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Getting a Handle on Twitter - interviews with scientists on social media

Manuel Frias (HELCOM) and Mari Myksvoll (IMR) answer questions about their use of the increasingly popular social media tool Twitter and its effectiveness and uniqueness as a vehicle for communication in the world of marine science.
Published: 8 March 2013

Depending on your viewpoint or in what profession you operate, you will probably either see the social media platform Twitter as a potential playground or a minefield. With approximately 517 million open accounts (the tally of actual active users, or those who log in at least once a month, is closer to 200 million) according to 2012 research conducted by Paris-based analyst group Semiocast, the service has been expanding at an unprecedented rate and has established itself as a major player in the online broadcasting of opinion, trend, news story, and company activity. Twitter's here, and it's here to stay.

But how can such a tool help to add value to an organization's output? And not just that, but how can an individual scientist utilize such a service to support or embody the values of the company, group or cause they represent?

ICES caught up with two prominent tweeting scientists to reflect on their use of the microblogging site. Manuel Frias, Project Coordinator at the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM), and Mari Myksvoll, a Post-doctoral physical oceanographer at the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Bergen, Norway, share their thoughts.


Manuel Frias (Twitter profile: @manolofrias):

Does your professional use of Twitter differ to that of LinkedIn? And if so, how?

In LinkedIn I have mostly contacts whom I have met or have had some kind of contact. However, in Twitter I follow and I am followed mostly by people whom I've never met in person. I try therefore to be more selective in LinkedIn. There I usually share things that are more personal whereas in Twitter I can share any link or idea that I find interesting.

Twitter is used by many for expressing views and opinions. For organizations not advocating but instead researching, informing, and advising, what's a good approach to using the social media service?

The thing about Twitter, as with any other tool, is that it isn't the tool itself but how you use it. Twitter can be used to advocate, inform, express views - or all together! I think that, even if many people use Twitter to express opinions, there are as many people who just inform or share links, which is fine. It all depends on what you expect from the people or organization you are following.

Why do you think some people have reservations about joining Twitter?

I have found that the environmental scientific community is quite reluctant to join social media. I guess one of the reasons is that scientists are not used to openly share their ideas and are maybe afraid of someone stealing or copying their projects. They probably don't agree with what Seth Godin, a best-seller author, says: "The more generous you are with your ideas, and the more they spread, the more likely it is your perceived value goes up."

Another reason I often hear is lack of time. I always say the same: it's not a question of lack of time but of priorities. If Richard Branson or Bill Gates tweet I guess most of us mortals can too.

 You like to use graphics and visuals – both on Twitter and in presentations – do you find Twitter an effective tool for communicating using such material?

I always try to insert pictures or links in Twitter. Twitter does a decent job communicating visuals since you can always attach and link maps, diagrams, etc.

Have you been to any symposia or conferences where you've been active on Twitter?

Personally, I don't like tweeting while I am attending a conference. I can do it occasionally to share some thought or link but I don't understand when people do it at the same time as listening to a presentation.


Mari Myksvoll (Twitter profile: @marimyks):

What was your primary reason for joining Twitter?

Curiosity was definitely the main reason for starting a Twitter account, but the main reasons for using Twitter on a regular basis are sharing scientific news and contributing in public discussions.

How does your professional use of Twitter differ to that of LinkedIn?

I consider LinkedIn as a static information portal where people can find information about my education and employment and mainly for interaction with others within the scientific community. Twitter is a live platform where all kinds of people "meet" to discuss relevant topics for the general public. Politicians and policy makers meet journalists, environmentalists, scientists, and any other committed person. It is much easier to reach out to people on Twitter and you immediately get a response on your questions and comments.

Twitter is used by many for expressing views and opinions. For organizations not advocating but instead researching, informing, and advising, what's a good approach to using the social media service?

It is important to be aware of how you are perceived on Twitter, are you expressing your personal opinions or acting as a representative for a research institute. A researcher holds information that is useful in many public discussions, and it is therefore important to contribute to the public debate with scientific results. People are generally interested in new knowledge and often need a reminder of basic knowledge. As researchers we can answer many questions to avoid misinterpretation and provide knowledge-based advices. 

How does the Institute of Marine Research (or "your own institute") most effectively share information on Twitter?

The Institute of Marine Research mainly uses it for sharing articles from their website, and I think this is a good approach for the official profile. For specific online discussions it might be more efficient to encourage individual researchers to Tweet themselves and engage them in specific topics.

Just start tweeting about topics you are involved in, and soon you will get followers. Before you know it, members of the government will start to follow you, and then things really get interesting.

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Getting a Handle on Twitter - interviews with scientists on social media

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