The real time Twitter window: What you miss if you only pre-schedule tweets

Scheduling your tweets to post at a later time slot is a great way to keep your focus on other work. But Twitter is driven by the energy of real time — and not scheduled — interactions. Assistant Professor James Rogers talked to me about the Twitter ‘moment’ and the Twitter ‘window’.

I am a big fan of scheduling social media posts and planning ahead.

I myself use social media management tools like Hootsuite, Buffer, and Tweetdeck to monitor my own area of expertise and to schedule posts to be published at a time when I know my audience is on the platforms (Like on my account that covers seminars and conferences in Denmark here).

Three of the most popular social media management platforms, Hootsuite (left), Buffer (centre), and Tweetdeck (right)

For some reason, I have never been able to sleep beyond 6 am in the morning, and I enjoy working on my social media accounts at this time. But in my time zone nobody else does. So if I tweeted in real time at 6 am few people would notice.

And then there is the planning part of it.

Sometimes I stumble upon something that I would like to share with, say, my LinkedIn network, but I don’t want to get out of the flow of concentrated work and I don’t have the time to write the post.

So I just add a note (maybe three words) on my phone, and go back to work, knowing that I can do the post at the end of the day, or probably more likely the all-too-early morning after.

Planning and scheduling allows me, in this way, to ‘manage’ my own accounts and keep me focussed on the job at hand without losing the networking benefits.

I see it is an active research tool, as opposed to a staged engagement tool

But I know that all this strategizing and automation of tweets comes at a price: And James Rogers, who I talked to while preparing for a webinar recently, has helped me gain some perspective on just what that price is.

James Rogers is Assistant Professor of War Studies at the Danish Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), a TEDx speaker, and a presenter of the popular History Hit series in the UK. He does research on drone warfare, security policy, and the history of warfare. He ranks fourth among all scientists on social media in Denmark, according to the Mike Young Academy 2020 TwiLi Index ranking.

“I don’t use social media management, and I don’t schedule things. I want to read and see what comes up native on the Twitter platform.  For me, I see it is an active research tool, as opposed to a staged engagement tool. If you do that, stage the engagement too much, or don’t engage at all, you don’t build up any form of clout or meaningful interaction,” he explained to me.

Making your own Twitterverse

Clout, which in general means influence or power, has a more specific meaning on Twitter. It means that people actually pay attention to your tweets, and is measured with engagement metrics like retweet numbers. James Rogers uses the term in both the general and the Twitter sense.

James Rogers (left) before a TV interview. On Twitter he opts for spontaneity rather than planning (Photo: Brittany Patton)

Like me, he checks Twitter in the mornings he says. But unlike me, he has Twitter more completely integrated into his working day.

“I see Twitter as the number one tool I have for research dissemination. But it is also a core part of scholarly engagement, and research itself,” he says.

Just like Marcel Bogers another scholar who I interviewed last year, James Rogers follows, and is followed by, a lot of people. He follows more than 7,800 people, and has a lot of followers himself, more than 10,500 in fact. His Twitter community has been built up through more than 10 years of Twitter activity.

“Everyone has their own ‘Twitterverse’. For my own part, if something is happening in my own field of drone warfare, my newsfeed is filled with people who are constantly sharing information within this field.”

Journalists use Twitter to find the right experts to talk to, and James Rogers has become the person to go to whenever the topic is drone warfare. Part of the tweet thread that started this particular interaction can be seen below.

“For example when the Saudi oil company Aramco was bombed in September 2019, that was related to my own area of expertise, and Twitter was how journalists found me,” he says.

The ‘moment’ of Twitter

“I don’t post too much. And I don’t post about everything. Neither do I engage with everything that is related to my field. But I do go in, and out of, Twitter almost every day from my desktop,” he says.

James Rogers at a recent TEDxOdense presentation on drone warfare (screenshot of YouTube video)

Twitter users, who are either tweeting, retweeting or replying to others’ tweets, want a brisk dialogue without waiting too long for other tweeters to react, according to James Rogers.

“It is important to maintain the quality of your tweets and replies. But I think that there is a ‘moment’ on Twitter, and you can’t leave it too late. There is a moment where you can engage with people, and where you need to engage with people, a ‘Twitter window,’” he says.

“Immediacy is important on the platform. If someone starts to engage with a thread that you have replied to, I often reply quickly, as it sparks a conversation. It is better than just ignoring it completely,” he says.

Global computer in the cloud

James Rogers’ perspective and Twitter routine ties in well with the thoughts expressed by Venkatesh Rao, an Indian-American author and consultant (Twitter accounts: @vgr and @ribbonfarm)  who, in a conversation on the EconTalk podcast with Russ Roberts (@EconTalker),  refers to Twitter as the ‘global computer in the cloud’ .

It’s a big distributed computer. But to participate in it, you have to be willing to let your individuality be subsumed in the larger conversation

There is something noble, something human, and something productive on Twitter. And it is not just entertainment. Taking part in conversations in real time is doing something good in the world. As Venkatesh Rao put it:

“The idea is that this is an extraordinarily powerful computing and intelligence-extracting mechanism that functions something like a market. It’s a big distributed computer. But to participate in it, you have to be willing to let your individuality be subsumed in the larger conversation. So, when you’re on Twitter and bantering back and forth with a bunch of other smart people, what you say and what you do and the memes and the clever coinages you come up with – that matters.”

In this sense, the planning, strategic scheduling, and delaying of activity on Twitter undermines the whole point of it all.

At the time when I talked to James Rogers, he was about to present a TV show with Dan Snow called Untold History.

James Rogers’ tweets are related to his own field of research, but this field is widely defined, and he also tweets in his role as speaker and presenter. Judging from his follower numbers, people on Twitter like him for it.

“For me Twitter is about the quality of your posts and the engagement rather than the quantity. Through the last couple of years I have tried to build my own Twitter. I follow people specifically who are interested in the same things I am interested in myself.  That said, I am not an academic who fits into one box, and this may have helped me also.“

As for social media management tools, James Rogers won’t be trying them out any time soon.

“Scheduling and using social media management tools may have their uses,” James Rogers told me (to my relief!) when I explained to him my own routine.

“But I think that you have to engage in real time also.”

Does your department, faculty or university need to boost the international impact and career of your researchers? Here is more about my courses in social media for researchers. See other Mike Young Academy services here.

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