Let’s face it: social media can be overwhelming for new comers. There are so many different platforms that it is difficult to know where to start. Yet, social media are firmly part of mainstream culture, and can really help extend the reach and impact of research.
With that in mind, I developed a 6-step plan for academics and other researchers, who want to use social media to develop their profile and the visibility of their research.
Step 1. Get a digital identifier
This is a one-off task: go to ORCID’s website, register, and obtain your own researcher identifier. It takes less than a minute, and you get a persistent alphanumeric code, which is unique to you, and that you can use to identify all your work (not just articles, but also datasets, figures and many other formats).
ORCID is useful for everybody, but is particularly valuable for those researchers with common names, those that changed their name (e.g., as a result of change in their marital status), and those whose names tend to be misspelt or incorrectly cited (e.g., because of cultural conventions).
You can learn more about ORCID, and its relevance for researchers, here.
Step 2. Set up an online profile on key platforms
This is another one-off task, with the occasional requirement for an update – for instance, when you finish your PhD or change jobs. Though, you will have to replicate it in as many platforms as are relevant for you and your audience.
As a minimum, you will want to create a profile on:
- Google Scholar – Google Scholar is a search engine for academic literature. Its appeal is fairly narrow – i.e., only relevant for those already searching for academic work and authors. Still, you should create a profile on Google Scholar to ensure that your work is credited to you (as opposed to someone with the same name – see step 1). Google Scholar profiles give anyone looking at your profile an overview of the work you have done. Plus, you are alerted every time Google detects that your work has been cite, which, in turn, can help you understand how your work is being used, and whether certain pieces are not getting the traction that you think they deserve so that you can do something about it (see steps 3 and 6). Instructions on how to set up your Google Scholar profile are available here.
- Research Gate and/or Academia.edu – these are social networks focused on research professionals. Thus, again, their appeal is a bit narrow. However, there is a trend for universities to advise their students to sign up for these social networks and follow the authors mentioned in their syllabuses. This trend means that you could be missing a great opportunity to increase your reach and the visibility of your work, if you are not present on these social networks.
- LinkedIn – This is the premier professional social network in the UK. It is a symmetrical network, meaning that you can only connect with people that want to be connected with you, too. So, the potential for discovery is quite limited. However, it is a great way to stay in contact with professionals you have met (e.g., at an academic conference, or industry meeting), and your former students. This presentation has some tips for academics on using LinkedIn.
If you are feeling brave, you can also create your own website. Free and user friendly platforms include wordpress, weebly, wix or blogger.
Having your own website may seem like an unnecessary complication, but it does mean that you can control what you share, and how you share it. For instance, you can adopt a more conversational tone than a typical institutional website, and you can share different types of content (i.e., not just text, but also pdf files, photos, videos, or power point presentations). You can also have links to your social network profiles, social media accounts, and so on. Finally, you can tweak and update your information as often as you wish, and experiment with different templates or styles – for instance, you may want to draw attention to a new project that you are working on, or to a new paper you just published (see steps 3 and 6).
Step 3. Make your outputs available
The vast majority of potential readers of your papers, who are not affiliated with a higher education institution (HEI), do not have access to academic journals. They need to pay to access individual papers, meaning that the likelihood of someone reading your paper because the title and abstract look very interesting (and, often, they don’t), is very low. In fact, even potential readers based in HEIs may not have access to many journals, due to budget cuts, or embargoes (which, in some cases, are longer than one year!). That is, even those that are very motivated to read your paper, may not be able to do so.
Thus, you really want to make your papers widely available (subject to the journals’ terms and conditions, of course). This is something that you should do whenever you have a paper accepted, for instance. Alternatively, you can schedule some time now and then, and upload your outputs in batch.
You can share open access versions of your papers via your institution (if applicable), and via the academic social networks mentioned in step 2. An advantage of the second option is that your followers get a notification that you have a new publication, hence drawing their attention to your new papers. You can also share papers via LinkedIn and Slideshare (one example, here).
Other outputs that you can share, include:
- Powerpoints of your conference presentations, invited talks or classes, on Slideshare;
- Course notes and other teaching materials, on Udemy;
- Datasets on figshare;
- Audio on soundcloud;
- Video on Vimeo or YouTube.
This is where having your own webpage really starts delivering benefits, as you can also post all of these materials on your website or, alternatively, provide links to the platforms mentioned above where you have uploaded your outputs to.
One note of caution, though. I do NOT recommend sharing the findings from your research before they have been reported in paper which has already been accepted for publication. This is not so much a matter of plagiarism (on the contrary, it might help you in a dispute), but rather a matter of originality of your research (which is a key criterion of acceptance by top journals).
Also, keep in mind that everything that you post online (including metadata) is:
- public (even if you shared it privately)
- permanent (or very, very, very difficult to delete)
- not free (time really is money)
Step 4. Connect with others
The ability to connect with other researchers with similar interests, extending professional networks, and keeping up to date with certain topics, are the top benefits, for academics, of using social media, reported in various studies such as this one or this one. It is a way of tapping into the social benefits of going to a conference, but at a fraction of the cost, and with fewer time or geographical constraints!
You can start by following people whose work you are interested in, on the academic social networks mentioned in step 2. Because these networks are based on asymmetrical networks (i.e., you can follow someone, but that person does not have to follow you), they really help with discovery and network development. These networks also allow you to search for users by research area, methodological interests or keywords; and they will suggest researchers you might want to follow (e.g., whose work you have cited). LinkedIn has similar search and suggestion features, but you can only connect with people who also want to be connected with you.
