Blog and Twitter etiquette in academia?

Three weeks ago, I was a social media virgin. This is only my third blog post, and so far I have tweeted 37 times (that includes my tweet about this post!). I deliberately started both my blog and my Twitter account from a professional point of view – I don’t have the illusion that strangers want to read about my social life (I might write about this on Facebook), or what I have for breakfast (something that I would never write about on Facebook). But, I do think I might have something sensible to say about science, and I do think that maybe others, who are in a similar career stage, or maybe a bit more junior, might find it interesting to read about my career. But, I have already written about why I decided to write a blog here.

There seems to be a fair amount written about general etiquette in blogging and tweeting. For Twitter, here it says that you shouldn’t scream or stalk, which seems quite obvious to me. Then, for blogging, obviously, you need to comply with copyright law and cite your sources (but I am assuming that everyone on academia does this anyway), be polite, and don’t make spelling mistakes. Here, you can find some content on how to promote your science blog, with the general message that this is a good thing to do. I also found a rather old Guardian article about whether journalists’ professional guidelines apply to their personal activities online.

However, what I am wondering about is what you should and shouldn’t write when blogging and tweeting about science or academia – something that, at least with a quick search, I really can’t find any information on. How unashamedly self-promoting are you allowed to be? I feel moderately uncomfortable promoting my own work on Twitter, but then, it is actually a great way to increase your visibility and connect with a wider audience. But how to do this in a modest way? Should you wait until others tweet about your work? In my first couple of weeks on Twitter, I have mainly seen people tweeting about other people’s work, but then, most people don’t publish a paper that they can tweet about every other week (or at least I don’t!).

Also, how honestly and directly can you express your opinion – about articles, news, but also about the work of colleagues, the organization you work for, or the funder of your projects? For example, in my first blog post, I promised to write about my move from Lancaster University to the University of Manchester. However, I obviously don’t want to harm my further career prospects or insult colleagues, so a simple comparison between, for example, getting office space in these two organizations might already be too candid!

So, it all seems very nice to be able to express your opinion, write about science without having to argue with peer reviewers, or commenting on published articles. But, I very rarely see proper discussions, either in blogs or on Twitter – are social media just a way of continuously congratulating ourselves with how well we are all doing? Is there any real discussion? Or is everything just hidden underneath a thick layer of politeness? Anyone?

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10 comments on “Blog and Twitter etiquette in academia?

  1. Caley says:

    The blog looks and sounds really good:D

  2. Christina says:

    There are always very interesting discussions going on at the Dynamic Ecology blog (http://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/). For example, check out the comments section of the “statistical machismo” post: http://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/statistical-machismo/.
    I have found a number of posts on Dynamic Ecology to be directly relevant to my work conceptually. On other scientific blogs I tend to read about irrelevant to my work but interesting science (often with a good dose of humour in the writing), but also about “life in academia”. Lots of my favourites can be found on Scientopia (http://scientopia.org/blogs/), though many of these bloggers are based in the US so may not be that straightforward to relate to.
    I was very excited to find your blog through Twitter, and I hope many more ecologists will find it too and a community will be built around Frantecologist. The comments section is where the fun is!
    I’m not a blogger, but I do stumble across some useful resources occasionally:
    http://scienceofblogging.com/8-tips-on-starting-a-science-blog/#more-110
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/scicurious-brain/2012/05/09/experimental-biology-blogging-self-promotion-and-self-promotion/
    http://blogs.plos.org/wonderland/2011/01/17/as-science-bloggers-who-are-we-really-writing-for/

  3. Jeremy Fox says:

    Thanks for the shout-out Christina!

    Here’s my old Dynamic Ecology post on “how to blog”, which includes discussion of some of the questions you’ve asked:

    http://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/advice-how-to-blog/

    Re: how much it’s ok to self-promote, I think that’s up to you. Some blogs are mostly about the author’s own research. Others, like Dynamic Ecology, talk about the authors’ research hardly at all. It may depend in part on whether you care how big your audience is, and who you want your audience to be.

  4. Thanks Christina and Jeremy! That is really useful – somehow the Dynamic Ecology posts didn’t show up in my search. But following it now!

    I guess the aim of my blog is two fold, as I mention in my first post https://franciskadevries.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/the-first-one/

    I want to write about (my) science, but I also want to write about my career choices, and generally about having a career in academia as a female early career ecologist. I really think that there is a need for that, as highlighted by, for example Athene Donald (as mentioned in my post). There really aren’t very many female role models, or maybe they just aren’t very visible. See for example http://www.york.ac.uk/res/chong/pdfs/MothersInScience_bk_finalWeb.pdf, which I found very inspiring! And might be worth a blog post on its own.

    So for my blog, I guess I am taking quite a personal approach, rather than writing about lots of science, which just reflects who I am.

    As for Twitter: how much self-promoting is allowed there? After a couple of tweets about my own work, or about my blog, I am starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable! Or should I just get over that?

  5. This is great – thanks for all the links! I am starting to enjoy this more and more, but also wondering whether there is just a blogging-niche for every individual? So many ecology blogs!

    I think I have pretty much found the right tone for my blog, but I am still a bit unsure about Twitter. It seems rather dry to just blog about papers or science, but I am not sure what type of personal stuff to throw in without being annoying!

  6. Andrea Baier says:

    Maybe just follow a few real people (rather than organizations or even journals (pff!) ) on Twitter for a while and you’ll see what people are doing and what what you would also feel comfortable with.

    • Christina says:

      Yes, I agree with Andrea: follow real people on Twitter too. Though I find Twitter very useful for keeping up to date with journals I read regularly and organizations I follow/subscribe to.
      I like it when Twitter reveals “insider” information, which is science-related, but more interesting than just linking to papers. Eg journal editors posting their thoughts about Impact Factor vs Altmetrics, referees pointing out recurring or common issues with manuscripts, fieldwork/labwork anecdotes and updates, tweets from conferences etc.
      Also, I think there’s a lot to be said for giving your thoughts alongside a link to a paper, for example. It makes it less dry: “interesting study, but perhaps conclusions are exaggerated”, “current news item is encouraging example of effective science-based policy” etc.

  7. Thanks Andrea and Christina! You are right, and I agree that it is always nice to give your opinion, rather than simply linking or retweeting. I also enjoy reading people’s opinions! I hope I will develop my own tweeting style……

  8. Matty says:

    Great post! The purpose will also help determine your tone. Posts and tweets for a business like @MoneyMutual will defer pretty significantly from celebrities or personal accounts. It takes time but you’ll eventually develop your own style.

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