:warning: :construction: WORKING DRAFT, UNDER CONSTRUCTION! :construction: :warning:

When I first dipped my toes into the academic circles of social media (e.g., twitter), I was shocked — and, to be honest, quite intimidated — by the breadth of the oeuvre. I saw academics using social media in many clever ways to dizzyingly diverse ends. (It’s not just for disseminating preprint links!?!?!) I began to realize: effectively using professional social media requires more skill than hanging up posters in an elevator or announcing a talk on the list serv. So, over the course of a few years, I started tucking away enlightening specimens from my news feeds, academic and otherwise.

Now, I’ve organized them here. By example, we will survey types and techniques of interaction on academic social media. I hope that surveying academic social media will new ideas for ends and toolbox with the nuts and bolts to be effective. Buckle up!

🔗 Why Even Use Social Media as an Academic?

I suspect that if you clicked through and read this far, you don’t need convincing on this front. So, I broke this section out into a separate post elsewhere on my blog.

The primary point I push there is that developing a widespread following or generating viral content are orthogonal to (not particularly aligned with nor contrary to) many of the professional objectives of academics on social media. Instead, I’ve found it’s more helpful to focus on connecting to just a few of the right people.

🔗 Why a Bestiary?

Esoteric philosophical bullshit alert! :rotating_light: :poop: :rotating_light:

I made this section collapsible on purpose. Skip it if you just want to get to the good stuff.

In his book Evolution for Everyone, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson decomposes religion into “horizontal” and “vertical” components in order to analyze its role with respect to human social groups. In this scheme, vertical components of a religion describe a believer’s relation to a higher power while horizontal components refer to how believers relate with one another and the world around them. This distinction enables Wilson to pursue a fruitful analysis of religion guided by the question “what does it cause people to do?”. I will argue that we should observe an equivalent distinction between “vertical” and “horizontal” components of academic social media activity and, in particular, focus on the “horizontal.”

At this point, let’s meet Terence Koh. I would describe Terence Koh as “The New York times describes Terence Koh as an ‘art-world darling.’”

Here he is. Read the caption.


Terence Koh certainly dresses and acts the part of the “art-world darling.” To an extent, Terence Koh is an “art-world darling” because he dresses and acts the part. In fact, Terence Koh even appears to live or maybe even be the part (i.e., in his perfectly monochromatic house).

Inside Terence Koh's House Still from here. See also here.

It becomes difficult to avoid circling back to the question, “To what extent is his artistic persona intentionally constructed?” That is, does he intentionally act the part of a idiosyncratic artist in order to sell his art? Or does he sell his art for top dollar because he intrinsically performs the mannerisms of the idiosyncratic artist?

Analyzing rhetoric on academic twitter inevitably prompts parallel questions. By its very essence, social media involves notions of persona, authenticity, and intent. Unfortunately, interrogating users’ rhetoric can therefore seem to involve uncomfortable ad hominem insinuations. For example, we might remark on the rhetorical question posed in the following tweet.

The “horizontal” component of Wilson’s dichotomic framework screens away the question of intent in favor of questions of function. It avoids the nebulous and potentially uncomfortable, “What was Marissa’s intent in posing a question that doesn’t really have an answer?” in favor of a more impersonal, “How does the rhetorical question affect how viewers interpret and respond to the tweet?”

Intent is uncomfortable, inscrutable, and unactionable. To learn how to sell our own gold-plated feces for hundreds of thousands of dollars, we should look past it. The bestiary format of this blog post follows directly: decontextualizing specimens of academic twitter facilitates detached, pragmatic inquiry focused on functionality.

🔗 Be a Community Asset

Effective users of academic media balance activity directly promoting themselves with activity facilitating community interactions. Although this work seems (in an immediate sense) altruistic, it organically grows a user’s set of connections, and perhaps even engenders more favorable perceptions among existing connections, for when it is time to trot out that link for the new preprint. Plus, it does benefit the community.

