Twitter Sprezzatura

Deconstructing approaches to Social Media is similar in character to explaining why a joke is funny. It’s a form of analysis that sucks the life out of an activity which is more ‘art’ than ‘science’, something which is performative not administrative. Personally I don’t know why any Social Media policy should say more than ‘Be a person not an institution’ and ‘Don’t Tweet/post after you have been to the pub’. However, whether formalised or not, it would be dishonest to pretend we don’t have Social Media strategies. Not unlike stand-up comedy a guiding principle where the professional and Social Media converge is to appear to be speaking as if the thoughts had just occurred to you. The Not-Quite-Real-Time nature of most Social Media gives us all the chance to look clever/witty. Thanks to @nosnilwar my new favourite word is Sprezzatura, an approach/characteristic which all of the people I know who are a great ‘success’ in Social Media share. If you look like you are trying you are doing it wrong…


CC- Darkroom Productions

Sara Tindall ran our Social Media activities during the Maths in the City project, this included running the @mathsinthecity Twitter feed. As part of reflecting on the project I asked Sara to muse on her Tweeting and give a few examples. We hope this mini-qualitative review of our Social Media activity will be of interest to those of you embarking on project-based or representing-an-institution style Tweeting and that we haven’t spoilt the childlike magic of Social Media too much. 🙂   David White (Creative Director for Maths in The City)


My most popular tweet

My most popular tweet hit the bullseye as far as pure mathematicians were concerned. It got retweeted 205 times. The tweet was about a cartoon, which was originally tweeted by Tim Harford. I repurposed his tweet to make it about maths. Whereas Tim was retweeted 22 times, my tweet was retweeted 205 times. Despite having fewer followers (2k+ to his 50k+), my tweet had the further reach because I am funnier than Tim. I have a bunch of followers who could really relate to the cartoon.

An example of banter

A tweet starts as a maths challenge and ends up making an appalling play on (French) wordsChristian Perfect regularly communicates with me on Twitter, so I am able to be more direct in my humour with him. When Colin Beveridge joined the conversation, the ever-versatile emoticon helped to show I wasn’t trying to be confrontational.

An example of interaction/conversation

I started following The Quadratic Girl simply because her self-description is a clever pun using maths. She occasionally tweets about maths. When she tweeted “I will take a photo of all my maths books <3”, this is how I responded. This resulted in a nice geek out over books. Making these sorts of connections is the point of social media – people just want to have fun.

Interactions with project participants

The core activity of Maths in the City is mathematical walking tours of London and Oxford. People who have been on/are about to go on these tours get in touch via Twitter from time to time. Usually it’s to say thank you, although sometimes they want to make sure that the weather won’t stop the tour. There was one time where a tour participant got lost. In the end he couldn’t find the group but he was able to follow the tour using materials downloaded from our website.

It’s a great feeling when I see people connecting with the project both online and face to face because it tells me we must be communicating something that people want to hear.

Examples of how Twitter supported the face to face part of our project

Our mathematical walking tours got fully booked within around 48 hours of announcing them on Twitter. Here are some of the ways tour dates were announced:

And here is an example of how I used Twitter to fill tour spaces that have become free due to cancellation. This was tweeted two days before the tour date and the places were filled within a couple of hours.

An example of how to keep your Twitter feed relevant

Tweeting outside of office hours and commenting on national events are a good way to look human. Here’s one from the Olympics. Everybody likes a little joke at the expense of the Australians…

And now for something purely self-serving…

I took Maths Dave on holiday with me and shared this snap on Facebook. That’s right, you’re looking at the space shuttle Discovery, in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA. Oh yeah.


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