New Research: Is Academic Twitter Egalitarian?

Royce Kimmons and I have been exploring the use of large-scale data in a number of recent studies. We just published a paper that tries to make sense of students’ and professors’ social media participation on a large scale. We are continuing our qualitative investigations to understand “why, in what ways, and how” scholars (students & professors) are using social media, but this is our first data mining study making use of Twitter data. It’s also the first study using large-scale Twitter data to make sense of how professors and students of education are using Twitter.

Here’s a high-level summary of three of our findings:

  • There is significant variation in how scholars participate on Twitter. The platform may not be the democratizing tool it is often purported to be: The most popular 1% scholars have an average follower base nearly 100 times that of scholars in the lower 99% and 700 times those in the bottom 50%.
  • Civil rights and advocacy seem to be an important activity of social media participation – this is rarely captured in research to date, which most often focuses on how social media are used in teaching & research. Scholars’ participation on Twitter extends well beyond traditional notions of scholarship.
  • We found that those scholars who follow more users, have tweeted more, signal themselves as professors, and have been on Twitter longer will have more followers. This model predicts 83% of the variation on follower counts. This finding raises questions as to the meaning of follower counts and its use as a metric in conversations pertaining to scholarly quality/reach.

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2016). Scholars in an Increasingly Digital and Open World: How do Education Professors and Students use Twitter? The Internet and Higher Education, 30, 1-10.


A helping hand?


The Claims of EdTech (supposedly backed by research)


  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting work.
    May I share it further to my network of people interested in social media?

  2. Delighted to find this post and the link to your paper, George – many thanks for sharing it. I’m very interested in your findings, particularly your analysis of measures of popularity/influence on Twitter and your focus on the range of ways that scholars use social media. When we focus on scholarly/teaching uses only, as you say, we miss quite a bit.

    I’m now finishing Phase 1 of a qualitative study of why & how academic staff use open educational practices for teaching. A core question here, as in your study, is how scholars enact and negotiate their identities online, in different spaces and for different purposes. I’m awaiting some additional feedback from my participants and will be blogging re: my research soon! Thanks, as always, for generously sharing your work.

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Catherine! I am looking forward to reading your thesis and learning more about why colleagues do what they do in these contexts.

  3. Frances Bell

    Thanks for this interesting paper George. I am really in the issue of popularity in social media networks. Power relations morph – they don’t disappear :)
    One thing that occurred to me was how changes to stream algorithms in Twitter might change things. I have a feeling they might amplify some of the effects you found.

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