Thing 04: Social Media for Researchers

A painting of a menagerie with birds and monkeys
Melchior d’ Hondecoeter,
‘The Menagerie’, c. 1690.
Rjksmuseum, Amsterdam

This week’s we dip our toes into the waters of social media, looking in particular at Twitter and Facebook. Thing 04 has been written by David Honeybone, Client Services & Liaison Librarian (Land & Environments) and also one of the regular @unilibrary twitter team, in collaboration with Andrea Hurt, Client Services & Liaison Librarian (Arts), Elisabeth Cashen, Library Marketing & Communications Manger, and Sara Brocklesby, Library Marketing & Communications Officer.


Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide an important communication tool for both academia and the wider community. The general public proactively seek out experts, informed opinion, quality news and discussion on these sites. Engagement with the wider community and the removal of institutional barriers are the key features of social media for researchers. Its conversational style encourages more open, proactive interaction and it also allows for informal professional engagement with colleagues across different disciplines.


Getting started: Twitter

Twitter is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read 140-character text messages, called tweets. Tweets can also contain links, photos and videos. A truly portable means of communication Twitter allows you to share news, information and ideas through a spontaneous, conversational medium that has tremendous reach.

Twitter currently has more than 645,000,000 active users worldwide and in Australia there are 2.5,000,000 active users.

Why use Twitter for research?

Twitter can be used to share, disseminate and publicize your research; you can also use it to follow other researchers or particular areas of research interest. More than just a publicity tool, Twitter can be a means of networking and potentially collaborating with other researchers; it can even be useful for crowd-sourcing information, data or statistics. It’s also a convenient way of building relationships with people you perhaps met only briefly at a conference, but might not otherwise have kept in touch with.

How to get started

Create an account. This consists of your username, your real name, a profile picture and a short informative biography. Your Twitter username starts with an @ sign, e.g. @unilibrary.

Start following people: this is the basis of the Twitter network. If you follow someone you see their Tweets and retweets in your Twitter feed. Likewise, if they follow you, they see your Tweets. Look for people and organisations in your field; have a look at who they’re following and follow these people in turn if they interest you. You can always unfollow people or organisations if they cease to be relevant.

Try to keep your username short so that you maximise use of your 140 characters. If you start a Tweet with someone’s @ name, only that person, and people who are following both of you will see it in their timeline. If you want a Tweet to be visible to everyone following you, start your tweet with punctuation before the @ symbol: e.g., .@unilibrary or |@unilibrary. If you want a message to be private, send a direct message. Both parties have to be following each other to be able to send direct messages.

Your biography should be informative and prompt people to follow you. It should also give people an idea of who you are and what you are likely to be tweeting about. Provide a picture and avoid the default avatar.

Favourite tweets that you want to come back to explore when you have more time.

URL shorteners: to save characters URL shorteners such as can be used to share links without using too many letters or numbers, although Twitter itself now shortens most links when you post them.

Finally, Twitter provides a useful glossary of Twitter terms.

Try this

Create your Twitter account. Search for some like-minded Twitterers, follow them and post a tweet yourself.


Getting Started: Facebook

Facebook is one of the most used social media sites, with 1,310,000,000 active monthly users. In Australia, there are 13,000,000 users.

Researchers can connect with this mass international audience through three key ways:

1.     Build your own personal profile.

2.     Create a page that aligns with your interest or represents an organisation.

3.     Bring together people via a group.

Try this

If you’re new to Facebook, spend some time ‘lurking’ and looking at other professional groups and profile pages: are leaders in your field on Facebook? Are there pages and groups devoted to your research area? If so, consider joining and making contact. If not, perhaps you’ve found a gap to fill.

  • Consider the difference between a page and a group; which would be more useful to your work?
  • Consider the pros and cons of making a group public or private. For example, making a teaching group private would allow the students to engage more deeply with their peers without worrying who else can see their participation.
  • Is Facebook more valuable to you as a place to build your public research profile or as a place to build or join networks?

Reflection & Integration into practice

  • Don’t assume that the general public won’t be interested in accessing your research and sharing your research interests! Even the nitty-gritty.
  • The visual, up-to-the-minute and interactive nature of Facebook enables you to take people to your field trips, behind the scenes at your department, and so on. This is where you can lead people to knowledge as a curator or expert in your field.
  • Immediacy: Facebook alerts users to interactions in real time via ‘notifications’.
  • Facebook also offers a space for mentoring, a place where researchers at different stages of their careers can interact both socially and professionally.
  • Large-scale, online courses, such as MOOCs, have faced challenges with creating a cohort experience for students. Facebook Groups has proven to be a successful method of bringing online students together.
  • You can measure your impact and success in different ways: the number of likes, the number of conversations generated, and the quality of interactions. If you’re running a Facebook page, you will have access to Facebook Insights, which is their free analytics service.
  • Thanks to smartphone apps, social media platforms such as Facebook are an extremely mobile way of maintaining groups: location and access to a computer becomes irrelevant when users connect to Facebook using their smartphone.
  • Facebook enables you to create private and public groups; both enable you to network, teach and build communities.
  • The sheer mass of people using Facebook opens up options for your research; for example, local field work can be expanded to include other locations and groups.

