Since I’m “young” (whatever that means) I sometimes get asked to advise on how to disseminate research outputs through new-fangled doohickies like “the social media” (like writing click-baity headlines). This came up in a School Management Group meeting today, in the context of trying to increase visibility and citation rates for papers published by our faculty. It was something that I was quite interested in, so I spent about an hour doing some quick literature searches and then implementing some of what I found. Here’s the gist:Read More »
Tweeting over the Great Firewall
Wow, six months without a post is the longest I have neglected the blog for a while! I’ve got a couple of posts to write now that the summer is over, but I thought I would start with something that was a bit of a challenge for me over the summer. I spent a couple of weeks in Beijing in August, including five days attending the International Congress on Ecology (INTECOL). Usually, I like to try to promote the work that is going on at conferences and contribute to the general online science community by live-tweeting. The only trouble is that in China Twitter is banned… I came up with two solutions:
Solution 1: VPN
I used a virtual private network to bypass the firewall. That worked pretty well, and while VyperVPN cost about $12 for a month it gave me regular access to the web for the duration of my stay in China. Not bad value. However, part of my reason for going to China in the first place was to exchange ideas with Chinese researchers, and that’s tough if they can’t see what you are tweeting.
Solution 2: Weibo
My second solution, then, was to take to Chinese social media to try to communicate. There is a fair amount of guidance on Twitter and conferences, but I couldn’t find anything on Weibo and conferences. Also, Weibo is very much Chinese (as opposed to global) and so there wasn’t much hope of me communicating in the local language. Still, I tried my best and punted most of my first day of tweets (in English, unfortunately, and one as an experiment in Chinese via Google Translate) out through Weibo as well.
The results were not that surprising… I got a bit of interest on the Twitter feed (interestingly, many many bot accounts, which has never happened before), but very little on the Weibo feed. In fact, I got absolutely no interaction whatsoever. The Twitter feed was completely out of sync with the rest of the planet (or so it seemed), but at least a few people both saw and understood them!
So, what I learned here is that social media is tough to crack in China, even when trying to use local tools. It’s also tough to sign up for Weibo because the authentication uses Chinese mobile phone numbers… Aside from that, the hashtags are a little different (note the “#” at the beginning as well as the end of the hashtag above) and I really never got to grips with finding profiles of people who might be interested and trying to add them to “Weibos”. Has anybody else had any success? Are there academics using both Weibo and Twitter in their social media arsenal?
PS: If you are interested, here’s a quick run down of the conference via my tweets and another from another attendee.
Twitter in teaching
- Hashtags – these are tags denoted by the “#” character that group tweets according to particular topics. For example, a recently published paper on avian phylogenies might be tagged as #bird #evolution. This makes it easier for users to find and share relevant content.
- Retweets – rather than generating all of your own content on Twitter, it is common practice to spread the content created by others. If someone has posted something you found interesting, you can retweet (designated “RT” within the tweet) to push that back out to your followers.
- Followers – the people who subscribe to tweets from your account are known as “followers” and you will see the option to “follow” other users on Twitter. This is the audience for your tweets.
The good thing about Twitter is that there is a lot of information. The bad thing about Twitter is that there is a lot of information. Using Twitter effectively means being able to take what you can from the stream of data without feeling too bad about letting a lot of it slide past. This can be helped by managing lists of users of particular interest, and by using programmes that interface with Twitter, such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite.
- Using Twitter as a communication tool with the rest of the class (e.g. posting assignment deadlines)
- Using Twitter in-class, by incorporating a Twitter stream on a screen while teaching. Students can then interact in real-time.
Using R to look at engagement with Twitter at scientific conferences
I have been busy attending conferences recently (one of many excuses for not updating the blog) and I thought I would mention one significant difference between these conferences and those that I have attended previously. At Behaviour 2013 (Newcastle, 4-8 Aug 2013 – that’s me talking about mimicry on the right), I tried live-tweeting for the first time. Then at Intecol 2013 (London, 18-23 Aug 2013) almost all questions during the plenary talks were taken solely by Twitter. This meant that I had a lot more experience of Twitter in an academic forum that I had had before, and I found it to be an immensely positive experience! Not only did people come up and say “hi” because they recognised my name from Twitter (new networking opportunities), but I passively participated in multiple parallel sessions where usually I would only have had access to the session within which I was physically present (there were 16 parallel sessions at any one time at Intecol!).Read More »
Six tips for biologists starting out on Twitter
Last week, I had an interesting conversation over coffee with some colleagues who don’t use Twitter. There were a lot of concerns over whether Twitter was useful at all, and whether it was right for them in particular. I imagine a lot of people (including scientists) are hesitant about taking the plunge and don’t have time to fiddle around trying to figure out how to use the tool. First, for those who have not come across Twitter before, there is some terminology to cover:Read More »