Thing 5: Twitter


Red Legged Seriema Call
[Photo credit:  Mark DumontCC BY-NC 2.0]

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows you to publish short updates of up to 280 characters. You can follow other users to subscribe to their updates. All updates from users you follow appear in your own feed, so it’s easy to see them.

You’re not required to set up an account on Twitter for this Thing, but we strongly recommend that you do. You’ll need an account to explore many of the tool’s features, and it’s a good way to improve your online presence.

Why use Twitter?

It’s a common misconception that Twitter is all about people tweeting what they had for breakfast (or their latest date, or their sleeping habits, etc.). Although there are certainly people who only use Twitter for these things, the reality is that most users prefer to use it to ask questions, network, or share relevant information and interesting links. It can be a powerful tool, both for building professional contacts and for staying up to date in your area. There are also many organisations and researchers using Twitter creatively to stay in touch with their students or contacts. You can use Twitter to tweet your work, ask questions, crowdsource data and reach new audiences, as well as to publicise events and news, get feedback and get/answer questions in the classroom. You might use Twitter for any of the following (taken from #DH23):

  • Publicising your work, such as a new blog post or article
  • Disseminating news about your professional activities, such as attending a conference
  • Commenting on news in your field or HE in general
  • Sharing interesting content you find, through tweeting URLs (shortened with services such as tinyurl or to leave you more characters to comment with) or through retweeting others’ tweets
  • News updates (from blogs such as those of other 23 Things participants, InsideHigherEd or publications such as the THES or Guardian Higher Education),
  • Opportunities and news from professional or research bodies such as Vitae or the UK Research Staff Association or funding bodies such as the Research Councils UK.  These might include calls for papers, funding or jobs.
  • Activities in Departments, Libraries and other research centres. You can find out about seminars and conferences this way.
  • Livetweeting at conferences (either participating in the conference audience ‘backchannel’ or to get a flavour of discussions and speakers to look up, and participate remotely by asking questions, if you can’t attend in person)
  • Asking questions, and answering those of others.
  • Crowdsourcing and finding research collaborators or participants
  • Finding and contacting individual scholars in your field who might be able to recommend reading material, answer questions or suggest opportunities that would be interesting for you.
  • Enhancing some of the more informal communication that occurs in the academic world such as networking at conferences and seminars, bumping into colleagues at your own and other institutions or moral support from peers.
  • Peer support
  • A bit of light relief: follow @PhDcomics

Some basic Twitter vocabulary
(see the Twitter Glossary for more)

  • Tweet: A Tweet may contain photos (up to 4), videos (a GIF), links and up to 280 characters of text
  • Retweet: A Tweet that you forward to your followers is known as a Retweet. Often used to pass along news or other valuable discoveries on Twitter, Retweets always retain original attribution (more info on Retweets from Twitter support)
  • @reply: a reply to another user (more info on @reply from Twitter support)
  • Direct Messages: private messages sent from one Twitter account to another account(s). You can use Direct Messages for one-on-one private conversations, or between groups. (more info on DMs from Twitter support)
  • #: A hashtag is any word or phrase immediately preceded by the # symbol. When you click or tap on a hashtag, you’ll see other Tweets containing the same keyword or topic. e.g. #23thingssurrey, so that all tweets on a particular event or issue can be easily searched and tracked (more info on hashtags from Twitter support)


If you already have a Twitter account, skip ahead to Exploring Further. If not, follow these easy steps to get one set up.

  1. Go to and use the sign-up box to get started. Follow the steps to create an account. You may want to think about your online presence when you decide on a user name. Do you want to be consistent across your various accounts?
  2. Once you have created your account, you’ll be taken to your Twitter homepage where there are further steps to work through to get you started, e.g. updating your profile to include a short biography or adding a profile picture. You can come back to these steps at any time using the link to Settings in the top right corner of the screen. We recommend you leave the privacy box unchecked so that others can see your tweets and communicate with you.
  3. Now post your first update! Click on the box in the top right-hand corner where it says ‘Tweet’. Write a comment – maybe something about your participation in 23 Things. As you type you will see the number in the bottom right hand of the box decrease; this tells you how many characters you have left. Leave enough space to add the hashtag #23ThingsSurrey at the end. This is the hashtag for the 23 Things for Research programme at Surrey, and will allow others to search for all related tweets. Once you’re done, click ‘Tweet’. You’ll see your tweet appear on your timeline.
  4. Find people to follow.
    1. Search by name or twitter handle in the search box. Try looking for and following @RDP_Surrey and @UniofSurrey
    2. There’s also a follow button on every user’s profile page.
  5. You may wish to join the Universities twitter flight school to get you up and running easily.

Exploring further

  • Twitter hashtags offer a great way of following conferences – either by finding out about and interacting with those at a conference with you, or by hearing details of a conference you were unable to attend. Take a look and see if a conference of interest to you has/had a hashtag, and then see what sort of tweets come up under that hashtag (keep in mind that Twitter may not show results before a certain date).
  • Another way to use hashtags is to set up real-time chats – for instance, the #phdchats on Wednesdays. 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.
  • Set up and save searches for relevant topics, people or events in your field.
  • Take a look at a few Twitter clients. Tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite allow you to schedule tweets ahead of time and track retweets, reach and other stats.

Further Reading:


Week 2 blog post

How easy were you to find online? Were you happy with what you found? What sort of ‘person’ emerged, and what might other people think about him or her? What did you, or might you, do to address this? How important do you think it is to maintain a professional presence online?

If you spent some time exploring tweets, pages, images and boards, were you surprised by any of the things that people shared?

How might you strategically use these things to improve your employability, or your impact?

If you choose not to use these Things in future, why not?

Remember to tag your blog Thing 4 and 5.



Providing personal and professional development opportunities to researchers at the University of Surrey.

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