Day 3 of #CU10DoT: Following people

So, you’ve sent your first tweets, creating interesting and engaging content for your potential followers. The other side to Twitter, of course, is the stream of information brought to you by the people you follow. And if you follow people, chances are they will take a look at your profile and decide to follow you in return (which is why setting up a profile with some engaging tweets first was important!).

One of the key features of Twitter is that unlike other platforms such as Facebook or LinkedIn, following is not necessarily reciprocal – the people you follow may not be the people who follow you (although they may be!). There is no obligation to follow someone just because they follow you. Some people have a more-or-less even match of followers and following; others follow lots of people but don’t tweet much themselves and therefore don’t have many followers; and some Tweeters, usually very well-known people or institutions, may have a large number of followers as they tweet a lot but don’t actually follow many people, using Twitter more as a broadcast medium to get their message out there.

As an individual professional, you’re probably going to get the most benefit from the first option (at least in the short term), having roughly the same number of followers and following. Twitter works best as a dialogue, and this won’t happen if you’re doing all the talking, or have no one to talk to! I refer to this well known question when I think about this:

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

So having followers and following other often work hand-in-hand. This is true even for those tweeting in an official capacity on behalf of their service. Although they may have more followers than people they follow, it’s still useful to follow some people, services or institutions so you have other useful information to pass on as well as just promoting your service. Following people will give you a sense of how it’s done when you send your own tweets.

How many people you follow is up to you, although perhaps 100 is a good number to aim for (not all today!), to ensure a useful stream of content. Think about what sort of information you want access to, and what sorts of tweeters are likely to offer it (see the list below for some suggestions). It is an organic process and will take time to build up, and don’t forget that you can always unfollow people if the content they tweet is not useful to you! There are ways to find out if you’ve been unfollowed, but there is no automatic alert and generally people don’t bother to check! If you decide that you no longer wish to follow someone on Twitter but you don’t want them to know, you can use Twitter’s Mute feature. This will prevent that user’s tweets from being displayed on your Twitter stream. If you change your mind, you can unmute an account at anytime. For instructions on how to Mute Users on Twitter, visit the Twitter Help Centre.

How do I follow someone?

To follow someone, simply click on their profile (their name or picture) and click the ‘Follow’ button below their details:

How do I find people and organisations to follow?

So how do you find people to follow? When you first sign up to Twitter, they will suggest people for you to follow, or invite you to search for names or keywords, but this can be a bit hit and miss. Some people give up at this point, thinking it’s all pop stars and people tweeting about their breakfast!

Here are more suggestions (not exhaustive!) to build a useful feed of information that might work well for you as a researcher. If the suggestions aren’t suited to you personally, they should give you an idea as to who/what to search for e.g. a google search using your own keywords and ‘Twitter’ would likely be successful, and you can also try the search tool in Twitter. Finally, keep a look out for Twitter’s list of ‘suggested people’ you should follow. This is suggested based on an algorithm of your friend’s friends. If  you are logged into Twitter the links will open in your profile and you’ll will open and you’ll be able to click on ‘Follow’.

  1. ‘Celebrity’ academics – Following well-known people and commentators in academia, will give you some ideas of how to build your profile and impact, as well as offering commentary on education policy, news on developments in Higher Education, access to their own network of followers and interesting material to retweet to your followers. You could follow academics such as Athene Donald or Mary Beard, who both write on academia in general.
  2. Professional Bodies and Learned Societies – For updates about events, news, policy, or funding opportunities, your professional body will be very useful, for example The Royal Society and the British Academy.
  3. Funding Bodies – For calls for funding and other news in the UK, Research Councils UK , the individual councils EPSRC, AHRC, ESRC and other funding bodies such as the Newton Fund.
  4. Academic and Professional Press – Education press such as @TimesHigherEd or @gdnHigherEd will give you access to news stories which may interest you or your followers. Following their journalists too might be a way to hear about interesting stories or even raise your own profile in the press. Many journals also have their own Twitter accounts which are useful for updates on calls for contributions or new contents.
  5. Your institution – Follow Coventry University’s official accounts @covcampus and Coventry Uni News, Doctoral College & Centre for Research Capability and Development, Centre for Academic Writing, research centres such as CTPSR, CAWR, CBiS and projects for example @CARNIVAL_covuni
  6. Colleagues in your discipline – Building up a network of colleagues on Twitter is a fantastic way to support your work – whether it’s sharing every-day practice or debating approaches around a particular subject area. Search for people you know to see if they have a Twitter account. Search by name or by keyword, or import contacts from your LinkedIn account or email.
  7. Academic Mentors – There are several bloggers and tweeters who create a supportive community for other academic professionals and students, who have really useful advice and experiences to share on the various aspects of being or becoming an academic, from writing and publication to managing your career. Useful advice to pass on to your students, and possibly useful for you too! Follow @thesiswhisperer, @researchwhisperer, @ECRchat, @NetworkedRes, @Write4Research
  8. Light entertainment@academicssay, @phdcomics

How to grow your Twitter feed

Twitter will suggest people for you to follow based on who you’re currently following. This can be a bit random at first, as you’re not following many people so there’s nothing for its algorithm to work on. There are other ways to add people to your Twitter feed:

Snowball – look at the profile of the people you’re following – who do they follow, and who else is following them? You can see who’s following you, or anyone else, by going to your or their profile, and clicking on ‘followers’ (below their header image).

Retweets – people you follow will retweet things they think might be of interest. Keep an eye out for retweets from accounts you don’t yet follow, and add them. We’ll cover retweeting in future days.

Hashtags – especially around livechats or livetweeted events such as conferences. Joining a discussion around a hashtag is a good way to find more people interested in that topic or event. We’ll also cover hashtags in future Days.

#FF or #FollowFriday – this is a convention on Twitter that on Fridays you can tweet the names of people you think are worth following to others. Watch out for these, or tweet your followers and ask them for recommendations!

Follows – You will be notified when new people follow you – look at their profile to see if they are someone you want to follow back. If you suspect one of your new followers is spam, you can ‘block’ them using the head icon next to the ‘Follow” button, and selecting ‘block’.


So – go find some people to follow, and in spare moments during the day, watch the feed of tweets and information they’re sending. If you find any interesting people you think others should follow, let us know! To get started you could follow @CU_ReCap and @CovUniResearch

Heather (@HJSears)

Further reading

Twitter: Following FAQs


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