A Beginner’s Guide to #EconTwitter

My #1 advice to new economists is to get on twitter and plug into the #EconTwitter community. This document is a guide on how to do that. It’s a bit geared towards academics, since that’s what I know best, but #EconTwitter is a lot more than academics and I’ve tried to write so it’s useful to people outside academia too.

Update: Confusingly, there are now two EconTwitter’s to choose from. This article is geared towards the original EconTwitter, which lives on twitter.com. Let’s call this EconTwitter 1.0. Spurred on by some longstanding dissatisfaction with Twitter and galvanized by Elon Musk’s October 2022 takeover of twitter, many economists have migrated to an alternative open source platform called Mastodon. As a joke, this new offshoot also calls itself EconTwitter, but for clarity here, I’ll call it EconTwitter 2.0.

Things are changing fast, so this guide will probably be revised again within the year. EconTwitter 2.0 is growing much faster than EconTwitter 1.0 at the moment, but it may yet run out of steam. Both communities have many of the same norms described below, but also differ in interesting ways. I advise checking out both.

For some guides about getting started on EconTwitter 2.0, the simplest possible guide is here:

Also check out A Mastodon Crash Course for the Impatient Economist by Olivier Simard-Casanova.

Now on to the guide to EconTwitter 1.0.

What’s #EconTwitter?

Literally? Twitter is a website that lets users broadcast 280 characters of text to other users. These are called tweets, and they can also include photos and stuff. You can “follow” other users so that you automatically see their tweets. #EconTwitter is a subnetwork of twitter users who tend to be economists (academic, professional, aspiring), who tweet about economics, and who follow each other.

Metaphorically? Twitter is the hallway of a global economics department. Conversations break out spontaneously in the hall, you overhear it, and go over to listen or join. People post job and seminar announcements up on department corkboard. But it’s a lot more than academia, so maybe a better metaphor is a pub or coffeeshop where users hang out to talk about whatever interests them; but it’s a pub where there’s always an open chair for you.

If you want a concrete idea of what goes on in a typical week on #EconTwitter, I can’t recommend enough the free weekly email newsletter Best of EconTwitter, which curates, well, the best of #EconTwitter.

Why join #EconTwitter?

You’ll learn a ton. It’s a forum people use to share interesting research (their own and others), job notices, grant opportunities, calls for papers, conferences, and other opportunities. It’s a place people rigorously discuss methodological questions. It’s a place for experts to talk about current events. And it’s a place where the hidden curriculum of economics — the advice about how to thrive, not usually disseminated in articles — is freely discussed.

You can publicize your own work. It’s common for #EconTwitter people to announce publication of their papers and write short summaries. When other users find your work interesting, it gets “retweeted” (re-broadcast to the followers of your followers), expanding awareness of your work to an audience who might otherwise never encounter it.

You’ll be part of a community. Being an economist has its own set of unique frustrations, whether those relate to grad school, research, publishing, teaching, the academic hierarchy, public sector employment, private sector employment, outright discrimination; you name it. #EconTwitter if full of people who know what it’s like, who are friendly, and who support each other. And there’s nothing stopping connections that start on #EconTwitter from moving into the real world. The conference circuit, to take one example, is a great place to meet up in real life. You might even find a collaborator!

Why is there a “#”?

Twitter lets you attach keywords to your tweets by putting a hashtag (#) in front of them. In theory, you can find tweets about #EconTwitter by searching for it in twitter. It doesn’t actually work that well (people don’t usually attach the #EconTwitter keyword). But don’t worry, you’ve got this guide!

Setting up a Twitter Profile

Joining twitter is like joining any other social media website. It’s free.

One of your first choices is your choice of handle and name. Like an email address, your handle (or username) is unique to you. It’s preceded by an “@” sign. Mine is @mattsclancy. It’s public so choose one that you don’t mind associating with your professional identity. Your name is not unique and can be anything. Mine is just my real name: “Matt Clancy.” You can change your name with little consequence (and people sometimes do for whimsical reasons).

The norm on #EconTwitter is to use your real name, since you are usually intending to link the account to your professional identity as an economist. There are exceptions (@pseudoerasmus being the most prominent example to my mind), but they’re rare.

