12 Tips on How to do Outreach on Twitter.

( I wrote this post for the “Progressive Community” section of my science advocacy project Science for Progress.)

Twitter is great for communication. You can get your knowledge, opinions, and personality in front of people, easily. And you can curate your timeline to show tweets from people you align with. People, whose humor you enjoy. Or people who you think can teach you something, be it through mutual exchange or simply reading what they have to say.

But you need to know how!

I have been on twitter for quite some time – more than any one person who knows me would expect, because I played around under pseudonyms – a lot. By doing so, I think I have gained a little bit of experience with the dynamics on twitter. I also have notoriously little patience with bad communication – including my own mistakes, which you can still witness regularly.

I also administrate the @sfprocur account, where science progressive people can talk about their work. Not all of our curators are experienced in strategical tweeting. This is why I share with them a list of recommendations on how to communicate effectively on Twitter. It combines tips for making a good impression with tips of how to communicate clearly, so followers will stick with us long-term.

I base the following on the recommendations I give our curators.

1. Plan ahead!

The best way to do outreach on twitter is to prepare a thread as a conversation starter. Twitter has softened it’s original microblog character by increasing the character count allowed in a tweet, and by allowing to “thread” tweets together.

When you write a tweet, you can press this “+” sign, and add the next tweet without sending the previous one. You can create pretty long threads with this method and then submit them all together.

In the past I disliked this feature, because I thought you might as well write a blog post… and I don’t like writing blog posts … but if you post a link to a blog post, fewer people will read it.

I recommend writing these threads with a text editor, and then copy + paste them into twitter.

2. Keep it on twitter!

People got to twitter to consume content, they don’t want to be send on treasure hunts! A common mistake I see in inexperienced curators is that they will only tweet links to their stuff on other websites. But despite the name, followers won’t follow!

If you really want people to visit a website, write a thread about why you are passionate about the topic it is about, the purpose of the specific website, and what they can find on it – include the link where it makes sense (usually the beginning or the end of the thread).

And, of course, links act as “further readings” resources that you can add to your threads – but only the most interested of your readers will click them.

3. Make it simple!

You are talking to lay people who don’t understand jargon, and you don’t really impress anybody by being unintelligible. Your audience will also hardly be willing to follow you along on excessive tangents. And this includes an audience of experts from even just slightly different fields!

This is why you want to keep both your language and the content simple. Think about how you can say things by avoiding jargon. Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid introducing a new concept. But be deliberate about which concepts you introduce. Explain as much as necessary, and as little as possible to get your point across. Wait for feedback to see whether your audience wants you to go deeper.

Illustrations can help with this!

4. Use humor!

Using humor does several things: It lightens up intense and complicated topics, it will make you appear relatable… or dorky, and it is something people like to share, and retweets increase your reach!

5. Stay clean!

People have different thresholds of which and how much profanity they tolerate or find amusing. On the other hand, nobody will stop reading because you don’t curse enough.

Discriminating against groups and persons doesn’t look good on you, either. Remember that Twitter’s social standards are deliberately soft, so they don’t have to ban leading politicians of the contemporary political right ‘mainstream’. So, your bar should be higher!

You – as an expert doing outreach – are held to higher standards. Your behavior contributes to your reader’s image of experts of your field, and in general. Be a professional!

6. Be careful with sarcasm and irony!

These two communication modes are notoriously easy to backfire in written communication. Make use of quotation marks, emojis and GIFs to make up for the lack of facial expression and vocal intonation. Or just add the hashtag #irony. It will feel like it was taking away from your witty humor, but it really helps!

7. Respect other Content Creators!

When sharing other people’s work and content, it is good courtesy to ensure that the original creator/author is attributed. If they are on twitter, add their handle in the tweet. But, also try not add them into every single response, they may find that spammy.

8. Use twitter features to increase your reach!

It’s really okay to just add something like “if you like it, share it with your followers!” to your tweets. Another good way is to use fitting hashtags! With a little research you will find the most commonly used tags that also fit the content of your tweets! Just don’t overdo it. 3-4 hashtags should be your limit.

9. Be responsive!

Tweeple follow people! One of the nice things on twitter is that you can actually have a conversation. And people will expect you to.

  • Like replies, even if you won’t respond further. This way your audience sees that they are visible to you.
  • Reply respectfully to as many (good natured) mentions as possible
  • Take people seriously! (see below)

10. Be respectful!

Sometimes you will be hit by some response that you find either blatantly stupid or mean for some reason. Do not retaliate. You might be misjudging their motifs … or they misjudged yours. People call me a jerk all the time on twitter. Sometimes their intended message eluded me, because they weren’t giving sufficient explanation. My comment expressing disbelief will then be considered an attack. And sometimes it’s the other way around. This happens.

Often I get angry replies to my responses because I forgot to add that I agreed and simply wanted to add a viewpoint. So, don’t forget to tell people first that you agree. That’s really what people want to hear, anyways. You do, too, admit it!

11. Avoid fights!

When you feel attacked, sometimes it helps to view the silent readers as your actual audience, and understand your ‘opponent’ as someone providing you with an opportunity to make your points. However, if the conversation isn’t constructive, please end it.

Consider taking a break if it became heated. You should not feel like you need a high threshold to block and mute trolls. There is nothing to gain dealing with certain people.

12. Block/Mute Hecklers

Just as the drunk in the audience of a stand-up comedy club, they think they can be part of the show. Some think they are adding to it (they really don’t), some simply want to be disruptive, and some want to spam their propaganda. Neither of these things should be tolerated. It’s not fun for the rest of the audience, either. I’d rather block a heckler than lose a quiet reader because of them.

You should try it!

A lot of our curators find that they really enjoyed the experience! Would you like to give it a try, yourself, and curate for a week on @sfprocur? Then contact me via email: info@scienceforprogress.eu, and tell me who you are and what you want to talk about!



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