🔗 Facilitate Community Interactions

Make introductions, set up a nexus for others to find each other, or catalyze free-form chit chat.

You can even tag someone into the conversation directly.

🔗 Appeal to Community

Ask the community directly for something or couch your message in terms of the benefit of the community.

🔗 Be a Positive Influence

Big or small, call out an issue, advocate for something better, lend support or suggestions to changemakers, and be seen doing it.

🔗 Send Someone a Compliment

If you appreciate a cool person’s cool thing, let them know! Using a public venue like twitter instead of a private channel like an email lets everyone else see the cool person’s cool thing (and see you being friendly). Also, if you don’t already know the cool person, this is a super effective, non-spammy way to introduce yourself to someone new and, done right, it leaves them with a mental association between you and a positive experience.

🔗 Collect Data

Gather information from the community that you can then turn around and present back to the community. Link out to your own survey or use Twitter’s built-in functionality for basic polls. Bonus points to @tonynorthrup for cleverly using a single custom url to redirect first to google poll and then to his video summarizing the results of the poll.

Note @mxwlj’s clever addition of a “click to see results” button to let ambivalent users check the results without muddying the waters with random clicks.

🔗 Just Ask a Question

Efforts to gather information from across the community need not be strictly quantitative. Consider posing your question not just as something that you want to know for your own sake, but something that the others in the community could benefit from information on or that the community as a whole could benefit by discussing .

🔗 Use the Screen Name

You can temporarily change your profile name to announce your presence at a community event.

Jake Fenton changed his username to Jake Fenton @ Codemash @highnoiseratio

You can also set your screen name to show support a cause (e.g., 🏳️‍🌈, ✊, etc.).

Consider putting your twitter handle in the slides so your audience knows where to look.

🔗 Make A How-To

Did you just figure out a clever hack or solve an annoying problem? Share it around.

🔗 Share Pictures

Everyone loves a quality picture of themself. Plus they’re useful for promotional materials, online avatars, etc.

I thought this amalgamation of followers’ photos was particularly clever.

🔗 Be a Reporter

Keep members of the community who aren’t at the event in the loop and make everyone who is at the event feel seen. Share a highlight quote, picture, or a general summary.

🔗 Curate Peers’ Feeds

In addition to the tweets you write yourself, Twitter’s algorithm populates your follower’s feeds with your retweets and likes. Twitter tells your follower’s they are seeing this additional content because you retweeted and liked it. Twitter’s content aggregation algorithm presents an opportunity to build positive reputation by helping to curate content for the community. Consider following accounts that generate content user’s in your social media circle might enjoy and then use retweets and likes to pass it along. Be wary of volume, quality, and professionalism, though, and, in particular, remember that, in addition to retweets, your likes get passed along.

🔗 Be Known (Favorably)

Rise and grind! Putting in consistent effort, not just popping in and out for the highlights, helps build positive recognition.

🔗 Complain

A good gripe is pleasing to the senses (like, say, a fine whine), especially if the topic grinds your gears too. Be mindful here: staying relatable and using appropriate tone is key.

🔗 Get Crafty

Make a cool thing and share it! Bonus points for nerdy.

🔗 Be Political

Stand up for what you believe in in society.

🔗 Goings-on

Share a fun slice of life.

🔗 Give an Update

Tact and authenticity separate endearing from annoying.

🔗 Share a Noteworthy Visualization

Noteworthy doesn’t necessarily just “big results” (i.e., graphs).

🔗 Share an Amusing or Failed Visualization

These are fun, relatable, and sometimes even #accidentalart.

🔗 Invite Engagement

Just like effective talks prompt audience members to make comments and ask questions, effective social media prompts viewers to engage with replies and shares.

🔗 Make It a Question

Throw a question on to the end of your tweet. Or, instead of just sharing something about yourself, reframe your content around the opportunity for others to share. Then, getting the party started by answering your own question. You might even tack a twitter poll for responses to your question to make the opportunity for engagement obvious and easy to readers.

