|Image from pandodaily.com|
I started by talking about the pros and cons of social media use for academics. I would summarise the main arguments for academic social media use into three categories
- It supports and enriches traditional academic activities, from paper writing and promoting, to academic networking or finding conferences and events
- It is a way to help your work reach new audiences whether they are policy-makers, practitioners, members of the public or simply people outside of your immediate field, and increasingly it can help to open up data sets and other parts of the research process
- Social media capabilities and a strong online presence may increasingly become a necessity for academics, especially as old publishing models struggle or are superseded
As an aside for early career researchers in particular, I have found that social media use and blogging can be a useful way of bridging the awkward first few years of any academic career where you have little or no publications but still want to share your work and ideas with others. It has also helped me to keep abridge of developments in the universities sector as a whole and the politics of particular departments in a way that did not used to be possible for early career academics. And finally it has been a great way of connecting to other PhD students and benefiting from peer support networks when dealing with difficulties in my PhD.
Potential pitfalls of social media use for academics include:
- Issues with data privacy and (over)disclosure
- Time management and procrastination
- Effort and resources needed to maintain social media platforms
- The risk of experiencing bullying and abuse online
- A lack of support and recognition for time spent engaging with social media
- Buying into a broader political economy of knowledge production and transmission which requires you to give vast amounts of data over to private companies.
To help the participants in my course to come up with their own personal social media strategies, I used the social media honeycomb from this paper by Kietzmann et al which is actually aimed at businesses rather than academics. What I think is good about the honeycomb is that it highlights the different decisions you need to make when planning a social media strategy. For example, the extent to which you want to give details about your self and your personality, whether you just want an accessible online presence or whether it is important to be able to share and receive information or have conversations with other users. I also suggested a further set of dimensions which academics might like to add to this honeycomb, including: how much you want to link your social media use to your specific subject area; whether you only want to share information and talk about your specific research project or issues of broader relevance; to what extent you might also want to reflect on academic life and practice; and how much information you want to give about different parts of the research project you are doing. Asking yourself such questions can help you to work out which social media platforms are the best for you, and can also help you develop your own distinctive voice and approach.
To help the participants think through what they wanted to get out of their social media strategies I suggested a few academics who I think have very successful but also very different strategies, including Alice Bell, Stuart Elden, Jennifer Rohn, Jon Tennant and Deborah Lupton. I also should have included masters student Simon Cook in this list, who published a fantastic blog post on his experiments with social media on the morning I gave the class.
Some of the participants in my course were disappointed that I didn't give any more concrete advice on developing a social media strategy. This is partly because I was trying to make the point that there is no formula for using social media as an academic - it depends on your subject area, your personal skills and resources, and what you want to get out of your social media use. But it is also because it was the first time I had run the course and I didn't know exactly what people would be hoping to get out of it. So if I was pressed to give guidance on developing a social media for early career researchers, this is what I would say:
- Try to find other people in your field who are using social media - this will show you which social media platforms are mostly commonly used by the people you want to interact with, and once an initial connection has been made it will be a quick way of finding other relevant friends, contacts, followers, etc. to become part of your network
- Set up a google scholar profile. This is a basic page where you can add your papers and track citations and is an easy profile holder for people trying to find you online
- Give twitter a go. In my opinion this is the most versatile social media platform so can be good for trying different strategies out and will allow you to connect with others very quickly. In my experience this is a good way of finding out what other social media platforms might be useful for your work and finding other researchers whose social media strategy you want to emulate
- Set up one profile page on a specialist academic social media platform - Academia.edu and Researchgate are the most popular. This allows you to upload details about your publications, talks, slides and blog posts as well as giving basic information about your institution and previous work. I have also found this can be a good way of connecting with more established academics who are less likely to use sites like twitter.
- Learn from other users, and constantly think about what this means for your own strategy - can you emulate how that researcher promoted her blog post through twitter and got lots of feedback from other researchers? Can you use pinterest in a similar way to a researcher in a related field, or can you transfer his strategy to a similar platform such as scoop.it or bundlr?
- Remember what it is that you were hoping to get out of social media use. You aims and motivations are likely to change as you discover more about the platforms you are using and interact more with other users, but reflecting on your aims can help you stop wasting time maintaining a sparse and unpopular Flickr account when what you actually wanted to use social media for was connecting with other researchers in your field, or getting feedback on the work you have been doing on your literature review.
Any comments or feedback on this material would be greatly received. I'll hopefully be running the course again, so will be working on improving it in the meantime.