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Do you tweet?

If so, are you tweeting personally or professionally? If not, what's stopping you? Are you afraid that tweets, particularly personal ones, will undermine your professional credentials in front of colleagues and students?

According to a recent paper in Learning, Media and Technology, there's no need to worry about tweeting. Elizabethtown College Professor Kirsten A. Johnson and her student Jamie Bartolino conducted a study with 120 students who were divided into three groups. One group read strictly professional tweets, another group read only social tweets, and the final group read a combination of the two. Johnson and Bartolino made each of the Twitter accounts to represent simulated instructors.

The researchers found that students gave professors with only social tweets higher ratings in character, competence, composure, extraversion, and sociability, compared to professors who exclusively had scholarly tweets. The authors point out that their results support previous findings that link sharing personal information with an increase in perceived credibility. There is a slight caveat.  Older students thought professors who tweeted personal information were less credible and more unprofessional.

While further experiments are necessary to obtain more details about the effects of social media on perceived credibility, Johnson and Bartolino's findings are encouraging for scientists who want to try Twitter, blogs, or other ways to connect. With the possible exception of older audiences, tasteful revelations about personal challenges and events might make scientists more approachable to students and the general public. Instead of just focusing on relating scholarly information, a little personal touch might humanize the process of science for people who aren't familiar with our work.

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