Social Media in Academia (1): Introduction

Most academics use some form of social media in their private lives. I have never been a big fan of using social media for personal interaction; I seem to be one of a rapidly vanishing minority who do not have a Facebook or Instagram account. However, I have embraced social media in my professional life and was therefore keen to introduce my colleagues to the topic, both at Middlesex (see Fostering research impact through social media) and at CYGNA (see CYGNA: Building your academic brand through social media).

At our CYGNA meeting Meg Hsin-Hsuan Lee (ESCP Business School London) provided us with an interesting social media survival guide for academics. Meg's research on digital marketing includes a strong interest in the use of social media by CEOs. Although Meg is not an avid social media user herself, she did a great job in applying her research to academia. Her matrix above of different ways to engage with social media was particularly useful as it shows that there is not "one best way". In the last couple of years I seem to have moved from being an analyst to being a thought leader. That sounds good doesn't it?

I have used social media actively in a professional context for the last 5 years and have given quite a few presentations at Middlesex and other universities on the “how and why” of using social media in academia. One of them was even recorded and can be watched here: Fostering research impact through social media. I have also run several hands-on "social media clinics" where I discuss the various social media options in detail and help academics to improve their own profiles. The presentations and notes for the clinics formed the basis for this blogpost series.

Please note: These posts are written from the perspective of a research-active academic and focus mostly about sharing (news about) your research. Google Scholar Profiles and ResearchGate tend to focus on mainly on research output. However, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs can also be useful to share news about any other aspects of your academic job.

What are the benefits of using social media?

The ESRC offers an excellent guide to social media in academia. As they indicated social media allows you to:

  • promote your research and increase its visibility
  • communicate directly and quickly with others who have an interest in your research
  • develop new relationships and build networks
  • reach new audiences, both within and outside academia
  • seek and give advice and feedback
  • generate ideas
  • share information and links (e.g. journal articles and news items)
  • keep up-to-date with the latest news and developments, and forward it to others instantly
  • follow and contribute to discussions on events (e.g. conferences that you can't get to in person)
  • express who you are as a person.

What are the most relevant social media outlets in academia?

There are well over a dozen social media options that can be used in a professional context. However, the following five are the ones that I believe are most relevant to most academics. I will discuss each of them in turn in upcoming posts and will provide a comparison of their key features in the next installment.

  1. Google Scholar Profiles, not strictly speaking a form of social media as there is limited scope for interaction beyond following an academic's updates, but an essential online CV, covering all your publications and their citations. Since version 5 and 6 Publish or Perish also allows searching Google Scholar Profiles, which instantly gives you all of PoP's handy metrics for your Google Scholar profile. For more detail see: Social Media in Academia (3): Google Scholar Profiles.
  2. LinkedIn profile, very useful to present your basic CV online and connect with other academics (and non-academics!). You can also write up news stories and share resources with your followers. I find it a very useful venue to share my blogposts as it draws a slightly different audience than my Twitter account. The latter is followed predominantly by academics in bibliometrics rather than by academics in my home discipline of International Management. For more detail see: Social Media in Academia (4): LinkedIn.
  3. ResearchGate, another online platform that allows you to list your publications (with full-text where possible) and define research projects. You can also follow other academics, ask questions and request full-text versions of papers. Just be careful to adjust your email alert settings so that you only receive those that are actually meaningful to you or you'll be inundated with irrelevant emails. For more detail see: Social media in Academia (5): ResearchGate.
  4. Twitter, a micro-blogging site. Initially I thought Twitter was utterly stupid, only useful for celebrities and people concerned with each others' breakfasts. However, after using it for a while I have found it a very useful means to keep up-to-date with academic news and share your own (and your colleagues') work and achievements. For more detail see: Social Media in Academia (6): Twitter.
  5. Blogging. As you can see I have embraced this outlet with gusto, posting regularly in the following ten categories: Academia Behind the Scenes, Academic Etiquette, Classic Papers, Conferences, CYGNA, From my Inbox, Positive Academia, Publish or Perish Tips, Research Focus, and That's Interesting. However, if starting your own blog sounds like too much work, you can also guest post on other blogs. For more detail see: Social media in Academia (7): Blogging.

 GO TO PART 2: Social media in Academia (2): Comparing the options >>>

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