Connecting with the Community: Mark Carrigan on how academics can effectively use social media

By Catherine Slinn, Group Marketing Manager, SAGE Publishing

Catherine Slinn

In recent years there has been much debate in academia about whether academics should use social media to increase the visibility, and ultimately the impact, of their research. As Mark Carrigan, author of Social Media for Academics outlines: “Social media is an increasingly important part of academic life that can be a fantastic medium for promoting your work, networking with colleagues and for demonstrating impact.”

Whilst social media is a great way to engage with new audiences, promote research and connect with a community of people with similar research interests in a whole new digital and instantaneous way, many drawbacks remain: how can you effectively manage your time, create the right persona and reach the right audience?

SAGE Publishing is dedicated to ensuring that we are engaging with the key debates in research and scholarship that are currently affecting the scholarly community. As our research landscape continues to change, is it paramount that we, as a community, are harnessing the latest research techniques, methods of dissemination and engagement.  SAGE is very proud to play an active part in these changes and debates, a role we have played since our founding in 1965 supporting new emerging research fields. Social media and its associated impact, has become one of the key buzzwords of recent times and authors such as Mark are carving the way in the field by researching its associated challenges and opportunities for impact.

So how can you harness social media to support the impact, dissemination and engagement with your work? We spoke with Mark to find out.

Q.Mark Carrigan Have you got any advice for academics who fear that they don’t have the time to dedicate to social media? 

Social media can actually save you time. It probably won’t but being aware of this possibility helps frame how you see your own potential use of social media. It’s not simply a drain on time, something pulls you away from scholarship in a zero-sum way. Crucially, much of what academics do online is scholarly: discussing ideas, recommending papers, clarifying their own views. It shouldn’t be a matter of setting aside a chunk of time in which you plan to devote yourself to social media. It’s better to slowly experiment, finding out what works for you and how it fits into your working life.

Q. What are your top tips on building engagement and a successful social media following?

The most important thing is to engage regularly. Many more academics are using social media now and that’s a good thing. It means there’s a much wider potential audience to communicate with but it also creates the challenge of being ‘heard above the din’, as the Sociologist David Beer puts it. Engaging regularly also entails being realistic about how much time and energy you can devote to this. It’s better to be a fairly understated user of social media on a regular basis than it is to start in a  blaze of glory before rapidly becoming distracted and leaving your digital presence unattended to.

Q.What should be kept in mind when using social media as an academic forum?

Calibrate your expectations. Don’t see it as something likely to transform your working life, but also try and be open to the possibilities that emerge from it. It’s easy to see social media for academics as something radically new, somehow cut off from the rest of day-to-day life in the academy. In reality though, much of what academics do using social media is just an extension of existing activities that are familiar: connecting with others in your field, sharing ideas and literature, engaging with groups beyond the academy and promoting your work. There are certainly distinct issues raised when using social media in this way but the purposes they’re being used for are not in themselves new.

Q. If you had to pick the one most influential social media outlet what would it be and why?

The group of blogs run by the Public Policy Group at the London School of Economics. When I worked there in 2012, editing the British Politics and Policy blog, the group as a whole were defining the landscape of academic blogging internationally. Since then their influence has only continued to grow. Not just in terms of the visibility they offer to authors who publish there, but also the degree to which they’ve shaped developing norms and expectations about what properly academic blog posts should look like. Plus the manner in which they organise themselves means that an article submitted to one blog will likely find itself distributed on other blogs within the group, as well as pushed out through the full range of their social media channels. It’s a great place to publish and shows how social media for academics can develop when institutions are supportive of this activity.


Mark Carrigan, author of Social Media for Academics, is a digital sociologist and consultant. Assistant editor of Big Data & Society, publishing by SAGE, Mark is also a research fellow at the Centre for Social Ontology at the University of Warwick and digital fellow at The Sociological Review. In addition, he convenes the Independent Social Research Foundation’s Digital Social Science Forum and edits the Sociological Imagination. Mark can be followed on twitter @mark_carrigan and Mark’s blog for additional insights and discussion on social media academic practice can be found here.

Find out more about Social Media for Academics here and read the free chapter “Using social media to publicize your work” here.

Social Media for Academics

Got a question for Mark? Tweet him @mark_carrigan and SAGE @SAGE_News.

The Connecting with the Community series is a collection of interviews with industry experts and forward-thinking minds on topics such as discoverability, research methods, librarianship, tips for writing and researching and the peer review process. Find out more about our Connecting with the Community series here and read past Connecting with the Community posts here.


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