Twitter is my favorite social media platform. Hands down.
When I lived in rural Indiana, I used Twitter to connect to like-minded professors and to other professional women of color who didn’t live in my local community. At the time, I didn’t have satellite radio and many of the premium cable channels that would keep me abreast of cultural occurrences that were important to me.
I joined Twitter in 2010 without knowing how to use it. I “listened” to Twitter chats for a while, then I became bold enough to start chatting with people who interested me. Over time, I initiated conversations and realized that people wanted to hear what I had to say.
Eleven years later, I am using my Twitter platform to engage with targeted communities that matter to me. Because of my ability to connect communities, one of my former students began calling me a “people connector.”
Within the platform, I create private lists of people who represent communities of interest to me, including networkers, academics, and women of color (WoC). In this way, I can listen easily to the people to whom I want to listen when I am in the mood to hear from them. Creating a structure to organize my contacts and maintaining control of my virtual community helps me engage with them efficiently and effectively. I then introduce people who share similar interests and roles to new voices in a common community from my list. In this way, I am expanding and strengthening their communities too.
Using Twitter to Amplify Voices
My mission is to help people find their purpose and to live life authentically in my roles as a professor, entrepreneur, and scholar-activist. I share resources and thoughts via Twitter to stay abreast of what is happening in real-time. Internet searches, websites, and sometimes news outlets often are too slow in providing sources of information when life is happening. I need to know what people are thinking and talking about in the moment for me to achieve my mission.
Twitter gives me raw feedback and emotions so I can identify people’s true thoughts and can add new members to my virtual community. I look for people who are not afraid to share their real views. They are people with whom I want to collaborate and do business. Twitter has the potential to bring out that authenticity in people. Those glimpses of realness matter to me and let me know with whom I want and need to connect. Twitter is more than a social media space. It is my people vetter.
As the president of the Academic Leadership Network, Inc., a nonprofit which houses a Black in Engineering (BIE) social justice movement targeting engineering professionals, my BIE co-leaders and I have encouraged engineering professionals to stay connected on Twitter. We started our efforts after the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020. Twitter has helped us grow to over 5,000 followers (@BlkInEngineerng) in a short time. There is power in that.
As I move forward in activism efforts, I am seeing a new wave of scholars joining Twitter. Although many scholars know that what they say on social media can be used against them for promotion and tenure efforts, I am seeing more scholars take risks in speaking out on Twitter. The Twitterverse has become a place that is bigger than individual campuses. The 2020 pandemic has emphasized the importance of engaging beyond brick and mortar.
As a “first” or “only” in many workplaces, people see Twitter as a place to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in ways that organizations are not doing. Although it is difficult to dismantle systemic racism, Twitter offers different ways for diverse, progressive voices to be heard and to be powerful. It is here where we are no longer alone. We build each other up and share new ideas. There is a movement waiting to happen on Twitter if we embrace the power of that movement. I can’t wait until higher education realizes that.
Impacting Local Communities
Twitter has been controversial for me in my local community, which is my academic community. I have used Twitter to document my experiences as a Black woman faculty member and former department chair at my university. Before I began my job, I decided to use the hashtag DeptChairLife to tell my professional story. At the time, I didn’t realize that my experience wasn’t going to be completely positive. I continued to share that story through the negativity, however. Everyone didn’t like that, but my brand is about authenticity, so I had to share my story.
What I discovered is that many BIPOC, women of color, and women were experiencing what I was. We began telling the good, bad, and ugly parts of our stories. It was painful at times, but this community continues to grow. I have received countless DMs from people thanking me for being brave enough to share my experiences. People are realizing that they are not alone. This connectivity is empowering for some and frightening for others. Change is imminent, and some people don’t know what to do with that.
At the end of the day, Twitter helps me make “good trouble.” What is happening on this platform is bigger than I am. It is bigger than anyone. I believe that although people may not yet realize the potential of Twitter, years from now they will see Twitter as a vital way to establish and sustain communities that extend beyond our current networks. Using the platform strategically and deliberately makes a difference. For that reason, I will always be a Twitter fan.