Managing Editor Ana Stevenson shares some strategies for improving – or simply just commencing – your use of Twitter as a #twitterstorian.
Social media may seem overwhelming for historians. There are so many platforms, and a beginners’ technical literacy is required. It may seem like a waste of time. But there are many benefits for historians when engaging with social media – particularly Twitter – that are not immediately tangible.
The main thing to remember? Twitter is pretty easy. There are just a few important lessons to learn before setting up your account.
To begin, tweets on Twitter make users share information in 140 characters or less. This may not seem like much, but ample information can be expressed through paraphrasing, abbreviations (though don’t go too crazy on this front), and hashtags. Users can also add URLs and images to their tweets. If you’re unsure about the difference between a retweet and a favourite, check out Borislav’s “The Meanings of a Favourite and a Retweet.”
In 2011, the American Historical Association formulated a five-point guide for historians using Twitter: follow organisations; use hashtags; tweet (and retweet) a conference; share resources; and search for jobs. I’ll briefly discuss these as they relate to Australian feminist historians before adding some other points: framing URLs; including pictures; and Twitter for blogging historians.
To make a personal network, one has to follow and retweet others – individuals and organisations alike – so that others will be interested to follow and retweet you. Following historical organisations and educational centres – journals, associations, publishers, libraries and museums, university research centres, etc. – is a great way to keep directly updated with their information and engage with relevant networks at the same time.
Hashtags help aggregate data on Twitter. Using pertinent hashtags is one of the best ways for historians to connect with other historians. The hashtag #twitterstorians, originally created by Katrina Gulliver, is primary. For Australian feminist and gender historians, #ozhist (or #ozhst), #wmnhist, #histgender, #histsex, and #histrace are also very useful. The posts for VIDA are aggregated with the hashtag #VIDAblog. Elizabeth Covart has created a collaborative list of historical hashtags that is a great resource for #twitterstorians.
Today @auswhn launches #VIDAblog about feminist history! Our inaugural post by @catherinekevin5: https://t.co/sdcUgA3Uwv #OzHA2016 #AHA2016
— AWHN (@auswhn) July 5, 2016
Tweeting from a conference is one of the most pertinent ways to engage with one’s peers and expand your scholarly networks. Yvonne Perkins makes an excellent point with reference to this year’s Australian Historical Association Conference: “The more people tweeting the more likely we are to get a good coverage of the conference and a diversity of views.”
From an administrative point of view, it is essential to make and publicise the conference hashtag prior to the event. In the first days of AHA 2016, three hashtags were simultaneously being used – #OzHist2016, #AHA2016 (already thematically superseded), and the “correct” #OzHA2016. If you’re attending a conference, find and use the official conference hashtag. If you’re organising a conference, inaugurate and then widely advertise the official conference hashtag early on to avoid confusion.
In many cases, historians use Twitter to share pertinent URLs – blogs, CFPs, journal articles, etc. In fact, Twitter is one of the best ways to find out about new CFPs relevant to your discipline. It’s also pretty useful for jobs. While there are predictable hashtag combinations such as #jobs #highered, some are more enjoyable, such as #jobfairy #highered.
But a URL in and of itself is of little use unless someone clicks it. Framing a URL is essential to make it engaging enough to encourage someone to click it. Contextualise the URL with pertinent information – a sharp overview, a short quote, and good hashtags.
Very different retweeting results can be garnered from pasting a URL by itself versus pasting a contextualised URL, featuring information and hashtags. Here’s a highly unempirical example of each strategy:
"#WonderWoman was, in 1941, the first female comic-book character to be called a superhero. The creation of… https://t.co/fvmcn0RSKY
— Lilith Journal (@LilithJournal) May 22, 2016
Look at all the retweets and favourites garnered by the second strategy!
In fact, the same URL can be posted multiple times by using different information to contextualise the content – another tagline, for example, or different hashtags to reach a different audience. This technique can be observed on the Twitter feeds for The Conversation, NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality, Age of Revolutions, and VIDA: Blog of the Australian Women’s History Network.
Due to the visual aspects of Twitter as a social medium, it is also a good idea to embellish your tweets with images. If the URL you are posting features an image, it will likely come up alongside the URL excerpt in your tweet. But to make more of the image, attach an image so it appears as a feature of your tweet.
Finally, to blogging! As Ben Wilkie astutely states:
Blog early, blog often! https://t.co/HwBneqtBP7
— Ben Wilkie (@historyben) July 8, 2016
In a word, write for VIDA! On a less biased note, Twitter is one of the best social media platforms to share the results of blogging. There are also best times to tweet research. It is worth taking note of these statistics to reach the widest possible audience.
As VIDA’s other Managing Editor Alana Piper makes clear, “Posting on popular blogs is also a means of increasing the impact factor of your existing work. If you have already gone to the effort of writing an 80,000-word book or an 8,000-word journal article, surely it is worth the effort to compress those ideas into a 1,000-word blog that can drive traffic to those outputs?”
And finally, there’s no need to be modest! Twitter can actually be a beneficial networking platform, especially for the introverted among us. Many historians use Twitter to promote their own work and that of others. So be confident, but also be collegial. Share your work as well as that of others. As long as you’re not constantly spamming the same accounts, don’t feel shy to alert a pertinent colleague or an organisation to something you have written.
So hop to it #twitterstorians! You have nothing to lose and might even gain a few citations.
Ana Stevenson is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the International Studies Group at the University of the Free State, South Africa in the field of transnational social movements. Ana designed the conference logo and marketing materials for UQ’s Perspectives on Power (2011) and the Lilith Editorial Collective’s Flesh and Blood: A Feminist Symposium on Embodied Histories (2015), as well as the cover image for Lilith: A Feminist History Journal (no. 21, 2015) and the banner for VIDA. In September 2015, she gained editorial and social media experience during an internship on the Arts + Culture desk at The Conversation. Ana is one of the Managing Editors of VIDA blog.
Follow Ana on Twitter @DrAnaStevenson.
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