Things to remember

Privacy and security

Consider your own personal privacy and the privacy requirements of your institution. There are various settings you can tweak within Facebook to manage your privacy.

Availability & sustainability

Facebook is available as via its website and as a smartphone app. Ease of access makes it user-friendly and breaks down boundaries, but it does make you available to others outside of the usual professional locations and times. How available should you be on Facebook? Strike a balance with your posting. Be regular and consistent in connecting with users but avoid spamming them with content or responding at times that you don’t feel comfortable with; as with office-hours, you don’t need to be available to social media all the time. Set boundaries about how much time you will spend networking each day.


Always favour content and images that you have produced yourself; always link out to content publish elsewhere (rather than republishing). Use images that are freely available for reuse (the Google image search tool that allows you to filter image searches by usage rights is useful), and when in doubt always consult the University’s Copyright Office.


The University has a useful Social Media policy that provides guidelines and recommendations for how researchers can best use social media as part of their professional engagement with colleagues, students and the public.

Archiving and backups

Facebook keeps everything. This has its advantages, as well as disadvantages. If you’re trying to find something interesting that you or someone else posted several months ago, you can access previous posts on your personal profile, page or group. Comments that you have made on other pages or groups are also archived and can be accessed by trawling through their page history. Keep in mind that if you have second thoughts about a particular post, Facebook will have a record of it even if you delete it. Also, other users may well have downloaded or accessed the material before deletion. Always treat social media as the very public forum that it is.

Other options/tools for further exploration

Yammer: This is a social media site much like Facebook but for professional organisations.

Hootsuite: A tool that allows you to view all your social media feeds in the one place and schedule posts in advance.

Further reading and examples of professional Facebook profiles and groups

Individual profiles
The Thesis Whisperer
Col. Chris Hadfield

Interest or Organisation
I F*cking love Science

Chinese Studies Research Group – University of Melbourne
Stanford History Education Group
Genetic Research Group

Facebook outreach

David Honeybone, with Andrea Hurt, Elisabeth Cashen and Sara Brocklesby.


It may seem hard at first to say anything worthwhile about one’s research in just 140 characters. Nonetheless, Twitter has become a surprisingly effective tool for connecting researchers with one another and with the broader public. Perhaps its strength comes from being about more than just broadcasting who you are and what you do; using social media as part of your research practice provides some much needed sociability to what is often a very solitary occupation. If you’ve never tweeted before, the ever-excellent Thesis Whisperer, Dr Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer), has posted a superb presentation with thoughtful advice on how to use Twitter professionally; even if you’re a regular tweeter, it’s well-worth a read.

One of the other great features of Twitter is the hashtag #. This provides a useful way of tagging tweets that have a common theme. They can be very useful, for example, for conferences, either as a way of promoting them or as a way of live tweeting the salient points of specific papers. It can be a handy way of keeping abreast of a conference you were unable to attend. Hashtags can also be used to set up real-time chats; for example, the fortnightly Early Career Researchers chats (#ECRchat), or the #phdchats. These are usually held at specific times each week or month, and you can participate by tweeting your comments or questions with the appropriate hashtag. Take a look at the latest tweets to get an idea of the topics covered. You can save these hashtag searches for regular use.

Are you a regular tweeter and do you tweet your research? Do you need to read everything, or are you happy to dip in and out? How do you engage with your network of followers and participate in a conversation, rather than just using it as a channel to broadcast your own activities?

Social media really comes into its own when used in combination with personal publication platforms such as blogs. So in our next Thing, we’ll be moving on to the subject of blogging your research. However, I have a mountain of chocolate eggs to eat, so we’ll be back after Easter with Thing 05 on Monday 28 April.

Mark Shepheard

2 Responses to “Thing 04: Social Media for Researchers”

  1. Joann Cattlin says:

    I have found this series of blog posts really interesting and will be going back to them I imagine. I was a librarian and now research project manager and have found them really helpful to keep up to date with research tools. There is so much out there that academics really don’t have time to explore, so having a handy guide like this is so useful.
    thanks very much

    1. Mark says:

      Thanks, Joann!

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