Reciprocity: The Value of Twitter for Archivists...

rec·i·proc·i·ty. Noun. The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

As an information professional and public historian, Twitter is both a valuable source for information and a tool for collaboration. For archivists in particular, Twitter can be used to promote collections and communicate with the professional community of archivists who use this unique social media site.

Today, I wanted to write a brief blog post about the value of Twitter for archives and archivists. To the uninitiated, Twitter is a microblogging social media platform that allows you to "tweet," or broadcast, a message in 140 characters or less. This forced brevity can be a challenge to those among us who like to expand on thoughts beyond the 140 character limit, but it can also be a great way to make your message clear and direct. I do not like to use texting language or abbreviation when I compose a tweet, so this really forces me to be clear with my language, and economize my words in order to get to the heart of a particular subject.

Initially, I was a skeptic of Twitter, but I overcame my reluctance with the realization that Twitter is an indispensable tool for connecting and networking with professional colleagues, sharing information and links to interesting stories found online, and promoting my work on The Posterity Project to a larger audience. On that later point, it is quite clear in viewing the analytics for my blog that my audience has increased dramatically since I opened my Twitter account. Twitter has provided me with more connections to interesting people and content than I could ever imagine by relying on blogging alone.

But for me, the key value of Twitter is "reciprocity." I've learned so much from my professional colleagues on Twitter through their willingness to share information, and connect with me in a mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas. Sharing and "retweeting" content to your followers is a great way to network with professionals in your field, or simply connect with and learn from like-minded individuals.

Twitter is also a place where you should be engaged with your followers. By opening the door to a conversation on Twitter, I have made new connections, and found some really interesting self-directed learning opportunities not possible anywhere else. If you're considering a social media presence for your archive or cultural heritage organization, think about how you might communicate directly with your audience. Committing to this practice will allow your "followers" on Twitter to become more engaged with your own mission and goals, creating a community of committed "fans" in the process.

Here is a brief primer on Twitter, along with a few ideas and suggestions on how you can get started using Twitter to promote your archive and your own professional social media profile...

What are Twitter's practical applications?

  • You can use Twitter to promote your archives' website or blog.
  • You can get feedback from others.
  • You can also build and maintain a personal, professional or institutional profile on Twitter.

What are Hashtags?

  • Hashtags are keywords preceded by a '#' symbol. It is an easy way to locate information on a particular topic, or get your message out to a wider audience.
  • For example, I use #archives quite frequently to share stories about archives and archival institutions.
  • People often use Twitter's Search page to locate information. Hashtags are a great way to get your tweets included in the conversation.

What is a Retweet?

  • You can use "RT" to repeat information sent out by one of your followers, or use Twitter's "retweet" link to republish someone's original tweet on your own profile page.
  • Retweeting gives tweets composed by others a second life, by rebroadcasting that information across to your own list of followers.
  • Retweeting also gives credit where credit is due. If you see a link from someone else that you follow and rebroadcast it on your own Twitter feed, be sure to cite the source.

How can I communicate directly with someone on Twitter?

  • If your profile is legitimate, and you're not sending a barrage of spammy tweets, a Direct Message (DM) to someone on Twitter will almost always get a response.
  • You can also reply in public by including a person's Twitter handle in your response. Typing @gordonbelt will always get my attention.

How to get started?

  • Go to Twitter and create a personal or institutional account.
  • Consider using your real name, rather than a pseudonym, which gives you your own unique voice and lends credibility to your tweets.
  • Choose a profile image that accurately reflects your own personality or professional image. Don't be afraid to be yourself.
  • Start by listening. Follow others with similar interests. You can even follow me and see who I'm following for information and ideas.

If you're not yet on Twitter, I hope that this brief introduction inspires you to give microblogging a try. In my estimation, the outreach possibilities for archives on Twitter are endless.


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.