Social Media in Academia (2): Comparing the options

General recommendations on how to use social media professionally

<<< GO TO PART 1: Social media in Academia (1): Introduction

In the next five posts I will discuss Google Scholar Profiles, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Twitter and Blogging in more detail, providing tips on getting the best out of all of these social media options. First, however, let's look at social media use in academia from a slightly broader perspective. What are the key features of these five services and how do they allow you to realise the benefits of professional social media use?

Overview of the four key social media options

The table below provides a quick overview of the first four options; blogging is a bit too different to include in this structured comparison. As you can see each of the four platforms has its own unique purpose and strengths [as well as weaknesses]. That's why I recommend you use all of them, even if only to a limited extent.

I do not claim 100% completeness or accuracy. This table is based on my own experience with and knowledge of the different platforms; other users might well have different experiences. These platforms are also subject to continuous development. So if you discover any inaccuracies, please take the trouble drop me an email, so that I can keep improving these postings.

What to do if you have little time?

Of course we are all time poor. However, this is not a good reason to opt out of using social media for professional purposes. If you do opt out, do this for strategic or personal reasons, not because you think you don't have the time. Setting up and maintaining the key social media profiles summarised above doesn't have to take up a lot of time. The absolute essentials will only take you a few hours a year and most of it can be done any time, e.g. when waiting for a delayed flight or train :-).

The absolute essentials

If you don't "buy into" the use of social media for professional purposes, but still want to ensure you have a presence in these fora, this is what I think you should do.

  1. Create a Google Scholar Profile. Unless you have a very common name this literally takes less than five minutes. Many participants in my presentations on social media have done this in the time it took me discuss the relevant slide. There is really no excuse for not doing this. Not having a Google Scholar Profile might actually be quite damaging for an academic, especially if you are on the job market. I have heard a Dean say: s/he doesn't have a Google Scholar Profile so I don't believe s/he is a serious academic.
  2. Set up a LinkedIn profile (see screenshot below) If you stick to the basics and have a picture and bio ready this shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. If you want, you can send connection requests to a dozen or so of your key collaborators and co-authors. This can be done within these 15 minutes, as LinkedIn makes sending connection requests as easy as clicking a button.
  3. Set up a ResearchGate profile. If you stick to the basics and have a picture and bio ready this shouldn't take more than 15 minutes. Most likely, ResearchGate will offer to find your publications. It might not find all of them, but if you don't want an empty profile and can't be bothered to systematically add them, this is a very quick way to populate your profile.


  1. Check your Google Scholar, LinkedIn, and ResearchGate profiles at least once every three months. If your field is very active on these platforms you might want to check once a month instead, but more often is really not necessary. In most fields, academia doesn't move so fast that an instantaneous response on these platforms is essential. This is what you would do:
    • Clean out wrongly allocated publications [Google Scholar if set on automatic] or add publications [Google Scholar if set on manual],
    • Accept or reject connections requests [LinkedIn],
    • Deal with requests for full-texts of your papers and any other requests [ResearchGate].
  2. Upload every new paper on ResearchGate. You can do this during your (three-)monthly check.
    • If it is a journal article, ResearchGate will most likely already have found it and you just need to accept it and add a full-text version of the paper.
    • Alternatively, a more proactive co-author might have already added the paper to ResearchGate with a full-text, which means you only need to confirm co-authorship.

Highly recommended

If you have a bit more time to spare and are willing to do a bit of exploration, here are the four things I would recommend you to add to your social media portfolio.

  1. Create a passive Twitter account (see screenshot below). This shouldn't take more than 15-30 minutes. A passive account only includes your picture, short bio and possibly a nice background banner. Then create one tweet that best describes your interests and pin this to your profile. This could for instance be your latest publication or a retweet of a news story that is central to your research. This means you have a presence and the account is ready to go if you want to pursue Twitter more actively at a later stage. You might even collect some followers before you do.
  2. Create some Google Scholar email alerts, e.g. for research topics you are working on or for a few key authors in your field. If you find these alerts are useful, you can always add more of them later. If they are not, it is easy to cancel them. Depending on how well you know what and who you are looking for this might take 10-30 minutes.
  3. Share an update about your research or your university on LinkedIn occasionally, e.g. once every month or so when you log in anyway. This can take as little time as 10 seconds if you simply use the LinkedIn share buttons on a publisher's or university's website or 10-20 minutes if you write an update from scratch.
  4. Review your statistics on ResearchGate to see how often your work is read [both full-text and abstract], and how often it is recommended. You can also track this over time; this might be quite useful if you are going up for tenure or promotion.

Nice to have

After engaging with social media at low intensity for a while you might have developed a taste for it. If so, here are two additional things you can do that can be quite useful.

  1. Start using the Twitter account you created earlier. Systematically follow some organizations, journals and academics in your field and other fields you are interested in. Check in weekly to see whether there is anything interesting on your time-line. Share interesting journal articles or newspaper articles and reshare tweets that you think are relevant to your followers [or that represent your interests if you don't have followers yet].
  2. Engage in occasional guest blogging, maybe once or twice a year. This could be about a new article that might be of interest to a wider audience or a little research project that is not significant enough to publish, but too interesting to keep in your file drawer. Or it could be a commentary on a news event that has implications for your research. There are a number of blogs that will accept guest blogs and you can also do this by writing an article on LinkedIn.

Only if you are really keen

Do you want to become a social media warrior? Has your current professional social media use left you wanting to engage bit more regularly? Here is what you can do:

  1. Log in more regularly to ResearchGate and LinkedIn to review your timeline and stay up-to-date with what others are doing. Consider posting or answering questions on ResearchGate or commenting on LinkedIn updates by others.
  2. Use your Twitter account more regularly and "create content", i.e. start writing your own tweets instead of just reading and sharing tweets by others. Remember, tweeting is micro-blogging, so it is a good way to practice for #3.
  3. Engage in regular guest blogging or consider setting up your own blog. Before you do the latter, consider whether you will be able to provide content regularly. Although you are not obliged to blog at regular intervals, your blog might not attract much of an audience if you only blog a few times a year. At least once a month is a good frequency to aim for.

GO TO PART 3: Social media in Academia (3): Google Scholar Profiles >>>

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