Social Media in Academia (8): Putting it all together

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In the past months I have provided a general introduction to the use of social media in academia, compared the key options and provided detailed tips and tricks for five social media platforms: Google Scholar Profiles, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Twitter and Blogging. This final post explains why social media use is really worth your time and considers two key areas: the use of social media as a source of professional/academic information and the use of social media to share (news about) your research. Finally, it shows how using the various platforms can be used to reinforce each other when sharing information.

Social media as a source of professional/academic information

As I explained in the posts about Google Scholar Profiles, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Twitter and Blogging these social media platforms can be used as a source of professional/academic information, provided you are willing to spend a bit of time to set them up in a way that works for you. I have found all five social media options to be valuable sources of professional/academics information, each having their own specific strengths.

Google Scholar Citation alerts

I have found Google Scholar alerts to be incredibly useful. Below is a screenshot of two articles citing my own work that I received in a recent alert. The first article is of interest to me for its focus on the role of distance in International Business (see Should we distance ourselves from the cultural distance concept?). However, without a Google Scholar alert most International Business scholars wouldn't have found this article as it was published in a bibliometrics journal. Even though I do read Scientometrics myself as I do some research in bibliometrics, without a Google Scholar alert I wouldn't have found this particular article until I did my 3-monthly review of journals (part of my How to keep up-to-date with the literature, but avoid information overload? strategy). The second article is a German book dealing with intercultural communication, an area in which I have just started some new research, and is a publication I would probably never have found without the Google Scholar alert.

As I explained in the post about Google Scholar Profiles, you can create alerts for citations to your own and others' work, as well as alerts for new articles by specific academics. Although this is not part of the Google Scholar Profiles, when you log in to your Google Scholar Profile, you can also set up alerts about specific topics in Google Scholar. As Google Scholar is the most comprehensive available source of academic publications these alerts provide you with an excellent way to keep informed about interesting work in your areas of interest without any effort on your part. You can also add, change, or cancel alerts any time.

LinkedIn and ResearchGate

LinkedIn and ResearchGate do not feature highly in my "keeping informed" strategy, but I do occasionally look at what people in my network share. These two social media platforms also have their own specifc, more narrowly focused, purposes. LinkedIn is a good way to keep up-to-date with job moves and/or promotions of people in my academic network; I like to be able to congratulate my academic friends on these achievements as they are so rare in our profession (see also Internal versus external promotion [1 of 4]). ResearchGate is excellent way to source or request full-text papers of articles that I cannot access through my university library.

Twitter

The forum that most suprised me was Twitter. I have lost count of the number of times I have found an interesting publication - whether academic or non-academic - on Twitter. I have also learned about forthcoming special issues of journals and about interesting workshops I didn't know about. Heck, I even got the news that I had won a major award through Twitter (see below). Would I have received this information through other channels? Possibly, but certainly not in all cases and it would have been weeks or months after I heard about it through Twitter.

If they have accounts, Twitter can also be a good way to find out what colleagues in your own institution are doing. I promise you, you'll discover that many of your colleagues have hidden depths. Given that part of my role at Middlesex is to connect colleagues with each other as well as my external networks, Twitter accounts are very useful; there is only so much you can learn from a staff page or other social media profiles. Twitter is often a good way to find out "what makes someone tick".

Of course it works the other way around too. Colleagues can see you presenting at a conference or even proudly receiving an award. With most academics feeling they are more appreciated outside their own institution than within, a bit of visibility of what you are up to won't hurt. Not that I am suggesting to go on a blatant "self-branding" exercise (remember How to promote your research achievements without being obnoxious?), but a little bit of "internal marketing" can't harm, especially if your Dean and VC are following you ;-).

Blogs

Finally, blogs can be a really good way to stay up to date with what is happening in the academic world. I find blogs such as LSE's Impact of Social Sciences Blog (see screenshot below) and the Scholarly Kitchen really useful to follow. They are written by academics and generally provide reliable information about many aspects of academic life. You might also want to follow blogs by your professional associations. The Academy of Management for instance has an Ethics blog where academics can "discuss ethical issues that affect their research, teaching and professional lives". Ask your colleagues about which blogs they are following.