Next, pick a picture you like for your profile. Again, the norm is to use a real picture of yourself, but not nearly as universal as the norm of using your real name. Your picture will be small and attached to every tweet you make, so if you do your whole body, it will be hard to see your face.

You also have space to write a little bit about yourself and to link to a website. This is the main way people who don’t know you are going to find out about you, so tell them what you want them to know as succinctly as possible. Most people aren’t going to scroll through your tweets to learn who you are. Some archetypal examples:

“Economist studying [topic]. Asst. prof at [short name for university]. [one other thing]”

“[Country] treasury economist. Tweets about [list of areas of particular interest/expertise]”

“PhD Econ student at [university]. [Areas of interest]. [One more thing]”

“Researcher at [company]. [non-professional identity (e.g., “Dad”)]. [topics]”

Following People

Once you set up your account, the one thing that will most impact your twitter experience is who you follow. When you sign into twitter, three kinds of content will form the bulk of what you see:

  1. The tweets of people you follow. This is the majority of the content you’ll see, so who you follow will significantly shape your perception of the site.
  2. Tweets of people you do not follow, but which have been retweeted by people you do follow.
  3. Tweets the twitter algorithm thinks you would like.

Getting Started

When you first join, twitter is going to recommend a bunch of popular people to follow after it asks you some general questions. You do you, but my advice is to ignore all of twitter’s suggestions for now. #EconTwitter is an unusually warm and welcoming part of twitter; the rest of the site is… not. It’s frequently called “this hell site” by its own users. Better to avoid all the toxicity and drama until you find your feet. Start with #EconTwitter.

You might think you should just follow economists you’ve heard of who happen to be on twitter. Your Paul Krugman’s, Ben Bernanke’s, the top people in your field, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you may be surprised that this won’t get you very far into the #EconTwitter community. One of the most interesting things about #EconTwitter is that to the extent it has a hierarchy, it’s a hierarchy with very low correlation with the traditional econ hierarchy. The people everyone follows aren’t necessarily the same people that are on the short list for this year’s Nobel.

Who should you follow? This was asked in 2019 on #EconTwitter, so I stole the list of recommendations (which I definitely endorse) and made a public list. You can access it by clicking here, or by searching for @mattsclancy, accessing my profile, and then go to my lists. Click on the #EconTwitter Starter Set list to see a good group of people to get you started. This is very much a non-exhaustive list, but I don’t want to get into the game of picking and choosing who belongs on it, so I’m just going to leave it as it (unless anyone wants off). There is no easy way to “add all” with twitter, so you’ll have to follow each person by hovering over their name and clicking follow. I’ve also listed everyone on the list at the bottom of this post, in case the list ever goes down.

Naturally, you should also follow anyone you know in real life if they’re on twitter and you want to get in touch.

Some Additional Lists

  • RePEc maintains many lists of twitter users who are also on RePEc, broken down by country, field, institution type, and other. Click on the “More Twitter Listings” button on this page to see these lists.
  • James Tierney (@James_Tierney) maintains lists of economics educators and high school economics instructors.
  • Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman (@itsafronomics)’s list #NextGenEcon is a list of “The next generation of economics, policy, and biz that you should be following”
  • The @WelcomeEcon twitter account is an account I set up with the sole function of broadcasting tweets new users compose introducing themselves to the #EconTwitter community (see below). It follows everyone it retweets, so the users it follows is also a list of who is new on twitter. At the same time, everyone who follows the account is also someone who is interested enough in #EconTwitter that they want to hear who is new (or they’re a bot; it happens).

After You’re Set Up

Once you have a community started, the main way you’ll learn about new people is:

  1. Retweets from people you follow
  2. Replies to your tweets and the tweets of people you follow

Whenever you run across someone who seems interesting, follow them. You can unfollow at any time, so if someone is annoying you with tweets that aggravate you, just unfollow. They can figure out that you unfollowed if they notice your profile no longer says “following you” or if they see you are missing from their list of followers, but twitter won’t give them any kind of specific notification that you have unfollowed them.

Finally, twitter at it’s best is a serendipity machine that lets you encounter ideas you wouldn’t normally see. The best kinds of innovation are frequently born from seeing a connection between previously unrelated ideas. So follow widely, outside your field and indeed, outside economics, so long as the people you follow enhance rather than detract from your twitter experience.