🔗 Flat Out Ask for It

Directly ask readers to respond and share. Without tact, though, this can come off as spammy.

🔗 Make Them Ask for It

Leave out information and make your audience engage to get it. Without tact, though, this can come off as click-baity.

View this post on Instagram

Well, after a little investigation I found that this isn’t even the famous Charles E. Nelson Homestead and that I’ll never be able to take pictures of the real on because it burned down so this will have to do. Hit me up if you want to know the location of this to make this house the most photographed building. • • • • • #adventurerepublic #allthingsofbeauty_ #cpn_structures #ethereal_moods #fiftyshades_of_nature #fingerprintofgod #folkscenery #heart_imprint #jj_oregon #mgkra #nomadstories #northwestcreatives #playoftones #pnwco #pnwdiscovered #pnwonderland #pnwside #rsa_folknature #scape_captures #shotzdelight #thefolkpr0ject #tv_depthoffield #wishyouwerenorthwest #wondermore

A post shared by Jacob Groz (@clever_profile_name) on

🔗 Promise To Respond

Designate a window of time to treat a thread like a live chat.

Kate Wagner (of mcmansionhell.com fame) had a super thread where, for several hours, she responded to every comment with ancient Microsoft Clip Art but, unfortunately, it has since come down.

🔗 Make It Easy and Interesting to Look At

Twitter helps here by enforcing brevity, but grabbing and holding attention still requires intentional effort.

🔗 Summarize and Visualize

Don’t just post a link and a title! Summarize the main points of what you’re sharing (maybe in a thread) and add graphics. Bonus points: instead of linking to your preprint PDF, make a video or write a slick blog post and link to that instead.

🔗 Pad Images to Fit Preview Dimensions

If your images display fully within the twitter preview window, the user doesn’t have to click to expand the image preview. Services like fotor, which provide twitter preview dimensions as a preset, make it easy.

🔗 Use Emoji

Twitter lets you search the emoji keyboard by keyword.

🔗 Use Vertical Space

Consider breaking your point into mini-paragraphs and separating them using whitespace. Or, get more creative!

🔗 Use a Thread to Tell a Story

🔗 Use a Thread to Live Tweet

Live tweeting provides an engaging — and sometimes even cathartic — means to share a slice of professional or personal life. The idea of live tweeting is to describe (& share your hot take) on whatever’s happening while it happens. However, generating ten or twenty independent tweets in an hour will overwhelm your followers feeds. If they’re not interested in whatever you’re spewing about, this can be annoying.

Prefer to live tweet in a thread, so that instead of appearing one-by-one your tweets are organized into a package that followers can open up or, alternately, just scroll past. Organizing live tweets as a thread also makes it easy for followers checking in midway through your tweet-storm to catch up with what’s already happened.

At some point, you will be stuck in an airport and, because nobody else has ever been stuck in an airport before, you will want to tweet your Original Thoughts about the Unprecedented Situation. Revel with abandonment in modern society’s last shared experience but please, for the love of God, sew it up with a thread.

🔗 Package It as a Meme

Memes aren’t just spongebob screengrabs with superimposed text. Twitter is full of text-only meme formats that are easy to play along with, no microsoft paint required. Think of memes like haikus or limericks. They define a framework into which you can insert almost any message you like.

🔗 (Or, Just Caption an Image)

That’s an instant, zero-effort meme!

🔗 Do The Whatever Challenge

Bonus points: start the whatever challenge.

🔗 Puns

Puns are timeless, and they will never go out of style.

🔗 “List” Lists


  1. are great, and
  2. almost anything can be reimagined as a list.
  3. Bonus points for twist endings.

🔗 Write Dialogue

Conversations can be literal, paraphrased, or even imaginary.


