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Tweet your way to the top

07 Oct 16:00 by Catherine Early

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With Twitter increasingly being adopted by professional organisations, it could be an opportunity for practitioners to use it as a career tool, says Samantha Lyster

When a celebrity spat breaks out on Twitter, it gives the impression the social media platform is little more than a virtual playground where childish insults are hurled. Reality TV star Kim Kardashian is certainly prolific with her 140-word character messages, but this is a mere snippet of the conversations taking place.

According to social media consultant Mark Frary, Twitter is increasingly popular in the business-to-business community as a recruitment and networking tool. Frary, the author of several science and technology books, says the public nature of Twitter allows users to connect with people outside their circle, opening up networks that could yield information on job opportunities that they would otherwise have missed.

It is a position that echoes the findings of the influential 1973 study by US sociologist Mark Granovetter, in which 80% of his sample reported the information they received that led to their job came through casual acquaintances.

Not just followers

Tim Gibbons, head of content at media and marketing agency C Squared, advises Twitter account holders to move beyond merely following people and actively engage in the platform by creating innovative content that people will want to share, helping to raise their profile. ‘Dare to be different, but make sure it’s appropriate. Twitter is short-form content, but this doesn’t mean bad habits should creep in,’ he says.

Gibbons offers the following advice: ‘Ensure content can be understood, kill the jargon unless interacting with peers, and don’t focus on the number of followers. The temptation may initially be to follow a greater number of accounts in order to have them follow in return. Users need to consider what value these accounts may bring, and how it may appear to other established Twitter users. I know if I see an account that follows more than is actually followed, I will question its integrity and usefulness.’

Before new users add images and video to posts to increase the likelihood of shares and feedback, Gibbons suggests that they research popular accounts in the environment and sustainability sector to see what works. They should also check what has already been covered because there is no point duplicating content.

Twitter’s app, Periscope, is valuable for live streaming, although users should be aware the video has only a 24-hour shelf life. The advantage is that, as well as working on Android and iOS systems, it can be used across Apple TV. Users might be more familiar with Vine, a short-form video sharing service, which has a Windows desktop version that allows people to interact with it. Both Periscope and Vine are useful for capturing, with a speaker’s permission, interesting moments at conferences, events and seminars or talks.

For environment and sustainability professionals searching the job market, Twitter offers another route to accessing recruitment agencies. According to the 2015 Recruiter Nation survey by recruitment technology provider Jobvite, 92% of agencies use social media, in particular for listing vacancies.

Lisa Toms, a divisional manager in the sustainability team at recruitment firm Shirley Parsons, says agencies use Twitter not just to advertise jobs, but also as a vehicle for finding candidates. ‘We’ve registered a number of candidates we may not have been aware of [through] someone directly responding to a tweet, or another Twitter user tagging their friends into job adverts,’ she says. ‘We also search for candidates on Twitter using hashtags and sites like Tagboard. As a result, we’re able to approach candidates who might not be registered on LinkedIn.’

John Liberty, careers and employability consultant with London’s Greenwich School of Management, says for job seekers Twitter is an excellent channel to keep abreast of industry news and to communicate interests and knowledge to employers. ‘Make sure you post and share relevant content, news and opinions that complement your areas of expertise in your chosen field,’ he says. ‘Try to keep on top of any sector trends or hashtags. Then you will be up to date and seen as commenting on relevant topics in the news or sector agenda.’

The professional social networking service, LinkedIn, remains the most popular platform, with 87% of respondents to the Recruiter Nation survey using it. Twitter is ranked third, but when used correctly it can help to guide employers and recruiters to a LinkedIn profile. This is how consultant Phil Cumming, who developed and help to deliver the sustainability strategy for the London 2012 Olympics, uses his Twitter account. ‘With LinkedIn you can have the best profile, but that does not necessarily mean people are going to find you,’ he says. ‘Engaging on Twitter can help you to drive traffic and put you on a company’s or recruiter’s radar. It’s not just the content you put out, but also the conversations you become involved in.’

Cumming says there are many sector events that Twitter users can follow and comment on using the relevant hashtag, ranging from IEMA conferences to forums such as The Crowd. Using Twitter this way exposes the user to new connections and helps to raise their profile. The COP21 climate conference in Paris last year was one such event. The Twitter analytics site Twiplomacy claims that 59% of the official COP21 feed was re-tweets of other users’ content.

‘There’s no doubt that Twitter is a game changer when it comes to networking,’ says Cumming. ‘Before Twitter it was hit or miss whether you could connect with the hiring manager at a company you wanted to work for. Now, there’s a good chance they will have an account, and you can start to engage with them.’

Frary, who has developed Twitter strategies for clients in the newspaper and travel industries, says an often-overlooked but effective Twitter tool is the polls function, which can spark conversation and reaction. ‘Twitter works best when it is a two- or multi-way conversation rather than just [used for] making announcements,’ he says. ‘Engaging with others on Twitter through conversation makes it a much more powerful and fulfilling tool. But avoid “newsjacking”, which is getting involved in a conversation simply with the goal of being noticed. Hashtags help to flag up your tweets. Use them sparingly, probably a maximum of two, so that you don’t make reading your tweets challenging.’

To search for the most influential tweeters, or for ideas on what hashtags are trending, packages such as Hashtags.org can help. These services are not free, but they have free trials that last a few days – enough time to gain some insight into what is happening in the environment and sustainability Twittersphere.

Dare to be different

Although most media consultants agree that users need to be mindful of who they follow and what they tweet, Toms adds that does not mean playing it safe and starving an account of any personality. ‘Tweeting about your favourite football team or what you’re up to outside of work can keep your Twitter feed more interesting and varied as long as it’s not too inappropriate. Swearing is a big no-go,’ she cautions.

This may sound like obvious advice, but researchers from the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London monitored all geo-located tweets sent from smartphones in the UK for one week in 2014 to check levels of profanity. They found that tweets containing swearwords spiked during the morning, lunchtime and end of the working day as people vented their stress. Given Twitter’s real-time function, by which even if a tweet is deleted there is a good chance someone will have seen it before it disappears, it is worth repeating the mantra of think before you tweet.

Twitter has a reputation for being the medium for a younger generation, but use of social media by older people is increasing, according to a study in 2015 by the Pew Research Centre. It found that, although people aged 18-29 were the highest users of Twitter, at 32%, 29% of those aged 30-49 also used it. The study showed that account holders were racially diverse.

This broad audience is an advantage to account holders; it widens the quantity of information and number of ideas being circulated. But Gibbons points out that such a diverse crowd can lead to a lot of misinformation. To avoid any pitfalls users should think like journalists and publishers, he advises. With so many people posting from smartphones while on the go, the temptation to simply re-tweet or add a ‘like’ to a posting without checking first is always there. ‘Environment and sustainability professionals need to check sources and then re-check, especially with information that has to be accurate,’ Gibbons says.

‘Don’t leave the dissemination of information to the world in real time to chance. Check several reputable resources before hitting send. The use of a Twitter account needs to become a responsible place. The environment and sustainability industry has an extremely important role in society, so the platform and its reach needs to be respected.’

A recurrent piece of advice from experts is to keep emotions in check. Environment and sustainability challenges are often questioned during debates, with climate sceptics and deniers, for example, likely to bait those working in the field. Always remain professional in any such debates because this signals to future employers that you can keep your cool when under pressure.

Finally, do not post selfies. Some 72% of respondents to the Recruiter Nation survey stated this was a huge turn-off when researching the suitability of a candidate.