By Raquel Buj, PhD (@BioYupi)
“just setting up my twttr”, was the first tweet in history and how Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, changed the world on March 21, 2006. Twitter has shaken the world by modifying how we interact, communicate, and consume news. Twitter attracts a significant number of politicians, journalists, celebrities, and an increasing number of scientists.
Electronic publishing changed our world by letting us access desired information with just one click, and now Twitter has provided us with the next step; we can directly communicate with other scientists in just 240 characters. According to the latest survey on social media usage published in Nature, about 13% of scientists actively use Twitter on a daily basis1. Since 2014, Twitter has gained over 5 million new active users. How many of those are scientists remains unknown, but this percentage is likely to be almost double in 20202,3. Twitter is an invaluable growing resource for the entire scientific community but especially for junior scientists4. Imagine yourself when you first started in science having the ability to directly interact with other scientists, even overseas! Envision interacting with that scientist you admire and saw at a conference from 30 feet away, but the crowd of twenty or more senior scientists surrounding them made it impossible to approach them and say “Hi, I am Raquel and I enjoyed reading your latest work”. With Twitter, we can do that from the comfort of our own lab (or couch). However, if you’re shy, don’t worry! You can use Twitter to simply stay up to date with the latest news from your favorite scientists, journals, editors, universities, hospitals, research institutions, funding agencies, non-profit scientific societies, pharma and biotech companies, and much more.
In the current era of “If You’re not publishing – You don’t exist!”, Twitter is an awesome tool to share your work and self-promote. According to the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers report from 2018, there are over 3 million articles published a year5. No scientist can read all of the publications in a particular field, even reading 24/7! Thus, advertising your work can help you gain visibility. Evidence suggests that Twitter influences scholarly impact by improving the prospect of increased citations6-9. Dr. Tom Finch, a conservation scientist at the University of Cambridge, suggests that “Promoting research on Twitter seems like a good way of getting it in the back of people’s minds, so when they come to write their own papers, it’s likely that this could have a ‘cause and effect’ and increase the citation rate of your paper in the future.”4 Thus, Twitter not only helps you promote your work, it is a fantastic tool to find papers that interest you.
In all honesty, it has been a long time since I went to PubMed to look for a paper. There are two main reasons for that: first, because Google Scholar works much better to find papers containing keywords; and second, I follow a huge number of scientists, editors and journals on Twitter that regularly post their work or other people’s work. Indeed, many of these scientists not only post a link to the paper, they also use the “Tweetorial” to explain the fundamentals and key questions/answers of their article in a threaded tweet. I must tell you: this is awesome! We can give direct explanations and have an open conversation with the authors and others in the field. Essentially, we can “go to a conference” every day, minute, and second with plenty of time to ask questions. In this regard, my mentor Professor Katherine M. Aird wrote a fantastic Tweetorial about our last published paper that brought a lot of interest, even from some of the big names in our field! Suddenly, I gained a lot of followers, including some of those high-profile researchers. This means key researchers in my field know who I am and what I do, which opens a world of opportunities.
Indeed, scientists who have posted their preprints (another awesome tool) on Twitter have been contacted by editors, asking them to submit manuscripts to their journal. This has yet to happen for me but, hey, you never know! Is it not fantastic that together, Twitter and preprints, are slightly changing the publishing landscape? Are we moving towards a world in which it is not scientists who beg to be published, but journals that must compete with each other to publish remarkable preprints promoted on Twitter?
My hope is that by now, you may have stopped reading this article to go open a Twitter account. If not, perhaps this might change your mind: there are thousands of jobs advertised on Twitter. The career coach Ashley Stahl revealed in Forbes magazine that 78% of recruiters have hired through social media, and Twitter is one of the most powerful platforms10. Furthermore, Twitter has facilitated this task by creating Twitter Careers which allows anyone to search for jobs by keyword, location and terms.
In summary, while Twitter is a great social media tool people often use to read the thoughts of celebrities and politicians, Twitter is also extremely interesting for us as scientists because we can utilize it to self-promote, collaborate, and find information. After 10 years on Twitter, I would advise that you follow accounts that matter to you, whether or not they are directly relevant to your particular scientific field is up to you. I personally follow many Air & Space and Literature accounts because these are topics that interest me. However, as a molecular biologist interested in oncometabolism and senescence, I largely work on engaging in conversations in my particular field to build a network of accounts that can be helpful to me, both now and in the future. Remember this, a single tweet can go around-the-world in less than a minute. Why not use it to promote our science?
- Online collaboration: Scientists and the social network. R. Van Noorden, Nature (Aug 13, 2014).
- Twitter: number of monthly active users 2010-2019. J. Clement, http://www.statista.com (Aug 14, 2019)
- A systematic identification and analysis of scientists on Twitter. K. Qing et al., Plos One (Apr 11, 2017)
- 10 tips for tweeting research. B. Crew, Nature index (May 9, 2019)
- The STIM Report 1968-2018. R. Johnson, International Association of STM (Oct 4, 2018)
- To be or not to be on Twitter, and its relationship with the tweeting and citation of research papers. JL. Ortega, Scientometrics (Aug 26, 2016)
- Tweeting birds: online mentions predict future citations in ornithology. Tom Finch et al., Royal Society Open Access (Nov 1, 2017)
- Impact of author tweeting on the dissemination of publications on twitter: a study of respiratory and critical care journals. K. Gunaratne et al., CHEST journal (Apr, 2019)
- Why are some studies more popular in social media? M. Chao et al., www.ideals.illinois.edu (Mar 15, 2019)
- How to get a job offer on twitter. A. Stahl, Forbes (Nov 12, 2015)
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Aird lab members and the LTS Team for their thoughtful comments and their editing support.