By Elena Milani & Cristina Rigutto
Nowadays, if you want to reach the academic community online and share your research outputs with other scholars or journalists, the first place to be is Twitter. However, just being on Twitter is not enough; you need to know how to use it effectively. For this reason, we, Elena and Cristina - the former and current blog and social media editors of Public Understanding of Science, decided to write a series of posts about the nuts and bolts of Twitter for academics.
The first post of this series is about how to write a good Twitter profile.
How should I choose my handle?
When we set up a Twitter profile, the first step is choosing a handle. A Twitter handle is the username that appears at the end of your unique Twitter URL and below your name.
Twitter handles must contain fewer than 15 characters
Twitter handles should be as simple and memorable as possible; for this reason, using name and surname is usually the best choice. For example, Cristina's handle is @cristinarigutto, which makes it easy to find her on Twitter.
However, if you have a very long name or your full name is already taken, then you may want to look for alternatives.
You could use a shorter version of your first name and your surname. For example, if Cristina's full name was already taken, she could use @crisrigutto instead.
Another possibility is using a nickname. For example, Elena has a very common name, so instead of using her full name, she uses a nickname, @biomug. She chose this nickname at the end of her bachelor's degree, so she combined her interest in biology with the constant mugs of coffee she consumed to prepare for exams. Being a short and unusual nickname, it can be easy to memorise.
The handle is part of your professional social media identity, so you choose it wisely. Whilst you can change the handle at any time, we recommend choosing one that will not need updating.
Pick a handle that is practical yet professional, one that makes sense based on your business. Avoid including underscores, numbers, or titles (PhD, Mr or CEO) in your handle.
What picture should I choose for my bio?
Do not underestimate the importance of the profile picture! Thanks to your profile picture, other Twitter users can identify you among millions of users. Also, nobody follows the so-called 'eggs' even if they share interesting content. This is because they are not taken seriously and can be easily considered spammers or bots (robots).
You should choose your profile picture depending on whether you have a personal account or opted-in a professional account.
Use a high-quality headshot for your profile picture, being a selfie or taken by someone else. The photo should focus on your face; it should represent you — not a landscape, hobby, buddy, writing up, or family pet. Avoid using photos where you appear full size because your face will appear too small to be seen, or a photo where your face is covered by sunglasses or hats.
You may think 'why should I show my face if my handle already says my name?'. Well, there are likely many people on Twitter with the same or similar name. Hence, a photo of yourself will help others spot which account is actually yours. Moreover, if someone sees your paper or poster presentation at a conference, they will be able to find and follow your account easily.
Especially when you set up an account, you should choose the same image that is used in university directories and other professional online spaces because it shows consistency and intention.
If you are well known by the Twittersphere and you are sure that everybody can easily recognise you, you can opt for a cartoon avatar. However, a cartoon avatar is a nice choice only if your tweets are oriented towards a younger audience or are closely tied to art and creativity. If you decide to use a cartoon avatar, be sure to create a recognisable image.
Creator or business profile
When you switch from a personal to a professional account, you have to adhere to the following guidelines: "You must have a complete profile with an account name, a bio, and a profile picture. Your authentic identity must be clear on your profile. [...] Profiles that feature animals or fictional characters are ineligible unless directly affiliated with your brand or organisation. Parody and fan accounts are not eligible for Professional Accounts. [source]"
Therefore, we highly recommend using a photo of yourself or a company logo rather than an avatar or any other image.
What cover picture should I choose?
If you use Twitter for professional reasons, e.g. to promote your work, you should use a cover picture that recalls your work environment or professional role. Pictures depicting sport activities, landscapes and so on should be used only if they are related to your job.
It does not need to be a formal image or a stock photo. For example, Cristina combined different icons and drawings to create a background picture that represents her profession in a creative and personal way.
How should I write my bio?
Twitter's true business card is the bio. The bio is the first thing that people look at to decide whether to follow someone; hence, you should fill it with some information about yourself.
This is the most difficult part to write because you have to introduce yourself and entice followers in only 160 characters. You have to make it short and sweet yet informative, without any unnecessary words, being both original and memorable.
However, if you include the following key elements while creating your bio, we are sure that you will write a great profile:
- Who you are. Add your professional titles and position you as an expert in your field. If you have achieved (or are completing) a high standard of education like a master's degree or PhD, include it in your bio.
- What you do. Showcase your work, competence, and areas of expertise. Add special projects you work on with Twitter handles when available.
- Where you work. Tag your Company's handle.
- What followers can expect from you. Specify your field of research/interest and the topic your tweets will be dedicated to.
- Keywords and hashtags. Make sure to use targeted keywords and hashtags from your area of expertise to make your profile more discoverable on the platform.
- Write the bio in the same language in which the tweets will be posted.
Proofread it two or three times and consistently eliminate words that add no value whatsoever. Although it is necessary to spare characters, try to write a meaningful sentence and not a bullet point list. Otherwise, your bio will turn into a sterile list of competencies that makes it resemble a shopping list.
Once the final draft of the bio is completed, double-check it to identify typographical errors or mistakes caused by copy and paste or automatic correction. Finally, verify the uniformity of style; a consistent style makes the bio more readable. Use either commas or slashes to separate words, and write hashtags in lowercase.
Twitter gives you the possibility to add a link to your bio. This is an opportunity to make your profile even more credible. You can link your bio to your university profile web page, your ResearchGate account, Google Scholar page, your personal website or blog or even your last published article.
Taking this step will make it easier for your audience to find out more about your expertise and professional experience.
You can also generate a personalised landing page that houses all the important links you want to share with your audience with Linktree or any other online freemium tool.
Depending on your goals and career level, you may wish to add your email address. By providing that contact information, people will know how to reach you for potential collaborations or speaking invitations.