September 29, 2014

9 tips for using Twitter to tap into #globaldev community

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Post by Gemma McNeil-Walsh

Target audience: Nonprofits, cause organizations, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises

gemma-mcneil-walsh-jpegIf you were to ask me what my most useful resource during a three-year undergraduate development studies degree has been, I think the answer might surprise you: Twitter. Although I initially joined Twitter so that I could join in on my housemates’ banter about cupcakes and Ryan Gosling (don’t judge), I quickly found Twitter to be an invaluable professional and career development resource. I decided to leave the Ryan Gosling banter to Facebook, the pictures of cupcakes to Instagram, and came to see Twitter as a ‘rolling online CV’.

Through Twitter I have been approached and invited to a coffee meeting to discuss a new business venture; I’ve been recruited for freelance work at a national newspaper; and I’ve been sent a film that I went on to screen at my university. My housemate (also a development student) even connected to a journalist at the Guardian through Twitter, and was interviewed for an article that was published on the website. While I am by no means a social media expert, I thought I would share here some top tips on getting the most out of the Twittersphere.

1. Get your profile right

It needs to include the serious stuff (such as your current degree or place of work etc.), but don’t forget to make yourself sound human (put in one of your other interests or a quirky fact about yourself). See examples here.

2. Don’t just retweet

It’s important to inject some of your own voice into your Twitter feed, so don’t just rely on retweets or on tweeting out links or article headlines (although obviously do that too) – aim for something like 70% pure retweets, 30% tweets that you have either written yourself or altered.

3. Live-tweet

For me, the best way to interact with people or to gain followers has been to live-tweet from events, conferences, talks and panel discussions. Jump on the event hashtag, tweet some of the best things the speaker is saying, and make sure to interact with other people who are tweeting from the event.

4. Research hashtags

Make sure you only use hashtags that you know other people are already using. Don’t go making up bespoke hashtags à la Instagram (#yolo #internlife #unayyy). Before using a hashtag, click on its feed to make sure it’s active – basically, you want to make sure it’s worth using some of your precious 140 characters on. Talking of hashtags, the Guardian Global Development Professionals Network (@GuardianGDP) tweet out a daily hashtag (#hashtagoftheday), which is always worth checking out. Another important point is to limit how many you use – more than five hashtags significantly decreases the likelihood of someone interacting (clicking on, favouriting or sharing) with your tweet.

5. Watch what you tweet

If you imagine your Twitter page as a rolling online CV, you automatically become more aware of what you allow on to your feed. There’s nothing wrong with Tweeting comments of a more personal nature (it makes you a more interesting person), but being too controversial or offensive is only going to draw attention to your feed for the wrong reasons.

6. Follow academics

This one is probably a little biased given that I am technically still a student, but there are some academics who are very active on Twitter and who are well worth following (try Laura Hammond and Chris Blattman for example). Of course, make sure to tailor this to your own area of interest so that the issues they are talking about, or the research they point you to, is relevant.

7. Get favoriting!

Twitter can often be an overwhelming space of information, so the ‘favourite’ button is a really useful tool. Use it to bookmark anything that you see that may be of interest or of use, but which you want to come back to later. When I’m writing essays or preparing for exams, I often stock up on these resources and then go back through them to find what might be most relevant.

8. Don’t be afraid to engage

Twitter is much like the real world – people like to interact, and they like to know your reactions and opinions on things! They also love a good complement. So if you’ve read, or seen something that you liked – post it on Twitter and say what you liked about it (making sure to mention the original source). Even if people don’t get back to you on it, they’ll likely appreciate you for making the effort to Tweet about it. Similarly if people post questions, or shout-outs, on Twitter – reply to them (but only with something useful). That’s how my housemate got interviewed by the Guardian, and how I ended up contributing to this blog!

9. It’s another skill to add to the CV

Many entry-level jobs in development organisations are likely to be in PR or communications positions, and if you can showcase that you are an active user of Twitter you are automatically in a stronger position. If you think that your Twitter feed is a good reflection of you both as a person and as a potential employee (or let’s face it, intern), don’t be afraid to include the link on your CV. It will give people a unique insight into you – one that can’t be achieved on LinkedIn or on a two-page Word document.

If all of this seems like a lot of effort, I promise it tends to be worth it. For me, Twitter has been an equal playing field – despite being a lowly development undergraduate, Twitter has given me a platform to engage and interact with the development community and has brought my degree to life in a way that I don’t think other resources could have done. There are so many ways to get the most out of Twitter, and these 10 tips are just the beginning – please get in touch if you have more to add!

Quick links to get started on Twitter:

Development Intern’s list of good accounts to follow (including: academics, bloggers, development news sources, job opportunities & our writers)

WhyDev’s list of globaldev allstars

This originally appeared at DevelopmentIntern.

Gemma McNeil-Walsh is completing her undergraduate degree in development studies & economics at SOAS in London, and heading to the Oxford Internet Institute for her MSc in October. Interested in media, communication, Internet and ICTs on the African continent, she works in digital newspaper production, interns with SOAS Radio, and has spent the previous two summers working in Freetown, Sierra Leone on documentary and citizen journalism projects. Follow her on Twitter at @gemmcneil.

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