But just the other day, I was conducting some training for my researchers on how to use Twitter for research. I "tweeted" about the training and it was swiftly suggested that I should share my findings.
Here are a few noodlings on the use of Twitter for academic (or otherwise) research. I wouldn't want to suggest that I have all the answers, know all there is to know about Twitter or suggest that it is a all-singing-and-dancing replacement to traditional research.
However, for those who are interested in quickly, cheaply and efficiently reaching millions of potential research participants there might be something in it...
A few provisos first.
1. This is not a post on "how to use Twitter" or "Twitter for Dummies" (I read that book and didn't understand it!). Good general advice on how to use Twitter can be found at Mashable
2. Clearly the Twitterverse is not representative of the general population, nor could Twitter users be perceived to be a homegenous sample
3. Twitter will not be suitable for many types of research
Yet... If your research uses the survey method, there may be unsurpassed opportunities to use the micro-blogging site to gather the responses of thousands perhaps even millions of people. It just so happens that this is exactly the kind of research that I do!
So in time honoured tradition of producing a top tips for... Here are my top five tips for Twitteresearch.
1. Get an account
Ok - not brain science. You can't use twitter if you haven't signed up.
This be the place to go... http://twitter.com
You might want to have separate personal and research accounts (your personal followers might get a bit bored with hourly exhortations to complete a research survey!)
2. Get a decent Twitter interface.
These interfaces help you manage your tweets, the people who you follow and the hot topics and conversations happening in the Twitterverse.
I use Tweetdeck (which is free) and can be downloaded for your computer here... http://www.tweetdeck.com/
It allows you to set up columns to search for particular phrases, trending topics or for key people in your research area.
And there are some interesting researchers using Twitter, like:
Rosabeth Moss Kanter (@RosabethKanter)
Richard Florida (@RichardFlorida)
Gary Hamel (@ProfHamel)
and popular management writers like:
Malcolm Gladwell (@MalcolmGladwell)
Daniel Pink (@DanielPink)
Wally Bock (@WallyBock)
3. Write a good tweet for research
There are a lot of inane, banal and downright annoying twitterers out there. Who will gladly share with you the composition of their breakfasts, their dumb hobbies or mindless drivel (I should know, I'm probably one of them!).
Therefore, it is probably a good idea to start with writing a tweet that is of interest, targets the intended audience and prompts people to act in the manner you require (by filling in your survey for example).
The general opinion about writing a good tweet that provokes interest seems to follow some pretty simple rules...
a) Keep your tweets short and simple
e.g. Participate in a fascinating new research project - click here...
Shortness of tweet is a key aspect for getting other people to pass it on (to "retweet" it). As there is a maximum of 140 characters, if your tweet is long people can't retweet and add their own message or show that it is a retweet.
e.g. RT @markbatey : Participate in a fascinating new research project - click here... >> great short survey, interesting results
(I have added in a short message to the original tweet shown here in bold)
b) Use the hashtag (#)
The hashtag (#) flags up to interested parties that the tweet has a specific thread or topic
e.g. Participate in a fascinating new #research project on #business #ethics - click here...
Key hashtags for research in business might include:
I think you probably get the picture. Be aware that regular tweeps (regular users of twitter) will often have abbreviation for common hashtags
#Psychology is often shortened to #Psych
c) Try to be intriguing
e.g. Take our short survey, you'll be amazed by the results
d) Add a short link to your online survey
There are internet link shortening services that enable you to post a link using the minimum number of characters.
e.g. bit.ly or ow.ly (tweetdeck does it automatically)
This makes your tweets more readable and uses up less characters
Compare these two fictional examples:
e.g. Participate in a fascinating new #research project on #business #ethics - click here: http://www.mbs.ac.uk/research/businessethics.apx
e.g. Participate in a fascinating new #research project on #business #ethics - click here: http://bit.ly/908Rs8
e) Avoid abrvtins
Abbreviations or text-speak tweets are statistically less likely to be retweeted.
Figrs thy r hrd 2 read nd r rlly annying
4) Get lots of people to take your survey or questionnaire
First, Build up a strong followership of people who will take your surveys and suggest others do the same.
Second, approach people with huge numbers of followers and ask them to "market" your research project by retweeting your call for research participants.
Third, search for hot trending topics on Twitter, and if your research is relevant get active in the relevant discussions.
Fourth, consider time zones, if you are trying to gather data internationally.
5) Keep going!!
Don't give up, keep plugging away and stay active. Building a base of followers takes time, as does learning what piques people's interest.
So there you have it. My twopenneth worth regarding how to use Twitter for academic research.
If you decide to sign up and give it a go...
You can find me as @markbatey!
See you soon!
Mark Batey CPsychol. PhD
is a Creativity Specialist at Manchester Business School, UK
For more insight and discussion... Join the Psychology of Creativity LinkedIn group