Like most social media devices, Twitter has generated an ambivalent response from users. Although on a basic level Twitter can be used for a range of purposes (mainly entertaining), on a professional level it can be more problematic or risky for users.
I remember starting the Social Media Skills for Students project with a brief meeting with Dr Nadine Muller. When she told us that a Twitter account was created for this project, it came with a few instant warnings: always begin with a capital letter; hash tags go at the end of tweets; don’t include anything that will dismiss the reputation of the project. In other words, we wanted our Twitter page to be as professional as possible.
Such warnings provide, inevitably, general concerns and worries when maintaining a professional account as it feels as though one is conforming to a set of rules that must be performed in order to produce a professional profile.
However, my experience of using Twitter for professional reasons has, overall, been really effective and even successful. Despite the feeling of conformity, abiding by a set of social media conventions has helped shape and develop certain projects in which I have been involved. Like most of my posts for this project, I want to illustrate my review of using Twitter though my involvement with the Writing Lives project.
Although there have been many debates on the role social media plays on the academic world (mostly negative I must add), we were able to promote the Writing Lives website by using social media. Through using Twitter and Facebook, we publicised both the Writing Lives website and our own contribution to the project.
Further, we have been able to extend our readership to a wider audience. This is a way of promoting Writing Lives to other academics, historians and the general public who are generally interested in the role of autobiography and local history. In particular, when I posted a link to my blogs on Twitter, academics from across the country retweeted my posts. This illustrates how my work is being read and made available to a wide audience and even potentially contributing to further research by academics.
Twitter has also been a way of finding out further information that contributes to one’s own research. By tweeting a concern or query, one can gain more information – in a short space of time – when other people reply to one’s tweets with relevant information. Victoria Hoffman – a fellow blogger on the Writing Lives project – was contacted by a relative of her chosen author, Jack Goring, who discovered our research on the Writing Lives Facebook page.
We can see how social media is an example of dissemination. This is illustrated though the Writing Lives’ involvement with Radio 4’s series ‘500 years of friendship’. This series was publicized through Twitter, making our research publically available. In fact, one of our adopted authors from the project, Harry West, was mentioned on this series. Harry West’s appearance on Radio 4 was heard by two of Harry West’s great nephews – Chris West and John Bamber.
Through our research we are helping to identify new directions for studying working-class lives and writing that the project will explore. For instance we have found out about the importance of friendship in working-class communities which helps develop a wider research agenda. Through tweeting interesting facts and quotations by our chosen authors, we have provided academics with primary sources that help shape developing aspects of research, such as friendship amongst the working-classes.
So it does show that social media can be a great way to help publicize and promote work and projects that are part of an academic community. Yes, it may seem as though one is conforming to certain rules (as demonstrated though Dr Nadine Muller’s social media nightmares explored above), but it really does make your work or project appear as professional as possible. This will ultimately multiply your online readership.