Getting Followers

You can get plenty out of #EconTwitter just by following other people. You don’t have to interact. But if you want to participate in the discussions or toss your own thoughts out there, you’ll probably want some followers — otherwise, you’re just talking into a void.

What follows is some common ways to get followers. It’s worth knowing about them, but to be honest, I wouldn’t recommend being too calculating or strategic about using this information. People can usually tell when you’re only doing something to get a follower; best to be genuine! Still, on the margin…

The first thing you can do is send out an introductory tweet. Something like “Hello! I’m an economist working on [topic] at [org], excited to join #EconTwitter!” If you have some followers already, they might retweet you to their own followers, essentially introducing you to the community.

I have also set up a dedicated twitter account (@WelcomeEcon) whose sole function is to retweet people who are introducing themselves to the #EconTwitter community for the first time. To take advantage of it, just tack an @WelcomeEcon to the end of your first tweet, or reply to your own tweet with @WelcomeEcon. That will notify me about the tweet’s existence next time I check the @WelcomeEcon account, and at that point I will make sure the account retweets your first tweet. This will broadcast your introduction to everyone who follows the @WelcomeEcon account, and this is a group self-selected to be interested in seeing who is new on #EconTwitter. The @WelcomeEcon account will also follow you at that point. (Note, it just retweets your first tweet, introducing yourself to the community, and not any followup messages you would like to broadcast.)

After your first tweet, one way to get followers is simply to follow other people. Anytime someone follows me on twitter, I get a little notification. A new follow is interesting, so I’ll usually click over to see who they are. If they seem interesting, I’ll follow them back. I can always unfollow in the future if they turn out to be annoying (almost never happens). This is one reason it’s important to be clear about who you are in your profile, since that’s how people will learn who you are and decide if they want to follow back.

I also get notifications whenever someone “likes” one of my tweets or replies to it, so I’ll usually check out who is responding and follow if they seem interesting.

This strategy won’t necessarily work of course. Some people have set up twitter to give them limited notifications (more on that below). Some people don’t have the time (or inclination) to look into who is liking or following them, especially if they are a big account that gets a lot of notifications. Some people don’t use twitter much. So don’t be offended if no one follows you back. It’s not personal!

After you get set up, the main way to get followers is to tweet interesting stuff. If your tweet gets retweeted by people who follow you, your tweet is exposed to a new audience of potential followers.

Another avenue is to reply to other people’s tweets. Your reply is viewable by other people reading the conversation. For example, suppose I tweet out a link to my latest publication. You and I follow each other, so you see my tweet. You reply to it (see how below) “Cool article. I’ve been thinking about this topic too.”

Anyone who follows me also sees my original tweet. They’ll also see a notification that there are replies to my tweet. If they click on my tweet, they will see all the replies, including yours. And maybe they are also interested in the same topic, so they decide to follow you.

Finally, if applicable, you can get yourself added to the RePEc lists of twitter users. Follow the instructions when you click “How to get listed” on this page.

How to Tweet

There are four main types of tweet.

  1. The most common is a standard text tweet. You have 280 characters of text. Twitter uses a URL shortener that reduces the number of characters in any URL to 23 characters. You can add up to 4 pictures to a tweet, or 1 gif.
  2. If you want to make a larger point, you can thread several tweets together. When you do this, your followers will typically see the first tweet in your thread, along with an indicator that there are more tweets in the thread. If they click on the first tweet, the thread is expanded and they see all your tweets in sequence. It’s kind of like reading a post sentence by sentence. Works surprisingly well!
    There are two ways to make threads. One option is to hit the little “plus” button in the corner when you compose your first tweet. You can do this as much as you like, drafting all the tweets in your thread at once and editing them before you hit “tweet all.” Alternatively, you can just compose your thread on the fly by hitting “reply” to the latest tweet in your thread. If you do this, followers will see each of your tweets as they come, instead of just the first tweet with an indicator that there is a thread below. But when you thread by replying to your own tweets, you can’t go back and edit the earlier tweets in the thread.
  3. If you like what someone else said and want to share it with your own followers, you can retweet it by hitting the retweet button under the tweet. When you do this, you’ll have the choice to simply retweet or to quote retweet. If you simply retweet, your followers will see the tweet in its original state, with an indicator that it was retweeted by you. If you quote retweet, your followers will see the original tweet in a little box, embedded in your own tweet, where you have the standard 280 characters to make a comment on it.
  4. You can also reply to other people’s tweets. Just click on the “reply” icon under the tweet. You’ll have the usual 280 characters to respond. Twitter will notify the person whose tweet you are replying to that you have replied, but it will also notify anyone “tagged” in that tweet. The etiquette of this is discussed a bit in the “best practices” section. In general, your followers will not see your reply unless they also follow the tweet you are replying to (but if they are really curious, they can find them by going to your profile and looking at your “tweets and replies”). People who follow the tweet you are replying to will not see your reply either, unless they choose to read the replies to that tweet (which is common).

