We all know that twitter is a powerful tool for communicating across boundaries of all kinds, but in SSEES Library we recently saw evidence that we really were reaching a worldwide audience. Use of the tool tweepsmap (http://tweepsmap.com/!UCLSSEESLibrary), which shows where in the world your followers are located, has shown consistently that 38% of the followers of the @UCLSSEESLibrary account are based outside the UK. Apart from academics, researchers and librarians from academic institutions across the world, they also include official organisations like the US Mission to the OSCE and the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), media outlets, journalists (a few important enough to warrant the blue tick) and publishers, as well as the interested public – and of course a few of the more outlandish followers that all twitter accounts attract. Even within the UK the international focus continues, as we are followed by a number of the London embassies, and most recently by the Russian ambassador himself.
We have built up an audience like this by taking our twitter account very seriously, and we do a number of things to ensure that we continue to attract and retain followers of this kind by providing a real service to them. By far the most important factor is the content that we tweet. Our area specialists go out of their way to look out for links to useful sources on the web, particularly if they relate to current news stories. Where possible we tweet links to primary sources which add substance to the summaries and interpretations which appear in the media. This has been particularly important in relation to events in Ukraine, but translates readily to our work on the rest of the region. We also link to new academic resources and digital collections, where they are likely to be of interest and are generally accessible. We are careful to be balanced where matters are controversial, which many are. In this way we have effectively taken the principles of curating a research library and applied them to twitter.
Beyond the content we make an effort to let potential followers know we exist. We look for interesting accounts and follow or retweet them, and then they are likely to return the favour. In the case of the Russian ambassador we had retweeted the Russian Embassy, who had tweeted about the SSEES Centenary Film Festival (book your tickets now at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ssees/centenary/centenary-events/seasonoffilm). Within seconds the ambassador himself was following us. Sometimes the power and speed of twitter takes our breath away.
If anyone is interested in knowing more about this kind of approach to twitter do get in touch. It is daunting at first, but enormously rewarding.