by Elena Milani
Twitter is becoming an integral part of researchers’ daily activities. On Twitter, academics can discuss scientific topics from different points of view, with different audiences, and in different contexts, thus extending public science communication. They can share their findings, discuss and challenge emerging research, crowdsource new ideas, and improve their career. Furthermore, researchers can use Twitter as a resource at scientific conferences to engage both attendees and people who follow it online, and to strengthen the academic community.
Hashtags — those keywords preceded by the hash symbol (#) — are integral to the way we communicate on Twitter. By turning a word or group of words into a searchable link, hashtags are an awesome medium for finding great content on Twitter. Nevertheless, it can be very difficult to find the right hashtags to search for tweets related to the same topic, to reach target audiences, or to categorize messages for later searching or sharing. For example, hashtags such as #STEM #scicomm (which stands for science communication) #scienceoutreach, and #scienceisawesome, may be missed by searching a generic keyword on Twitter.
Finding Hashtags – a few tipsThe simplest way to find hashtags is to look for the hashtags used by the people we follow, or to use the Twitter native search tool by entering a keyword into the Twitter search box tool, which returns a real-time list of tweets that are labelled with that tag. However, this process is highly time consuming, whereas using a third-party web application may help to find more hashtags quickly.
A variety of third-party tools exist to help professionals and academics to research popular tags and get a better idea of how any particular keyword or sentence is used in Twitter conversations. There most popular are:
- Symplur.com offers a database of health topic-related hashtags;
- Hashtagify.me gives a quick overview of all related hashtags about a specific topic;
- Hashtags.org shows the trending hashtags on generic topics;
- TagDef explains the meaning of different hashtags;
- RiteTag suggests the most relevant hashtags for your topic;
- TrendsMap shows where a hashtag is most used.
Finding Hashtags – the challengeEven though there are tricks and online tools available for finding hashtags, the sheer volume of hashtags on Twitter may present a challenge. For my Ph.D. research on vaccine conversation on Twitter, I have used a few services and read many conversations, finding hashtags such as #vaccine(s) and #vaccination(s), #immunization, #vaccinate(d), #vaccineinjury, #vaccineswork, but I discovered #WhyIVax, #HearUs and #vaxxed by chance.
Finding relevant hashtags is important not only for collecting my data, but also for sharing my research on Twitter. However, the number of hashtags about science communication and all its subtopics is huge. For this reason, I decided to stop my endless search and to rely on the online academic community for information and suggestions on hashtags about science communication among peers and to media and lay publics, promising to share all the information I would collect publicly. The communities of academics and science communicators replied immediately to my call.
SciHashtags – a #scicomm hashtag collectionWhen I got a good collection of hashtags, I founded the SciHashtag Project, to make their sharing easier. SciHashtag is a free open collection of hashtags about science communication and networking in academia, which aims to facilitate engagement with researchers and professionals on Twitter by providing hashtags on different subjects. On the website, hashtags are divided into five categories: Science Communication, Science Outreach, Academic Hashtags, Science Topics, and Publishing, and they can be searched by ordering the related column by name.
I founded SciHashtag thanks to the Twitter community that helped me, and I can carry it out thanks to my small but active team, Veronica Drago, the web editor of the project, and Julia Turan, the outreach and engagement manager. Everybody can access the collected hashtags and is welcome to collaborate by suggesting new ones. Simply complete a form, or tweeting either to me Follow @biomug or to @SciHashtag.
SciHashtag project. She is a Ph.D. student in Science Communication and a member of the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England. Her research focuses on pro- and anti- vaccine images used for advocacy that are shared on Twitter.
Elena has a neurobiology academic background, but her work experience has focused mainly on digital and visual communication. She worked as a web reputation analyst for an Italian Web Agency, and she participated in several science outreach events and scientific conferences, organising and moderating live tweeting.
Connect with Elena: UWE Science Communication Unit, Linkedin, ResearchGate, Twitter
Transparency declaration. The familial relationship between the author and the blog editor has been disclosed to PUS editorial board before accepting the post - even if this blog does not confer financial or academic advantage - thus to avoid actual or potential conflict of interest.