Make liberal use of copy/paste…

a̷̙̾n̴͇̕d̴͙͑/̶̫͆o̸͖͑ř̶̞ ̵̢̑w̴̻̽ë̶̟́b̶̥̔ ̷̢̉t̴͓̏o̶̜̊o̴̗͋ĺ̵̠s̶̟̊!̴̲̊


🔗 Use a (Memorable) Avatar

Don’t be a twitter egg (i.e., use a default profile picture).

A quality head shot is always a safe bet. You can also use a distinctive cartoon or glyph representative of yourself, your personality, or your work.

🔗 Change the Screen Name

My pal @leg2015 always has a festive, seasonally appropriate screen name.

🍁 Lauren Gilles 🍁

🎄Lauren Gilles 🎄

🍁Lauren 🍃Gilles 🍂

Also consider puns and clever “middle name” nicknames.

🔗 Account Shenanigans

Consider the set of academics and the set of twitter accounts… let’s explore the non-bijective realms of the twitterverse.

🔗 Account Takeover

Rotating account moderatorship gives volunteers a big outlet and ensures a constant stream of content.

🔗 Make Another Personal Account

Break apart your web presence by theme or volume (e.g., frequency of posting and sharing). Bonus points if your profile names are cleverly related. Practical tip: your accounts will need to be registered to different email addresses, but — if you use gmail — addresses extended with a + will route to the prefix address. For example, example+twitter2@gmail.com will route to example@gmail.com.

🔗 Make A Lab/Department/etc. Account

Use it to make announcements and aggregate tweets from your members.

🔗 Make a Humor Account

About a year ago subdomain-specific “googling” accounts, which satirize researcher’s google searches, started taking off to everyone’s benefit.

🔗 Make a Character

You can even have fun interacting with your own character.

Alternately, consider cultivating a distinct voice (via mannerisms, punctuation, capitalization, spacing, etc.) to develop the persona of your own twitter. You might even consider going by a fun alias instead of your name.

🔗 Make a Bot or a One-Trick Pony

Bots that automatically tweet out blog posts are blunt, but do do what they are programmed to. If you can come up with a more fun bot (or a manually managed one-trick pony) idea, especially related to your research, go for it!

🔗 Optimize for Eyeballs

Now, we arrive at some of the more nuts and bolts aspects of social media use.

🔗 #Hashtags and @Mentions

These tools help users outside your immediate circle discover your content.

Generally, aim for hashtags with a medium-sized following: not too big (or you’ll be lost in the mix) but big enough for some exposure.

Copy, copy, copy the hashtags (and mentions) you see others using

You can also tack on hashtags and mentions as a reply to the original tweet.

Balance the #hashtag and @mention use to maintain the readability (and non-spammy vibe) of your tweet. Unless the point of the tweet is to act as a connective nexus… then go right ahead.

Using @mentions alerts others involved in your tweet (who might share it around) and helps other readers more easily track down exactly who you’re talking about.

put mentions in the middle

Twitter handles tweets that start with an @mention in a special way (more like a direct message) so that fewer people see it. So, unless that’s what you’re going after, try to avoid starting with an @mention. An easy and relatively unobtrusive way to avoid starting with a mention is to just put a “.” in front of it.

Most conferences provide a suggested hashtag and/or an account to mention @.

Some hashtags are tied to particular days of the week, times of the year, or even one-off events. This works kind of like broadcast spawning, where everybody synchronizes to simultaneously generate and consume content.

🔗 Twitter Lists

Thank you to @emilyldolson for contributing this section!

Want to find a set of people who tweet about a specific topic? Want to keep an eye on some people without actually following them? That’s what Twitter List are for! A Twitter list is basically just a list that you add Twitter accounts to. You can then go to the list (get there through the “Lists” tab on the left) to view recent tweets by people on the list. For example, here’s a list of people who tweet about Artificial Life:

You can make a Twitter list to help others find relevant accounts (e.g., the Artificial Life list above) or just to help organize accounts for your own benefit. If you’re doing it with the latter purpose in mind, be aware that lists are public by default, although you can make them private. If you add someone to a public list, they will generally receive a notification. The “Lists” tab will let you see all the lists you have created, subscribed to, or are a member of.

