Duke professors are trending on Twitter.
Members of the Duke community are increasingly relying on Twitter to communicate information about Duke and to promote and share their personal scholarship and research. Use of the site by Duke community members has risen noticeably in recent months, faculty and administrators said.
Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African and African American studies, opened an account at the insistence of former students. His account now has more than 11,000 followers. He operates on Twitter in a professional context, often as an extension of his work in the classroom, Neal said.
“Twitter is not for everyone, but for those folk who are interested in making their work accessible to a broader audience and to catch the attention of the many news producers who are seeking newsworthy stories on Twitter, it is a great platform,” Neal wrote in an email Thursday. “Folk in the academy are catching up to our students and others, who are way ahead of the digital curve, particularly as users.”
Karla Holloway, James B. Duke professor of English and professor of law, started using Twitter last May. Some of the first tweets she experienced as a user were those regarding Osama bin Laden’s death, and she said she was surprised to find out about the news before major news organizations could publish it. Holloway has since been a dedicated Twitter user and uses the tool for professional purposes, as Neal does. She tweets about bioethics, public policy, human rights and law and explores the intersection of those topics with race and gender.
“Twitter gets my own work out in wider and more diverse communities than I could accomplish through traditional formats,” Holloway wrote in an email Thursday. “I have connected with authors, bioethicists, researchers, students and scholars who would have remained as names I know, but would not have had ‘conversations.’”
Both Neal and Holloway noted the increase in Duke’s Twitter participation in the past year.
In addition to distributing information, administrators are using Twitter to track what others are saying about Duke. Freshman Julia Durnan, who works in the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations, uses Twitter’s advanced search feature to find tweets that mention the University. Using the data, Durnan aggregates a report for Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, so he can stay informed about how Duke is being discussed.
“Duke isn’t in the news without [Schoenfeld’s] awareness of it,” she said. “He wants to be on top of everything, to make sure nothing is going unnoticed.”
Twitter serves to link different sectors of the University community, said Cara Rousseau, social media manager for the Office of News and Communications.
“[One of our goals] is to connect with audiences of prospective students, current students, alumni and faculty,” Rousseau said. “All different parts of the campus are trying to reach their audiences using the tool, so it’s become an integrated part of the University marketing plan.”
Dozens of offices and departments have Twitter accounts, such as @Duke_ATHLETICS, @DukeGHI (Duke Global Health Institute), @DukeOSAF (Office of Student Activities and Facilities), @Duke_Medicine and @DukeAlumni.
Rousseau said @DukeAlumni is a particularly effective account.
The account, which has about 1,500 followers, is run by Brett Walters, director of information technology and web services for the Duke Alumni Association. In addition to distributing information about current students, sports and the office itself to alumni, the account serves to recognize the recent accomplishments of alumni, Walters said.
“The Duke Alumni [account] is celebrating professional accomplishments. It’s the alma mater calling out the alumni,” he said. “Typically, I’ll find their Twitter handle and name them in the tweet, and they’ll retweet it to their followers, so that’s one way to tell alumni what their classmates are up to.”
Walters uses other tools to streamline the process of tracking and distributing information about alumni. He has Google Alerts set up for alumni class notes and uses a service called Buffer, which automatically sends his favorited alerts to Twitter periodically throughout the day. Walters said he also uses If This Then That, an application that synchronizes various media services in a way predetermined by the user, identifying triggers from certain media, which are translated into actions by other media.
“Rather than me having to monitor Twitter throughout the day—we don’t have staff for that—we get news about what alumni are doing via news sources, and then we pull them all into a scheduling tool, rewrite them for Twitter, do the research to see if the people are on Twitter and then [the services] send them out throughout the day,” Walters said.