This is a very interesting interview / chat between Mark Carrigan and Inger Mewburn about the significance of social media for academics, and some of the associated challenges. Mark Carrigan is a social theorist at Cambridge University, and he is also the author of the book “Social Media for Academics”. [Side note: I am organising an online Social Media bootcamp for Techne doctoral researchers, with Mark Carrigan – more information here]. Inber Mewburn is the Director of Research Training at the Australian National University As far as I understand, this podcast was recorded as part of a training course that Mewburn organises, on Social Media for academics.
Carrigan’s key message for academics is that, like it or not, Social Media are here to stay. Not only are social media woven in the fabric of our personal lives, but they are part of our professional lives, too – for instance funders usually required that funded projects have a digital presence (e.g., a blog). Their importance is even more significant in a Covid-19 world, with most of us having had to transition to some form of digital scholarship practically overnight, and now facing the prospect of ongoing local lockdowns and movement restrictions. In fact, Carrigan predicts that environmental considerations will mean that more and more meetings will take place online. For all of these reasons, he argues, at around minute 9, that “being confident engaging online being able to find your community and establishing boundaries, is going to be more important than never”.
Hence, if social media are not going away, it is important that academics find a way of using these platforms such that they support their professional lives. The talk then goes on to discuss four key issues related to social media and academic life.
From around minute 10.41 onwards, Mewburn and Carrigan explore the idea of “Context Collapse”, and its implication for academics. Carrigan notes that our interactions are usually context bound. We have a sense of how to operate in the different contexts that we inhabit, and we express ourselves in ways that are consistent with each one. However, we don’t have clear indications about the appropriate behaviour on social media, because we are interacting with different people (e.g., from both our personal and our professional spheres) at the same time. [if you are interested in the idea of context collapse, you may want to check this blog post that I wrote some time ago].
Then, from minute 17.14 onwards, they discuss the issue of “managing boundaries”. Carrigan reflects on how his use of Twitter went from enthusiastic and positive to draining and negative, eventually leading to him quitting the platform. Though, he recognises that he had access to other platforms (e.g., he has been blogging for 15 years, has been podcasting, has a newsletter…) which made it possible for him to still derive some of the benefits of using Twitter, without having to use that platform. Early career scholars may not be able to do the same. Some technological solutions are discussed.
Mewburn and Carrigan briefly discussed how Covid-19 made the issue of boundaries even more important, because of the disruption of routines, the increase in distractions (not just digital ones), and the compression of work and personal life into the same physical space (i.e., the home).
The third key issue, discussed from minute 30.55 onwards, concerns “collective online projects”. Carrigan felt that YouTube Channels, blogs and podcasts all offered good homes for disparate pieces of content related to a given topic – e.g., a research project, or an event. But that it was crucial to do the following:
- Be clear about what you are trying to achieve
- Be clear about the responsibilities of each team member, and be open to revising roles as you learn and the project evolves.
- Agree on a “brand” for the site that you are all keen on. It has to be something that you care about. [Side note: I am not sure what Carrigan means by “brand” here. Maybe a visual identity?]
- Think what success would look like to you. It is often not about numbers (e.g., more and more readers, or more and more views).
Finally, from around minute 36.29 Mewburn and Carrigan discussed the issue of “online visibility”, and whether social media attenuates or accentuates issues of inequality in academic. On the one hand, online presence could make academia less unequal, by giving voice to groups that might be marginalised in traditional structures. On the other hand, social media also introduce their own new hierarchies, meaning that the risks are not equally distributed. For instance, there are certain topics that are likely to attract heated debates or a committed audience. These tend to result in less positive social media experiences. Moreover, there is a gender and a race dimension. There is no denying that white, middle class male users, generally, have a better experience of using social media. They suffer less harassment, even when dealing with difficult topics, and their mistakes are more easily forgiven and forgotten. Furthermore, early career researchers are less likely to have the social capital that insulates them from attacks against their expertise.
All in all, a really interesting discussion. I suggest that you check it out, here.