Another great way of connecting with other researchers and/or users of your research is by following them on Twitter or, even, Facebook. Both platforms have search and suggestion functions. Another way of identifying people to follow, on Twitter, is to note who is mentioned by people that you are already following, or to check relevant hashtags (see step 5). Here is a list of Twitter accounts I like to follow – not all academia related, though.
As for time commitments, you will probably have to invest some time in finding out who to follow, when you join each network. After that, it is a matter of briefly checking the suggestions made by LinkedIn, ResearchGate and the other platforms, if you wish. You can also connect with people during or after an event where you come across people that interest you; or if you come across their content on someone else’s Twitter timeline or hashtag (see step 5).
Step 5. Join the conversation
This is where social media can become distracting and overwhelming, if you are not careful. So, you want to manage your time carefully, to make sure that you learn how to navigate this new environment and make the most of it.
A good place to start is by joining discussion groups on LinkedIn, the academic social networks (mentioned in step 2), or even dedicated discussion websites such as Quora. There are also specific pages or groups on Facebook, usually associated with a professional association, conference, or a publication.
In addition, many professional associations now have webpages or blogs pages with useful information for their members (this is one of my favourites). And there are communities for specific interests, like Piirus. These pages tend to welcome contributions from their members and/or allow for comments.
And, then, my favourite: Twitter. Twitter has been compared to a noisy pub or party. Or, if you prefer, the coffee breaks at a conference. There are lots of conversations going on. Like at a party or a coffee break, there are conversations that are interesting, others that are entertaining, and many that are not relevant. So, there is no point in trying to keep up with all that is going on. The key is to follow accounts that interest you (see step 4), and to monitor hashtags that may be of value and interest. Piirus has various lists of hashtags relevant for researchers. Increasingly, events (such as conferences) will adopt a specific hashtag – you will want to follow this to find other people attending the event, and you will also want to add the hashtag to your tweets related to that event. Finally, you may also want to monitor hashtags related to your topic – for instance, #marketing, or #IoT (for internet of things).
And, of course, make sure that you are adding to the conversation, too. My tip for beginners, is to try the following experiment for one month:
- Find 10 Twitter users to follow. Including a couple that know you in real life, and who know that you are new to Twitter. They will offer some encouragement.
- Tweet three things every day. The first one, is a link to something of professional interest (e.g., a news story, a paper, or a blog post). The second one, is an interaction with another user (e.g., comment on something they shared; or simply retweet something that they posted). The third one, is to write or share something not strictly professional (e.g., a photo of something interesting you spotted, a comment about a movie you watched or a book that you are reading, and so on – something that helps other people connect with you as a human being).
- Whenever someone that you are following retweets something interesting, check the person that posted the original message and consider whether you want to start following them.
Regarding time commitments, you do need to be disciplined, as social media conversations are a bit addictive, and can turn into a rabbit hole. You need to limit when and for how long you check Twitter, the discussion boards, and various pages that you follow. Also, do not use push notifications (you can change this in your phone settings), as they are very distracting.
Step 6. Make your research (and knowledge) accessible
This may be the last point but, in my view, it is the most important to create research impact. Not only are our papers expensive to access, but they also tend to be written in very formal terms, and not be very user friendly (for instance, in-text referencing can be very distracting). As a result, even if your work can be accessed by your intended audience, it does not mean that it is accessible.
To make your work, or your subject knowledge, accessible, you want to write in plain language, a reasonably sized font, and lots of space. You will also want to keep your text reasonably short – for instance, focusing on just one point, or aspect of your paper, at a time.
This is where blogging really comes into play (see step 2 for free platforms). If you do not want to have your own blog, you can always post on long form sharing platforms like Medium, or LinkedIn’s long post. In fact, these options may be even better in terms of reach. See this post to help you decide whether to keep your own blog or post on one of these platforms.
And, of course, there are curated blogs that will be very happy to take your blog post and which may even help with matters such as editing or images. Platforms such as the LSE Impact Blog, Piirus, or The Conversation are great places to start.
If you do not want to write, of if you want to mix things up and/or stretch yourself creatively, there is also the option of voice. Examples include Mark Carrigan’s “A conversation with”, the Philosophy Bites podcast, or PodAcademy. Podcasts do require some commitment in terms of time to organise interviews (if relevant), require a good microphone, and may take up a lot of time in editing. So, do weight the pros and cons of this option, carefully.
And there is also the option of videos. There are quite a few researchers on YouTube (I like this one). But, like podcasts, it does require some time and commitment. Another (and simpler) option is to use a software like Camtasia or Screen Flow to record voice over your slide presentations (here is one example). And an even better option is to make very short videos on your mobile phone (e.g., for Snapchat – examples here), which you can then upload to YouTube – zero editing required!
Finally, a few suggestions to help others learn about your work and expertise:
- Join databases such as The Women’s Room, especially if you are from an under-represented group or if your work is very niche;
- If your work relates to topics of productivity and self-improvement, consider sharing it on Pinterest. If it works for Harvard Business Review, it can work for you, too!
- Consider curating content relating to your topic, via aggregation platforms such as paper.li (example here);
- Edit Wikipedia pages relating to your area of work. It takes a few minutes, only, and it can really help improve the quality of information available in this widely popular source of information.
Let me know what you think of this list. What would you add or want to know more about?
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