But how can you effectively engage with these audiences? How should you be promoting your research and engaging in the conversation? In his recently released book, Social Media for Academics, Mark Carrigan addresses these very issues, providing clear guidance on both effectively and intelligently using social media for academic purposes across disciplines. As he 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.”
Today Mark shares with us his top 5 tips for those of you new to the world of social media, as well as those of you who want to brush up on your skills and further develop your presence online.
- Share what you care about online. In a recent book, the Sociologist Les Back suggests that Twitter sometimes facilitates our “inhabiting the attentiveness of another writer” by providing “signposts pointing to things going on in the world: a great article, an important book, a breaking story”. Through the things that others share, we sometimes enter into their world and participate in an economy of “hunches and tips” which is the “lifeblood of scholarship”. These provide pathways through the literature, allowing others to use them as guides into and through often difficult bodies of work. If you consistently share what you care about then other people to whom this matters will find you online. It’s in this subtle way that I think everyday use of social media can help mitigate the competitive individualism which dominates the academy.
- Try not to get hung up on the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to behave on social media platforms. These norms are not so different from the rest of your life, something which the contrived opposition of ‘offline’ and ‘online’ often works to obscure. Are social media platforms ultimately that different to an academic conference, albeit on where the words linger on in the room after being spoken? Each profile is a spot on the internet that’s staked out as yours. What you do with it is up to you. Some people choose to wander over to their podium every now and again, make an announcement and then wander off. Some people give their presentation at the podium and then leave, only returning when they want to give another. Some do their presentation but thrive on the Q&A afterwards. Some might not like the feel of the podium and eschew a formal presentation to go and chat more directly with their audience. Likewise some people just want to listen and ask questions of other speakers. Others would rather ditch the conference and go straight to relaxing at the pub.
- But if you’re unsure about how to behave, the best thing to do is to seek out exemplars, both positive and negative. Do you like how someone engages on a particular platform? Try and articulate precisely what you like about it and whether it’s right for you. Conversely, if someone frustrates or bothers you, don’t just get irritated. Instead try and clarify exactly what it is you don’t like so that you’re better able to avoid this. In this way, it becomes easier to develop a deliberate sense of how you feel you ought to behave online, rather than be plagued by a diffuse anxiety that you might be ‘doing it wrong’.
- When in doubt, connect! The capacity of social media to flatten academic hierarchies is vastly overstated but there’s a kernel of truth to it: unless you’re a remarkably outgoing and talented networker, it’s much easier to approach well known academics online then it is in person. If you find yourself hesitating about whether to make contact with them, err on the side of connection. At worst they’ll ignore you & the architecture of social media is built from the ground up to encourage people to interact as much as possible. Furthermore, use community resources like hashtags to connect with others at a similar stage to you. As well as #PhDChat, which I found almost indescribably comforting at many points during the last year of my PhD, there’s #ECRChat and #ESRCPhD as well as many other localised to particular fields of practice. Plus don’t forget all the people you already know. Add your social media profiles to your e-mail signature and look for your friends and acquaintances when you try a new platform.
- Tell a story about yourself using your profile. This can feel narcissistic but in an information saturated world, these snippets of biographical information are key to allowing people to know where you’re coming from. This isn’t just a matter of people within the academy. Social media radically increases the ease with which academics can be found by those within the media, government and civil society. But they need to know who you are and why they might want to talk to you for those conversations to begin.
Mark Carrigan, author of Social Media for Academics, is a digital sociologist and consultant. Assistant editor of Big Data & Society, published 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 his blog for additional insights and discussion on social media academic practice can be found here.