Why Twitter? The Marriage Between Academics and Social Networks

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Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu

Twitter was confusing when it first launched.

The 2008, micro-blogging site was peppered with symbols and broke from tradition by having the newest updates appear at the top, instead of the bottom.

Back then, people were forgiving if a user allowed their account to sit inactive because the concept of the site was too hard to grasp.

Today, Twitter has 200 million active users and people are less forgiving.

The motto for The Op-Ed Project, a social venture founded to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear from around the world is, “Whoever tells the stories writes history.”

So why are academics still hesitant to use this tool?

Fear of criticism and embarrassment during the learning curve is real. However, Twitter is forgiving and its foundation is built on public opinion.

The unfortunate outcome of the open dialogue on Twitter is that there is a plethora of self-proclaimed experts who reap the rewards and accolades because they are the most vocal, not because they have the expertise.

Meanwhile, the real experts with research and studies to prove their opinion is worth listening to, tinker on, none the wiser.

When academics stand by and let others lead the conversation, they rob themselves of the opportunity to build personal capital and bring attention to the causes they have devoted most of their lives to study and teach.

The marriage between academics and social networks should be a natural one. It’s a medium that allows a variety of topics to be discussed by people with credibility. As a novice users confidence to engage on the site grows, so does their following, and with it—their credibility.

Think of how crucial this is when embarking on a new project, trying to receive support for a new venture or simply connecting with another academic with more knowledge, who may engage you in a partnership someday.

Participating in the digital conversation also closes the divide between academic experts and media. A reporter can quickly search for a person to provide commentary in their story, connect and verify their expertise in a matter of moments.

When the story runs, who will more people want to work with? The person who was recognized for their expertise in the New York Times, or the one telling family and friends how great they are?

It’s no longer a matter of who gets it, but who does it best. You can’t rise to the top of the ranks, if you are not in the game to begin with.

Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu is an OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow at DePaul University where she acquired her BA and MA degrees. She is a new media specialist in in the Office of Public Relations and Communication. She works on DePaul University’s digital presence and has also worked on campaigns for the White Sox and Clear Channel’s KISS-FM.

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