Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pointless babble? The importance of Twitter to one Canadian entomologist

Recently the Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) published a short editorial on the Society's use of Twitter. The author didn't find Twitter to be of particular importance or interest, as can be gleaned from this short excerpt:

Out of curiosity, I then turned to the [Canadian Entomological] Society’s Twitter link to see how the posts for this year fitted into the categories used by Pear Analytics. First, the good news! Of about 100 posts since 1 January, only a handful fall into the pointless babble category. However, a very large number of the remaining posts (even excluding those that are retweets) simply present information that is already available elsewhere. In short, I see very few tweets that can be considered ‘useful …. to our Society’. 

I will admit that I didn't find this editorial to be particularly fair, but the author invited a response. This is mine:

Twitter connects researchers, allows them share knowledge and promotes collaboration. Updates are concise, and instantaneous. The software is user-friendly and free. As Marshall McLuhan famously said "The medium is the message". I fail to see what is flawed with a medium that is accessible, social, succinct, and informative.

To illustrate the point, I will share some of the ways that Twitter has been useful to me as a Canadian entomologist. Likely, others would have similar experiences using Twitter as a tool in their day-to-day lives. 

a. Creating connections with entomologists across Canada and the world

Twitter is a place for collaboration among different people from Canada, and all over the globe. To put things in perspective to the Entomological Society of Canada - through Twitter, I am in fairly regular contact with three recent recipients of the C. Gordon Hewitt Award. This prize is awarded to an individual under the age of forty, who has made outstanding contributions to entomology in Canada. @CMBuddle, @docdez and @KirkHillier have all been recipients within the last ten years. These three people, spread geographically across Canada, are incredibly successful researchers whom I look up to. I doubt that I would have any sort of regular interaction with them, if it weren't for Twitter. 

b. Learning insect identification from enthusiasts across Canada and the worldI learn something new about insects every day via Twitter. I have had expert help on identifying butterflies from @AndyBugGuy - a lepidopterist from Florida. I have also had help identifying a variety of flies from @BioInFocus, a very helpful PhD student from the University of Guelph. I was even able to connect with a future Oxford lab-mate @RichardComont who has a wealth of knowledge about seemingly any living thing (particularly ladybirds). These interactions would not have been possible without the use of Twitter. 

c. Provision of opportunities to collaborate, and communicate
Twitter has encouraged me to practice my communication skills. Writing is a skill that many students (myself included) can find challenging. Twitter has given me opportunity to blog about my research with the ESC Blog, and even collaborate with an extremely effective, and innovative scientific communicator - @CMBuddle. You can read our two-part collaboration here, and here. 

d. Sharing the beauty, and magic of studying entomology
Any given day, there are magnitudes of beautiful insect images being shared on Twitter. Consider the work by Canadians @GeekInQuestion, @NashTurley, or our Southern neighbour @Myrmecos. It's a refresher to have daily reminders of why I have chosen to become an entomologist. Insects are beautiful, diverse interesting, and significant. You can never know it all. Could there be a better way to remind yourself of this than Twitter? 

An ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) taken August, 2013 - P.Manning

e. Learning about new opportunities 
Currently, I am a D.Phil student at the University of Oxford. This was only possible through a scholarship that I was fortunate enough to receive. I began to consider applying when a CBC article flashed across my Twitter feed in November of 2011.

About a year later, I had something similar appear on my Twitter feed. 

Upon reading the first tweet from @CBCNS, a seed was planted that allowed for me to put my name out to achieve something I had never even considered, or thought possible. After I post this entry, I will be heading to the Radcliffe Science Library to read a past thesis on dung beetle ecology.

If you want to harness the power of Twitter, it is imperative that it is used as an effective tool. Follow people or organizations that interest, excite, or inspire you. Post and share information that you find useful, fascinating, or even funny. Effective sharing and discussion of relevant, and interesting content is exactly what science communication is about. For these reasons, I passionately believe that Twitter can play a useful role for the Entomological Society of Canada. 


  1. Thanks Paul, excellent points that are well written. My greatest issue with the editorial were the last two sentences of the paragraph you quoted. The author makes it sound as though he is speaking for the Society and we know that isn't true!

  2. Twitter has the concept of retweet so that followers can share ideas or posts that they like. When they share this content, they send it across to a new set of audience who can view your content and retweet them further. This goes on and it helps you spread the word regarding your brand and the content you posted. So you get recognition as a brand and you also get to market a particular product, service or simply share a thought with a huge number of people. This visibility that you reach in turn affects the number of people who would visit your website or store. This is how Twitter retweets work.