🔗 Pre-Hype and Post-Hype

Don’t just tweet the preprint link when you it goes up on ArXiV! Build up expectations by teasing it beforehand and put it back in the mix later on by retweeting yourself. If you don’t want to clutter your twitter back catalog (or you want to retweet it again later) you can delete these retweets later! Also consider using retweet-with-a-comment to quote yourself in a new context or as a callback.

a self-retweet

a self-retweet

🔗 Engage More Broadly

Believe it or not, there’s more to the world than people who watch your presentations, cite your papers, or might cite your papers! Consider expanding your network by engaging in other circles (for example, with users of your preferred programming languages, with members of your preferred pop culture fandom, with your local community, or with comrades of your particular academic career stage).

🔗 … Companionship?

The functional impact of tweets isn’t always just on the readership. Academics are people too [citation needed], so writing and sharing on social media can provide emotional and creative gratification to the author, too. Support from peers is a valuable resource in hard and/or annoying moments. The (creative?) act of thinking up something clever to say is satisfying, too.

Consider a separate, maybe private, account based on the volume and intensity of your shitposting.

🔗 Faux Pas

This final section deviates somewhat from the bestiary format to avoid curating naive (or even bad) behavior.

Don’t mean or offensive… well, duh.

More subtly, if you see something mean or offensive, speak out but try not to be mean or offensive yourself. This summer, a science humor account I follow put out a crude tweet that clearly crossed the line. I saw a quite a few brief replies along the lines of “yikes,” which help the author and members of the community coming across the content to understand that it is unacceptable. I was impressed, also, by diplomatic replies that, in addition to urging that the post to be taken down, invited the author into a dialogue with the goal of facilitating a learning moment.

In more antagonistic situations, consider making the classy choice to block trolls instead of rolling around in the mud.

🔗 The Final Frontier

Namely, Instragram, TikTok, SnapChat, and/or whatever the kids are using these days. Darrion Nguyen is almost certainly the prototypical science example here.

🔗 Interactive Exercise

🔗 Part 1

It’s easy enough to survey what stands out in your particular corner of the twitterverse.

  1. Go to twitter.com/yourhandle/likes and spend a minute paging through your own likes. What kind of posts are there?
  2. Spend a minute paging through your retweets. Go to twitter.com/yourhandle. Bring up the webpage search bar (on most computers, hit ctrl-f) and enter You Retweeted. This may require a little manual scrolling to load content.
  3. Finally, for some extra spice: page through someone else’s likes and retweets. Repeat the steps above, but with a colleague’s twitter handle.

🔗 Part 2

What was common among your most successful tweets?

  • topic?
  • format?
  • hashtags and mentions?
  • time of day?
  • day of the week?

Bonus points for making a spreadsheet or a R pipeline.

Extra bonus points for sharing your takeaways and a mash-up of your own greatest hits.

🔗 Let’s Chat

Surprise! This section’s also one last clever twitter idea: use an embedded tweet as a comments section for your blog. It’s a convenient, portable, and zero-maintentance solution. It also (very subtly) hints to your readership that they can find you on twitter. The downside is that comments won’t render inline on your post (although there will be a little readout showing the number of people “talking about this”).

Embedded tweets also work great to break up a wall of text with a quote or a meme from yourself, your friends, or your nemeses. You can easily generate embed codes (html to copy paste into a blog post) for a tweet over at https://publish.twitter.com/.

So, without further ado….

What do you think about academic social media? Like? Dislike? What have you seen academic social media accomplish at its best? What changes have you made to how you approach social media since you started?

I started a twitter thread (right below) so we can chat :phone: :phone: :phone:

Spot a typo? Got an idea for something I missed? This blog is hosted on GitHub, so you can pop over there to open a pull request (encouraged!). If git isn’t your collaboration tool of choice, feel free to get in touch & make suggestions by email or twitter instead.