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Thing 14: Why do academics use social media?

Dr Tseen Khoo, Senior Lecturer in Research Education and Development, La Trobe University

Daniel O’Sullivan, Learning Advisor for Research Literacy, James Cook University, Singapore Dr Amanda Brunton, Researcher Developer, University of Cambridge


Image from George Pagan III on Unsplash

As an academic these days, it’s hard to avoid social media! Whether you choose to engage actively with it or not, it’s good to be informed about what social media can do and consider if it can help you progress your career and research priorities. This blog gets you started with thinking about these issues and navigating the vast amount of information out there about using social media. It’s a fast-changing landscape so take this as insight and advice for now. It is good to engage with this Thing after you’ve read Thing 2: Your Online Presence.


Connecting with like-minded individuals, sharing research and academic experiences, and engaging in meaningful discussions can be pivotal for personal, academic, and professional growth. While conferences, seminars, and academic visits have traditionally served as primary avenues for such interactions, things have changed significantly. The digital age has ushered in a new era where social media becomes a powerful tool for establishing your reputation and expertise, as well as boosting networking and collaborations. These platforms include X (formerly Twitter), discord, Bluesky, Instagram, LinkedIn, and many others.


Many studies have consistently shown that main reasons academics use social media are:

  1. For networking and staying connected to colleagues and collaborators,

  2. To find out the latest news and activities in their field/area of interest, and

  3. To share their research and associated activities.

(See, for example, papers by Chugh, Grose, and Macht 2020 or Jordan 2022)


We unpack each of these elements a bit more below, as well as providing some questions for you to consider for your own research context and priorities.


1. Networking and staying connected to colleagues and collaborators

One of the most exciting and valued aspects of social media is its ability to connect individuals with shared interests across geographical boundaries. Platforms become virtual hubs for academics to congregate, with the potential to form diverse and inclusive communities.


Sharing your research or insights on these platforms can lead to unexpected connections and collaborations.


Top three considerations when networking using social media:


  • Be proactive and engaged - Remember, it’s called social media for a reason! Participate or start conversations, answer questions, share your insight, or follow up on recent conferences or scholarly visits. Social media can be a good way to stay on colleagues’ radars even though you don’t see them for a while.

  • Online doesn’t mean ‘less’ when it comes to the quality of your networks - Connections on social media may well stay only digital for many years and grow into collaborations, partnerships, or friendships. They may shift from online to in-person projects or events, or become cross-mode communities. The possibilities are all there and depend on your willingness to be creative and invested in the space.

  • Think about where you need to be - Give some thought to what kinds of people, groups, or organisations you want to talk to or be known by. Ensure that the social media platform(s) you choose to invest your time in are where these potential connections have an active presence.


POD DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  • Have you had a constructive encounter or collaboration sparked by a social media interaction? Share your stories and insights on how these virtual connections have influenced your academic life so far.

  • What’s been your experience of using Discord for this program so far? What aspects do you find useful, or not? Discuss your experience with the discord environment and what you like - or find challenging - about it.


Image from Adam Jang on Unsplash

2. Find out the latest news and activities in field/area of interest

Because of the immediacy of many social media platforms (particularly the microblogging sites that include X/Twitter, BlueSky, or Threads), they’re excellent sources of information about what’s happening in your research area. The sheer volume of information can be overwhelming, however, so work out what a good balance is for you when it comes to social media use. It’s also worth thinking about which platforms are most commonly used within your field, or for the types of activity you’re interested in. You might find that Biochemists are really into X/Twitter, while Film Theorists are more keen on Instagram, for example. If you’re not sure, try asking colleagues what social media they use and how they use it.


You can choose which people or organisations to follow or ‘Like’ and this brings their updates into your feed - a process often referred to as ‘curating’ the information you receive. This filtered stream of information can be a very efficient way to scan what’s of most interest to you out of all the things that might be happening in your field. It takes time to curate a strong, interesting feed but it is well worth it!


POD DISCUSSION QUESTION:

  • What kind of research news are you most interested in finding? Reflect on what types of ‘news’ are of most value for your research and scholarly activity. Share with others how you deal with the various streams of information you need to stay up to date.

  • How do you manage your time on social media? There’s always too much to take in - discuss how you balance your social media use.


3. Share research and associated activities

Some academics think of participating in social media as having to talk about themselves all the time or ‘showing off’ about their work. Effective users of social media do neither of these things. What can be very helpful when getting started in social media is to think about it as building a community around your work - scholarly and otherwise! You’re passionate and invested in what you do so wouldn’t it be great to bring others with you, too?


The best way to do this is to share insight about what you do, why you do it, and how. This is an excellent way to help others develop an understanding of the value of your work and, when done well, it generates interest and advocacy for your research and respect for you as an expert and professional. Some ways are more useful than others when it comes to sharing your research and associated activities. Here’s an example of what you can share, why it’s valuable to share it, and how to do it well.


What: A new publication.


Why share it: It tells people about your research and the latest work you’ve done, and is an invitation to engage more if they’d like to discuss the topic further with you (or they may want to collaborate, now they know the kind of work you do). It’s an opportunity to signal why your work is important, transformative, or pioneering. The value of sharing it is not just that you have published something (though that is an achievement and your colleagues and mentors will be happy about it!), it’s what that piece of work brings to the world.


How: Do not just post “Here’s my recent paper!” and link to the publication (especially if it’s not open access) - try posting an engaging single sentence that can tell readers what the significance of it was and why they might want to know more. If possible, link them to something that isn’t just a ‘subscriber only’ warning. This is where having a blogpost version of a paper, or a short summary on your website, can be extremely helpful with reaching a broader audience.


POD DISCUSSION QUESTION:

Thinking back over this last week or so, what have you done that you might share on social media? Why would you do so? What types of ‘news’ are of most value for your research area? News can take the form of “big” announcements, like publications, grants or new jobs, but more everyday experiences can be valuable to share and reflect on too. Maybe you have an anecdote from an archive trip, or something unusual that happened in the lab, or maybe you taught a really great seminar that made you think differently about your research, or had a great conversation with a colleague.


The Things about LinkedIn (Thing 19) and networking (Thing 22) can be helpfully read alongside this one.


 

Building an effective presence through social media requires similar elements to how you would establish a reputation for your scholarship in any context - it takes time, you need to consider your strategy and time investment, and it can bring you professional opportunities you’ll enjoy!


Here’s some suggested reading: 





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