it can be useful in a number of ways, although each will require planning and an investment of time to manage.
- Pushing content – linking to news stories and web pages, posting updates about events, etc
- Monitoring opinion – searching for discussion about topics, people, or institutions you are interested in; not least keeping tabs on what people might be saying about you, your institution, or your work!
- Communicating with peers – Twitter allows you to directly, but relatively casually, engage in discussion with people in your field in a very different way to email
- Crowd-sourcing information – once you have an engaged set of followers, you can ask them questions; many people use Twitter as an alternative to search engines, as it offers the potential for peer-recommendation, often more trusted than search results
- Finding new contacts – searching for people in your field, following them, retweeting useful things they say, and engaging with their discussion is a very good method of online networking; equally, investigating who the people you follow also follow in turn is a great way of expanding your contacts
Remember that, apart from monitoring opinion, being on Twitter is only useful if you have an engaged set of followers. The best way to encourage and grow your followers is to
- Post interesting content that people want to read, and
- Engage with people directly by joining in conversations and answering questions.
In this way Twitter is like any other online communication tool – its brevity, flexibility, speed, and popularity are what marks it apart and make it particularly useful.
University presences and ownership
The University has an official twitter presence at twitter.com/uniofexeter. It is managed by Communication and Marketing Services.
The University’s twitter ID is @uniofexeter.
Several other twitter presences have been established for specific audiences or topics. These are listed at twitter.com/UniofExeter/university-tweeters-4.
Creating new presences
The University’s twitter presence is suitable for tweeting about any areas of University activity. If you would like to tweet via @uniofexeter, please send your text to Charlotte Sweet.
It may be appropriate to create additional twitter presences if these are for a specific and well-defined audience, and are for promotion and discussion of a specific topic. An example might be a twitter presence to support a large international conference.
Before creating a new twitter presence please
- Contact Charlotte to discuss
- Ensure that you have sufficient time and resources to support it.
What to say and how to say it
Your tweets should be professional and grammatically correct, but avoid overly formal language. Talk to your followers as you would talk to them face-to-face in a professional setting. Keep in mind that the 140-character limit encourages a number of unique conventions; posts that spread across more than one Tweet are discouraged, but occasional use of truncations is acceptable.
News stories, upcoming events, open days, visits and university developments are all suitable subjects for tweets. Bear in mind that news headlines with links to web pages are automatically tweeted by Communication and Marketing Services.
Gossip and personal details (eg, what you had for lunch) are not appropriate for a University twitter presence, although opinions may be (eg, ‘It’s great to see so many happy families here for Degree Week’). Remember always that you are tweeting on behalf of the University.
Tweets works best when they encourage further action. Try to include a link to a web page for further information or encourage followers to respond if they want further information. You may find it useful, given the character limit, to use a URL shortening service such as http://tinyurl.com/ when linking to web pages.
Twitter can also be useful for gauging opinions and requesting information from followers. Bear in mind at all times that your tweets, and most responses, will be public.
Twitter is a two-way medium and you should be ready to respond to any questions or direct messages. However, it is also an ephemeral medium, and if you have a great number of followers, they will not all expect individual responses to messages they may send to you.
The question of how personal Twitter accounts relate to the University is a tricky one. Staff will always use social media to talk to their friends, but remember that if using your real name or an easily decipherable pseudonym, it can be easy for controversial content to bring the institution into disrepute by association.
Academic colleagues should carefully consider how they gauge tweets directly related to their research. Social media can be a fantastic way to facilitate inter-disciplinary and cross-institutional collaboration, but please take care not to disclose any content that may be commercially sensitive.