There’s also an option to conduct a poll with your tweet. This lets you ask your followers a multiple-choice question with up to 4 answers. Respondents have between 5 minutes and 7 days to respond (your choice, but default is 24 hours). After that interval the results of the poll are visible to all, but individual responses are anonymous (except you can infer they come from the population of people who see your tweet).

You can also schedule your tweets. This can be useful if you think you have something to share that a lot of people will want to hear — maybe a new paper, or just a new idea — but most of your followers are not active at the moment. For example, if most of your followers are based in the USA and it’s the middle of the night, you might decide to write the tweet before you forget it, but schedule it to go out during waking hours.

It’s important to realize that twitter does not allow you to edit your tweets after they are posted. This can be really annoying if you make a typo on a tweet that becomes really popular, but it’s designed to prevent various abuses. Twitter (not #EconTwitter) is full of trolls who would likely abuse the ability to edit tweets, for example, by changing a benign message to an abusive one. Everyone who retweeted or liked the tweet would then be seen to be liking or retweeting an abusive message. If you really want to rephrase your tweet, you can always delete it and try again.

Lastly, it’s also possible to “like” tweets. Socially, this has roughly the same function as liking on any other social media. As noted above, users will usually be alerted that you like their tweet.

What to Tweet

Whatever you want! If you want to get an idea of what kinds of things people tweet on #EconTwitter, check out what the tweets from people in the #EconTwitter Starter Set.

Best Practices

Adhering to a couple best practices will also make your experience and the experience of everyone else better.

Tone

Probably the most important thing to realize is that #EconTwitter is not Econ Job Market Rumors (EJMR). It’s much friendlier and supportive. The community is quite diverse and everything you say is publicly viewable. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t punch down. Think carefully about how you phrase critical comments and tweets that can be misinterpreted. Bigoted comments will be called out.

Two things differentiate #EconTwitter from EJMR. First, everyone knows who you are. Yes, you can use a pseudonym, but it’s hard to get many followers that way. Anonymous trolls don’t get much traction. Second, everyone on twitter curates their own feed by choosing their followers. If they don’t like what you’re putting out, they can un-follow, mute, or block you (see below). Nobody has to follow anyone.

Pinned Tweets

Twitter lets you choose one of your tweets to be a pinned tweet. This tweet is always displayed at the top of your list of tweets, so it is a useful supplement to your profile. It can tell people about whatever it is you most want them to know about. It can also be a way to get traction on a tweet that didn’t get much attention the first time around, since everyone who checks out your profile will likely see the tweet. In academia, announcements of a recent publication are a popular kind of pinned tweet. To pin a tweet, click on the little icon at the top-right corner of your tweet.

Direct Messages

Twitter also lets you communicate privately with other users via direct messages (DMs). Normally you can only send direct messages to users who have followed you, though it’s possible to enable the ability to receive DMs from anyone (under settings; “privacy and safey”; receive direct messages from anyone). If you really want to talk privately with someone who isn’t following you, you can tag them in a tweet that requests they follow you.

Quote Tweeting vs. Replies

Retweeting with a comment (also called quote tweeting) and replying are both ways of responding to a tweet, but there are norms about how to use them. Quote tweeting posts your comment to all your followers, but not the followers of the person you are retweeting. Replying does not post your comment to your followers (unless they also follow the tweet you are responding to). This makes it tempting to respond with quote tweets by default. But actually, quote tweeting as a default is considered kind of rude.

