Abstract: Twitter Use Among Social Work Faculty (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

399P Twitter Use Among Social Work Faculty

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Garrett Pace, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose: Twitter has become an increasingly popular social media platform for social work academics to connect and communicate. It enables users to compose short publicly viewable messages called tweets. Users can subscribe to others’ tweets by following their accounts. Research suggests academics in general value the brevity and connectedness of Twitter. While it is clear that some social work academics use Twitter, little is known about which social work academics use Twitter, how often they use it, the role of social inequality in the social work Twitter network, or the implications of Twitter use for social work scholarship. This study begins to address these questions by describing Twitter usage among social work faculty and analyzing how social work faculty gain followers on Twitter.

Methods: Data included the full population of tenure-track and tenured faculty during the 2018-2019 academic year from the top 54 graduate programs of social work ranked by the U.S. News and World Report (N = 1,465). Emeriti faculty and those with a secondary appointment in social work were excluded. A team of undergraduate research assistants collected faculty data from department websites such as faculty name and faculty rank (i.e., assistant, associate, professor); then a systematic search was conducted to find faculty Twitter handles (i.e., accounts). After faculty Twitter accounts were identified, Twitter’s application programming interface (API) was used to download their publicly available Twitter data, such as tweets, followers, and favorites (i.e., similar to the "like" button on Facebook posts). Data were downloaded during the spring of 2019. Analysis of these data included descriptive statistics and linear regression accounting for department clustering.

Results: Nearly 40% of faculty had an identifiable Twitter account (N = 545). There were no differences across faculty rank in having an account. Among faculty with a Twitter account, approximately 90% had either tweeted or favorited another tweet at least once. Approximately one-third of faculty on Twitter averaged at least one tweet per week while 8% averaged one or more tweets per day. Similarly, one-third averaged one favorite per week while 13% averaged one or more favorites per day. After removing faculty with private accounts and several outliers in terms of tweet frequency and number of followers, regression analysis revealed a largely optimistic narrative about how faculty gain followers. Active engagement on Twitter through tweeting, following others, and having a detailed profile was associated with having more followers while faculty rank and favoriting was not. Faculty from higher ranked departments had a sizable advantage in their number of followers though there was more uncertainty around this estimate.

Conclusions and Implications: Having a Twitter account as a social work faculty member is quite common while active use is less common. There is evidence to suggest Twitter may serve as a democratizing force in social work academia since Twitter activity is the primary predictor of gaining followers, though more research is needed. Findings have the potential to increase the influence of social work educators and scholars on social media.