A Twitter page is displayed on a laptop computer in Los Angeles
Personal exchanges on Twitter are found to endear professors to students and raise their credibility. REUTERS

Academicians, of late, have taken in a big way to social media, and Twitter, in particular, as a means of reaching out to students and stakeholders. Expectedly, it's not just how readily and frequently they tweet, but also what they tweet that is important.

Surprisingly, however, a recent novel experiment conducted by an assistant professor in communications at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania found that personal tweets on the social media platform raise the credibility of professors in the eyes of students.

Kirsten A. Johnson devised an experiment targeted at 120 students of her college, as part of which researchers created three accounts on Twitter for three fictional professors. One of these was regularly updated with personal matter-of-fact tweets such as ones that talked about what the professors did during the day or their extra-academic pursuits; a second one carried scholarly tweets, while a third was a combination of both personal and academic tweets.

A survey among students who followed all three found that the professor who tweeted mostly about regular personal activities or preferences enjoyed the highest rating on parameters such as competence, trustworthiness and caring for students - which sum up to an overall increased credibility among students.

The Chronicle of Higher Education quotes Ms. Johnson as saying that students, especially at the undergraduate level, want to connect with their professors on matters beyond the purely academic. However, the report also draws attention to the interesting finding that while students perceive professors who go beyond scholarly tweets as more credible and caring, they also want to keep such exchanges at a superficial level - such as sharing how the day went or how the teacher felt about a movie he watched.

Social-networking savvy and pragmatic professors, however, seem to know where to draw the line. For as one professor from Colorado State University, who regularly shares work-related/teaching-related/personal information on social networks comments, If I would not want my mother to see it, I don't put it out. At 55 and tenured, it is still a good rule to follow.