There are a few reasons. First, it’s much harder to follow a conversation where everyone responds by quote tweeting. Replying keeps the conversation in one relatively easy-to-navigate place, while quote tweeting splinters it into many separate tweets that are hard to follow. Also, your quote tweet is posted to your followers, but not to the followers of the original tweet (unless they also follow you). So they can’t easily respond to you, and you end up hijacking the conversation.

Often this is perfectly appropriate. If you are not really looking to engage with the existing conversation and just want to make a quick comment, then quote retweeting is great. But if your goal is to actually have a conversation with people interested in the first tweet, replies are best. If you really want to bring your own followers into the conversation, you can reply and then retweet your own reply.

Tagging etiquette

When you “tag” someone in your tweet, that person will receive a notification that they have been tagged. You can tag someone by adding their username to your tweet (for example, I suggested new users introduce themselves and tag me by adding @mattsclancy so I would see the tweet and retweet it). These kinds of tags count towards your 280 character limit.

However, when you reply to a tweet, your reply automatically tags the person who posted the original tweet, and anyone tagged in that tweet. These tags do not count towards your 280 character limit.

Tagging creates two issues. First, if you are talking about someone else’s work, should you tag them? I don’t think there is unanimity of opinion on this, but my view is that when you are saying something nice about someone, it’s probably slightly better to tag them. Compliments about academic work tend to be rarer than criticisms (even friendly criticisms), so people appreciate hearing good things about their work. The issue is much stickier when you are being critical. Some people don’t like to be notified by twitter that someone out there on the internet is criticizing them. Others think being critical without tagging is tantamount to talking about someone behind their back. I don’t know what’s best here, but be aware of the issue.

The second issue with tagging is that when you are replying to tweets in a conversation, sometimes people will be automatically tagged who aren’t interested. For example, suppose economist A tweets a new article evaluating some health policy intervention. Economist B replies to the tweet saying they wished this article had used a DAG (directed acyclic graph) approach. Economist C responds to B’s comment asking where they can learn more about DAGs. Economist D responds to C with a list of textbooks. Economist E jumps in with some comments on which of these textbooks is their favorite. And so on. The thing with replies is that economist B’s reply tags A; C’s reply tags A and B; D’s reply tags A, B, and C; and E’s reply tags A, B, C, and D. If a long conversation then breaks out between D and E, every one of their back-and-forth will also tag A, B, and C. This can get annoying, especially if A doesn’t even care about DAGs.

To avoid this problem, you can untag people. When you are jumping into a conversation based on replies to a tweet, it can be a good idea to take a look at who is tagged and to untag anyone who doesn’t seem particularly engaged in your corner of the conversation.

Blocking and Muting

As noted above, if another user irritates you, there are a hierarchy of responses.

Suppose @troll is bothering @economist. First, @economist can unfollow @troll. They’ll no longer see @troll’s posts, but this does nothing to dissuade @troll from bothering @economist if they are persistent. @troll can still see all of @economist’s posts, and can reply and tag @economist, which brings up a notification for @economist each time.

The next step up the chain is to mute @troll. This blocks all communication from @troll to @economist. @economist will no longer see @troll’s tweets, even when @troll tags @economist or replies to their tweets. And @troll is not told they’ve been muted, though there are third-party apps they can use to figure this out.

The problem with muting is that a particularly nasty troll can still pollute your threads for other followers. By muting a troll, you don’t see what they’re doing, but all your followers do and @troll can still interact with them. This is why many people prefer to block irritating users. Blocking a person means they can no longer see your tweets, and therefore cannot reply to them either. This means your followers do not see @troll either, unless they follow @troll.

That said, really nasty trolls command followers that they can ask to harass you on their behalf. It can be exhausting to individually block all these followers, and twitter doesn’t have great tools yet for dealing with this.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t had to deal with any kind of harassment: I’m not that popular on twitter, I’m not part of a demographic that people are bigoted against, and the stuff I study isn’t too controversial. But those who do have to deal with twitter harassment seem to recommend a policy of fast and easy blocking to keep the experience positive. Basically, it’s fine to block for the slightest infraction: e.g., a single rude comment. There are also lists of twitter users who are known trolls, and some people will just automatically block everyone who appears on these lists. You can always unblock later if you’ve made a mistake (this usually happens via an intermediary — the blocked party asks another user to ask you to unblock them).

