One of my favorite quotes from a blogger I recently interviewed for my dissertation research describes science blogging as something more than just science:
"...it’s science plus. Science plus character, science plus atmosphere, science plus... description." - #MySciBlog Interviewee
I realized that this is exactly what Twitter has become for me. It's about science, and science communication, in what I tweet, what I retweet, and who I follow. But it's about so much MORE than science. It's science plus friendship. It's science plus goofing off, science plus learning from others, science plus support, science plus networking, science plus self-expression. It's science plus exploration of everything science and science communication means to me, and what it means to the people who intrigue me.
Last March, I wrote a "Yay Twitter" blog post when I hit 2,000 followers. I talked about lessons I'd learned along the way while tweeting about science and science communication, and teaching a course on social media at LSU. (I'm excited to be teaching the course again this semester! If you are interested, check out student tweets under the hashtag #LSUSoMe).
What does Twitter mean to me at the 4,000 follower mark?
First and foremost, Twitter to me means friendship, learning and collaboration. I don't think of my followers as "followers" at all. I think of them, as well as the people I follow, as some of the most interesting people I've ever met. For whatever crazy reason, many of these people whom I follow on Twitter, and who follow me back, are willing to give me their time, their skills, their knowledge and their feedback in ways that have been absolutely invaluable to me, in both my professional and my personal life. I'll just leave the hashtag #PhDchat right here. If you need encouragement or a laugh when you are pretty sure your dissertation is ruining your life, you should look there.
Spending time on Twitter often means spending time cultivating relationships and friendships that have become important to me. What starts out as casual retweets and one-off replies, leads to bouncing ideas off of one another, leads to DMing questions, interests or concerns about various issues, leads to e-mails and more extensive forms of collaboration. I can name many science bloggers and communicators I originally met on Twitter, whom I now collaborate with outside of Twitter. This collaboration runs the gamut from exchanging ideas or writing for one another's blogs, to helping out with each other's research, to exchanging literature or class materials, to guest lecturing in each other's classes. You name it.
I am often astounded by just how helpful and giving my Twitter followers are. Just a few days ago, I was doggedly trying to get PowerPoint's live web-page add-in functionality to work with my finicky Windows 8.1 computer. As always when I'm either inspired or frustrated, I took to Twitter to ask if anyone had experience with this issue. Immediately, two of my most helpful Twitter peeps, @_ramrs and @CrimsonAlkemist, were offering links and step-by-step instructions for how to access my Office registry keys (I didn't know there was such a thing) to make the web browser add-in play nice with PowerPoint. These kinds of helpful interactions happen on a daily basis on Twitter. Need a paper you can't access in your university library? If I tweet a request, I often have several PDFs in my inbox in minutes. These incredible people are taking time out of their days (and getting to these university library PDFs is not the quickest thing in the world, believe me) to help me, just because. If that isn't awesome, I don't know what is. I hope I give back to my Twitter people as much as they give their time to help me!
Common Interests, No Pressure.
I've recently had several colleagues from my university comment with amazement about having seen 'renowned scholar in X field' re-tweet or respond to something I tweeted. To me, these interactions are of course exciting, but they are not the product of a one-sided "star" and "fan", "rubbing shoulders with the big guys" traditional academic networking culture. They are outcomes of sincere, two-way engagement in a social medium that to me is unprecedented in its value. In RL at academic conferences, I am often quiet, shy and reserved. I've never benefited much from them, in terms of networking, simply because walking up to a stranger to awkwardly pitch my research ideas (or to make myself sound half-way intelligent, for that matter), is just not me. But on Twitter, if I'm saying something you think is interesting, you can interact. If not, you don't. There's no awkward silences or throat-clearing. It's engagement at its simplest, where mutual interests reign supreme (#scicomm!). We can collaborate, share ideas, even become friends based on our shared interests, in 140 character quips that are rarely if ever, in my experience, awkward or intimidating. It's not me the graduate student fumbling over words as I meet 'renowned scholar in X field'. To the introvert I am, this is intellectual bliss.
Since the summer of 2014, when I started reaching out to other science bloggers for my dissertation research, Twitter has been my go-to resource for recruiting bloggers to participate in my research, and generally getting the word out about what I'm doing for my PhD. But if Twitter has taught me anything, it's how important it is to give back. So I've also been using Twitter to essentially 'live-tweet' my dissertation research, in bits and pieces of interview excerpts, insights and lingering questions that I have as I analyze and interpret my research results. It's AMAZING to me how helpful Twitter has been in my qualitative research of science blogging practices. I've literally been annotating my data analysis as I go with feedback I get from science bloggers as I tweet various questions and data insights. Below is just a snippet of how Twitter feedback is working back into my qualitative analysis in Atlas Ti of research interviews with science bloggers.
So what have I learned by reaching 4,000 followers on Twitter? That's it's NOT about followers. It's about friendships.