A screenshot of my Twitter account, @MyPenHistorical.
Yesterday was an amazing day for me both personally and professionally. Yes, I did get my second freelance piece published—a goal I’ve had since, well, the day I published my first freelance piece—but at least as important, I re-realized how immensely supported I am by friends and colleagues alike. I got text messages congratulating me from friends from Pennsylvania to Poland, emails from folks in the History Department at UCI, and Facebook messages from mentors. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life, and that’s something I try never take for granted.
The bigger surprise was the amount of Twitter love I received.
I joined Twitter in August of last year as part of an academic-year long campaign to develop an Internet presence. That campaign, it bears mentioning, is the only reason I have a personal website, and the only reason I have a blog. At least on my campus, Facebook still reigns supreme among grad students, but I knew that—as a professional—Twitter was the place to be. I deleted my old account, which was mostly active in the gap year I took between college and graduate school (nothing too terrible on there, mind you, but still, not exactly professional either) and started https://twitter.com/MyPenHistorical.
If you are a grad student, or a young professional of any kind, joining Twitter is one of the best things you can possibly do to build your profile in the field. Seriously, I’ve already managed to use Twitter to organize a panel presentation at a major conference. @MyPenHistorical has done wonders for my academic career, and I’m still just getting started. Now it’s your turn.
This post is half about how to enter into and get the most out of the twitterverse, and half an extended thank you to the awesome people I’ve come to know (to the extent that anyone can know anyone through social media alone) from said twitterverse over the past year, and specifically to those who helped get my article a lot of traffic the other day.
First, the practical stuff: making Twitter work for you.
- Set a schedule. For the first two weeks of professional Twittering, I made to-do lists every day. They always included “write at least two tweets.” It’s frighteningly common to join Twitter and then let your account sit stagnant, so you need to actively fight the impulse to get bored and walk away. I forced myself to find something to write about every day, until I no longer needed the push. By that point, I had a better lay of the land, and I was learning a great deal from other people. I still try really hard to tweet at least once a day, but now I have a solid network, so missing a day isn’t the end of the world. I also don’t find myself spending hours searching for things to write about/comment on, because the feed I’ve built up is laying a lot of important content on my lap for me.
- Follow, follow, follow! Let’s say you have a few colleagues on Twitter. You follow them. Good for you, but you’re not using the site to its full potential. What I did—what I still do—is follow somebody I either know, whose work I read, or who is doing something of value in my field. Then I go straight to their personal page and mine their followers. Who are they reading, and why? You may well discover that there’s hordes of people out there worth knowing that you wouldn’t immediately have thought of. It never occurred to me when I started out that I would be using @MyPenHistorical to keep up with so many black feminist bloggers, for example, but as soon as I saw them in other folk’s lists, I was all “DUH. Of course I want to follow these ladies.” Part of me is embarrassed that I hadn’t thought about it at the outset, but a bigger part of me is glad I went with my gut, and didn’t restrict myself to #twitterstorians.
- Be generous. If you like something, favorite it. If you really like it, retweet it. I personal don’t love the aesthetic of retweeted messages, so I often opt for the “MT” (modified tweet) over the “RT” (retweet). Either way, you’re giving props to somebody else, be it for their humor, their insight, or the material they’re bringing to your attention. Do unto others, right?
- Don’t make an anonymous account. The whole point of having a professional Twitter account is to get your name out there. It is not—or, at least, shouldn’t be—a place to go to complain about your students, snark about your profession, and generally act like an asshat. Be accountable for the things you type, and when you do make a mistake (because, invariably, you will, because we ALL do) own it and apologize for it. I’ve only twice wandered into a flame war, and both times walked out with a new friend, because I de-escalated the situation as respectfully as I could. Those were valuable exchanges for me, even though they’re not among my proudest social media moments.
- If it would upset your colleagues/partner/dissertation advisor/mother, think long and hard before posting it. Put differently, be an adult.
That’s the advice that comes readily to mind. I’m sure there’s more that bears saying, but it’s not yet 6 AM here, so I think I did pretty good. If you’ve got Twitter tips for newbies, please comment and share your Twisdom! (Again, it’s not even 6 AM…)
Now here’s the part that will be boring to pretty much everyone not mentioned here. These are some of the Twitter users who helped get my article out into the world, and whose encouragement and support made yesterday exceedingly awesome: @NaliniAkolekar, @CaroHerbLew, @amkohout, @igallupd, @jorgegomez101, @sarahbelle721, @historiancarrie, @admturner, and, of course @stormypetrel and all the other wonderful people at Nursing Clio (several of whose handles are listed here).
If your name is not included in this list, but you read, favorited, retweeted, etc., THANK YOU! It’s just now 6 AM, so I can very safely say that the omission is unintentional.
Also a quick—and slightly off topic—shout out to Sandvick at DailyHistory.org for reblogging the piece. Very cool.
And thanks to you for reading SMDS, especially if you found it through Twitter! I promise future posts will come equipped with a more coherent ending and will not, as a rule, be written before sunrise.
“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.