Finally, one last trick: if you want someone to stop following you, you can block and then immediately unblock them. This drops them from your follower list (and does not alert them to this fact), though they can re-follow you if they want.

Fencing Off Your Account

Just as there are a hierarchy of ways to deal with unpleasant users, there is a hierarchy of privacy settings on twitter.

At the lowest, default level, anyone on the site can see and interact with your tweets. Note, however, that unless they follow you, or you are retweeted by someone they follow you, your tweets won’t typically show up on their timeline.

At a step up from that, you can control who is able to interact with your tweets by clicking on the default text “everyone can reply” when composing a tweet. This will open a set of options that increasingly restrict who is allowed to respond to that particular tweet:

  • Everyone can reply: this is the default and allows anyone on twitter to reply to the tweet
  • People you follow: this will lock your tweet so that only people you follow can reply to the tweet.
  • Only people you mention: this will lock your tweet so that only people mentioned directly in the tweet itself (see tagging below) can reply.

Note that in all of the above options, the tweet will still be visible to everyone on twitter, and that everyone on twitter can retweet you, including retweeting and adding their own comments. You will be notified that you’ve been retweeted, but you won’t see any replies to quote retweets (unless you go looking for them).

More broadly, you can also limit your notifications in a similar fashion. By default, you are notified anytime someone likes your tweets, replies to you, retweets you, or follows you (though twitter has some kind of algorithm designed to weed out notifications from bots and other “low quality” interactions). But you can also selectively mute notifications. For example, you can mute all notifications from twitter users who have not supplied a phone number or email address, have not supplied a custom image, or have very new accounts, all of which filters out some kinds of anonymous troll accounts. You can also restrict notifications from people who follow you or who you follow. To change your default notifications, go to “settings and privacy”, then “notifications”, then “filter notifications”, then “muted notifications.”

Note again, this doesn’t prevent others from viewing or interacting with you. But since twitter won’t alert you to their attempts to interact, you won’t know it’s happening and presumably won’t feel bothered by it.

But if you also want to prevent unwanted people from seeing or attempting to interact with you in any way, as a last step, you can lock your account. If you lock your account, people will need your permission to follow you, and if they don’t get that permission, they will not be able to see your tweets at all (or interact with you in any way). An important caveat is that if you lock your account after it’s been public, everyone who has previously followed you (while your account was public) will still be following you after your account is locked. Thus, if you start to have problems with new followers, taking your account private (by locking it) won’t exclude those new followers who are causing problems, though it will prevent new people from following you. To eject those troublesome new followers, you’ll want to use blocking tools instead (described above). To lock your account, go to “settings and privacy”, then “your account”, then “account information.” At this point, you’ll need to re-enter your twitter password. Then, click on “protected tweets” and check the box to protect your tweets.

Focus?

To close, Gray Kimbrough (@graykimbrough) had this advice: “My biggest suggestion is to spend some time thinking about what you want your contribution to be. Many people here feel like they need to comment on every issue and event. Focusing on areas where you have value to add (your area of research? Baking?) is helpful, in my opinion.”

I think that advice is particularly useful for someone new to twitter. When you don’t know anyone, focusing on a particular area can help potential new followers figure out who you are and give them a reason to follow you, especially if the “one thing” is your strong suit. Speaking for myself, I get way more interest in my tweets on the economics of innovation (my area) than my attempts at jokes (even when I think they’re quite good).

Some people go as far as to set up separate twitter accounts that each focus on different topics (e.g., professional and personal, economics and politics). On the other hand, as Gray notes plenty (plenty) of people don’t follow anything like this kind of rule and it works for them.

Additional Resources

Justin Wolfers (@JustinWolfers) made a presentation about using twitter as an economist back in 2015.

Sarah Jacobson (@SarahJacobsonEc) has written a similar guide to using twitter professionally. See pages 21–24. An updated set of slides available here.

Anne Burton (@anne_m_burton) gives a grad student perspective in these slides.

The End

Hope you found this helpful! If you have any suggestions, questions or comments, you can email me. Better yet, contact me on twitter!

This has been edited on August 5, 2021. For the original 2019 version, see http://matt-clancy.com/a-beginners-guide-to-econtwitter-preliminary-version/

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