I would love it if more academics blogged about their own research, especially if they have a body of work on a particular topic. Academics are increasingly time-poor, so blogposts provide a great introduction to someone's research. For instance rather than read my five articles about language barriers in multinationals, my five articles on country-of-origin effects in multinationals, my five articles on diversity in editorial boards or my seven articles about transfer of HRM practices in multinationals you could just read my blogposts on these to get the gist of the findings, before deciding whether you wanted to dig deeper and read the actual papers.

Sharing (news about) your research

As I have discussed in previous posts, several of the social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter and Blogging) are very well suited to share news about your research. ResearchGate can also be used for this purpose if you use their project feature and can host full-text versions of your papers to easily disseminate your work. The post How to ensure your paper achieves the impact it deserves? provides a detailed overview of the eight steps you can follow to improve the chances that your latest paper reaches its desired audience. It also shows that this doesn't have to take up a huge amount of your time, it takes me 6-16 hours per paper. Does this sound like a lot to you? Maybe… But given how much work you have put into doing the research and writing the paper, why wouldn’t you devote one or two more days ensuring it gets the audience it deserves?

Does it really make a difference?

Does sharing your research really lead to increased readership and impact, either in the form of citations or in terms of altmetrics or broader societal impact? Well I guess you won’t know until you do a controlled experiment with two almost identical papers. Anecdotally though, I can certainly tell you it does make a difference. In 2014 I published a paper on trust in multi-lingual teams in a special issue on language in the Journal of International Business Studies. One of my co-authors on that paper published another paper in the same special issue (though admittedly it was published in a later issue as there were too many papers for the special issue). I don’t think that other paper was less interesting or of lower quality, but so far it received only just over a quarter of the reads and 30% of the citations that our trust paper did. I hope that this example gives the Brain drain paper - which really is a nice paper - a belated boost.

The difference? I ensured systematic communication about the trust paper through a range of channels; the Brain drain paper was pretty much left to its own devices. Citations to a paper are a function of many different factors, including but not limited to: the quality of the research, the level of interest in the research topic, the timing of the publication, the level of name recognition of the authors, pure luck, and communication.

But given that communication is pretty much the only thing you can influence after publication, why not give it a go? Remember that getting your paper under the nose of the right audience doesn’t just facilitate citations, it also helps disseminating your research ideas, and gets you in contact with potential co-authors, prospective PhD students, end users of your research, and funding agencies.

Write once, share many times

One way to ensure you make the most of your efforts, is to use your social media platforms and options in a complementary fashion so they can reinforce each other. If you have invested a lot of time writing something up or have written something that is key to your current job or research interests, make sure you share it through different channels. As an example, I wrote about my role at Middlesex University in Creating a supportive and collaborative research culture at Middlesex University Business School. This blogpost was also posted on Middlesex Minds and I shared it as an article on LinkedIn. Subsequently, I have tweeted about it and pinned this tweet to my Twitter account.

Once you have a store of blogposts that are time-less (which most of my own blogposts are) you can periodically reshare them on Twitter and LinkedIn. As views and engagements on both platforms depend heavily on whether your followers are looking at their timellines at that point in time, sharing a carefully crafted post just once is a waste of your precious time. I wouldn't recommend sharing the same post several times a day (although some people do) or even several times a week, but sharing useful posts half a dozen times a year is certainly not overkill. And you can always include your favourite posts or shares in your email signature. Here is one of mine where I did this.

More generally, you can improve your effectiveness in academia by applying the "write once, refine through repetition, then use many times" principle more widely. This series of blogposts derived from presentations given at Middlesex and other universities on the “how and why” of using social media in academia (for recording see Fostering research impact through social media) and several hands-on "social media clinics". Rather than limiting the reach of this material to the people who attended the seminars and clinics, I reasoned it made sense to spend a bit more time to convert it into something I could share with anyone visiting my blog.

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