Tips for Academics Exploring Social Media

Tips for Academics Exploring Social Media July 24, 2017

Through a combination of trial and error and sheer stubbornness, I’ve learned a bit about navigating social media as an academic. Here are some tips.

Photo by William Iven. From Unsplash; in public domain.
Photo by William Iven. From Unsplash; in public domain.

I’m not the first person to make this observation, but many scholars don’t receive training about social media and building/maintaining a web presence in grad school. Shocking, I know, given the stereotype of the ivory tower as a place of seclusion from the rest of the world and all its trivialities. *eyeroll*

Given that scholars have a lot to navigate in terms of managing our appearance to folks both inside and outside academia, here are my thoughts on how to do so, which I’m guessing will be a bit more specifically tailored to our concerns than the more general advice columns about how to start a Twitter or Instagram account, etc.

Have a website and Twitter account at the very least

I can’t talk about Google searches and SEO type stuff with any level of sophistication, but I do know that when I first encounter someone’s work, I’ll often do a web search to see what they’ve published and where they’ve presented. If they’re a scholar affiliated with an institution, often a departmental homepage will come up… but a personal website and Twitter account can accomplish the same goals. Some folks also like having a Facebook page for their scholarly work, which I have mixed feelings about (even though I do have one).

Hence, I recommend having at least a simple website where you establish who you are, what you research, where you’ve published, and maybe some other relevant things (links to your other web presences, at least one headshot because goodness only knows what Google will pull up, and so on). Here’s mine, by way of example. Learning WordPress isn’t that difficult in my opinion, or you could always pay a web designer to help you out.

I also find using Twitter pretty intuitive, but then, I’m practically a digital native. I’ll talk a bit more about tweeting regularly below.

Write blog posts at least once a month, and tweet at least once a week (ideally once a day) 

Regularity helps build readership… or something. I just made that phrase up. My sense, though, is that just like we remember seeing people we meet at conferences every year, we remember seeing blog posts by the same author. It helps establish a sense of familiarity with someone’s work.

It’s also great academic outreach, especially if you’re researching topics that don’t always receive good journalistic coverage. It can be a valuable form of activism and political resistance, too.

Figure out which topics you want to be associated with, and write/tweet about those

This can include both your research topics, and ideas that you want associated with you as a person. For instance, I’m not a vulnerability and shame researcher the way Dr. Brené Brown is, but in becoming acquainted with her work I’ve started to highlight the connections between my writing projects and vulnerability. I know, it can feel icky and business-y for academics to think too much about how we “brand” ourselves, but it can be a useful endeavor on the internet.

I like the way this freelance academic editor puts it:

I’ll be honest: “networking” and “advertising” still freak me out. I can teach a classroom of students about medieval history, but as soon as I have to talk about my skills or my business, I lose all charisma and shrink into a silent lurker.

The fix to feeling too network-y and self-conscious? Rely on personal connections and focus on what you’re passionate about. If you’re self-conscious about composing a tweet every day, you can remove some of the pressure by responding to the tweets of people you admire or are friends with, and then you’ll get in the habit of composing tweets on those topics.

Learn to put words on the screen that feel genuine to you without agonizing over them the way you would your research

I think this is tough for lifelong academics, since with the pressure to publish and the peer review process we often feel as though our work is going to reflect on us FOREVER or that “this thing I’m writing will define my career” or whatever. And that attitude doesn’t help us get blog posts and tweets out the door.

Here are some strategies I use to compose blog posts and tweets that accurately reflect my research interests and identity without letting them turn into full-blow academic-style writing:

  • Write about conferences (whether live-tweeting them, which I LOVE to do, or writing conference round-ups like this one, or sharing accepted proposals like this one)
  • Write about whatever you’re reading right now; again, it doesn’t have to read like a book review, but you could tweet a favorite quote or structure a brief blog post around a passage that relates to your work (example inspired by a trauma book here)
  • Gather some insights from your field to share with the general public (I write about why compiling research IS research here)
  • Write about your writing process, or research process, or teaching process; I know, it can come across as obnoxiously meta, but I can’t be the only one who’s interested in seeing these reflections from others (example about my research process here)
  • More specifically for Twitter, follow scholars whose work you respect or at least find interesting, and then tweet at them to say hi or respond to certain points they’ve posted; most of us enjoy being engaged like that, keeping in mind the constraints of the medium

As an adjunct, I’m also keenly aware of how academic freedom issues can impact us. You may want to check to see if your institution has a social media use policy you should at least be aware of in case something goes horribly wrong.

***

I think that’s about it. I haven’t figured out Snapchat and I’m only on Instagram once a week, which I mostly use for dance stuff, so it’s not super relevant here. I want to see more academics doing public outreach on the internet, so please share this post and also let me know if you have any questions, about this stuff or topics you’d like to see covered (this applies whether you’re an academic doing this type of thing or looking to branch out into it, as well as if you’re not an academic but have thoughts or inquiries about the ivory tower).

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