Social media can be a powerful networking tool, connecting you to professional communities and timely conversations around the world, but making those initial connections can be very intimidating. Here are some guidelines to help you use Twitter to network.
If you already have a personal Twitter, consider creating an account that is solely for your professional social media rather than folding your professional content into your personal account’s timeline. If you go viral with professional content on a mixed-use account, that selfie from six years ago might come back to haunt you. Likewise, think very carefully about handles—for professional accounts, your name or a word or phrase that is connected with you or your work might be a better choice than an in-joke from your undergrad days.
Use appropriate images for your icon and cover photo. Twitter provides a placeholder image that used to be an egg, which troll accounts typically use and are often called “eggs” by longstanding Twitter users. A popular option in Twitter’s settings, for example, allows users to ignore all responses from accounts using the default image placeholder. A distinct image, even if it’s not of you, allows you to signify that you are not a troll.
Bonus tip: Pinned tweets are a good place to put a link to your last paper or talk!
Once you’ve made an account, identify people who are talking about the issues you want to be a part of. A good way to identify fellow professionals is to watch for conference hashtags and then see which accounts are posting on those hashtags. You can also use the search tool to look for conversations involving keywords or phrases, and identify accounts that are starting or contributing to those conversations.
A word of caution: don’t respond to conversations that are more than a week old; it is considered poor etiquette for Twitter. Likewise, when you follow someone or gain a new follower, don’t DM them; this is considered a “thirst move” and will seem unprofessional.
When you have started to identify these people, follow, but be respectful. Listen for a while before you start engaging. Don’t clog their mentions and don’t tag them in on every thought you have. Accustom yourself to the way professionals in your field use Twitter and what kinds of conversations they have and don’t have on their professional accounts. You can model your usage on those norms or let your own comfort levels dictate what you share, but respect the limits of others around engagement or details. Remember that someone who uses social media differently than you do is not doing it wrong, just differently.
Once you have been following for a while, you can start to respond or use other people’s threads as a jumping off point for your own thoughts on a topic. Begin to engage with hashtags specific to your field, or jump in on field-specific polls or conversations. Remember to be polite—one thing that social media can be misleading about is the degree of intimacy you have with other social media users. Try not to overestimate your level of connection with someone, especially if they are a leader in your field. They probably field a lot of attempts at engagement every day from other users, some of which are likely to be hostile. If you argue or come out swinging, you are likely to be blocked immediately, and you will lose access not only to their social media stream and goodwill but also potentially to a valuable future connection.
Try to mix up your responses and signal boosting with original content. Your engagement appeal is predicated mostly on your own thoughts, not those of other people that you retweet. When your follower count starts to rise, it will usually be because of original content, not because of other people’s content that you push out to your followers. That’s not to say that you should never retweet or respond, but that you should be careful to include original content in your timeline: provide value for your followers in the same way that the people you follow provide value to you.
Last but not least, Twitter speaks its own language and failing to learn that language will end with you looking foolish at best. Don’t be afraid to Google terms you’re not familiar with before trying to use them, especially if they tend to be paired in ordinary Twitter interactions with memes or certain types of conversations or emoji, lest you receive the dreaded Steve Buscemi meme.