Last week I gave a presentation for the WISE Network of the University of Technology Eindhoven. The topic was Social Media for Academics and I thought I’d share my presentation and a slightly edited version of what I said (read: this is what I had planned to say) as September’s blog post. First my presentation on Slideshare and then the accompanying speech.
Let me start off by explaining why I’m here to talk to you on this topic today. I’m an information specialist at the Leiden University Libraries and as part of my job I’m responsible for running the Connected Leiden Researcher blog. The blog was started as a replacement for our Web2.0 blog. Using altmetrics as a steppingstone, we focus on online tools and services, to show how they can be used to communicate, collaborate, and gather information. And as social media are a huge part of this toolkit, I’ve written a fair number of posts on the subject, which is why I think the organisers invited me. So: Academics and Social Media.
Before you can talk about social media, you have to define what you’ll be talking about, because what are social media? The ones that are most often referenced in the mainstream media are Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr and I think almost everyone here is active on one of those or has at least heard of them. If we move deeper into the matter, there are the more specialised services, which have a unique selling point to distinguish themselves from others. And there are of course a number of services that are specifically aimed at academics. These aren’t so much media as they are networks. They help to make you and your work more easily discoverable by your peers, but don’t necessarily promote it to a larger audience. So, for the purposes of this presentation I’m going to leave these academic social networks to the side and focus on the more general social media platforms.
How can academics use social media? Or perhaps one should ask why would academics want to use social media. For a variety of reasons really.
To connect to people: You can create a knowledge network of peers and come in contact with those interested in your work, be it your peers, students, the media or the general public. Or you could connect to a group of people with a common goal, such as for example Athena’s Angels. Not only do they run a website where you can find lots of resources for women in academia, but a Facebook page as well, which they use to communicate and inform.
They can use it to discover people and information. Who is working in your field? What are they doing? Not everyone has been published yet, think of early career PhD-students for example, but their work might be interesting in light of your own. What are people in your field reading? Not just which papers or books are they reading, but which blog posts and what are they saying about them? An easy way to do this via Twitter is by using Tweetdeck, where you can create columns to follow specific searches or hashtags that are of interest to you.
You can also use social media to collect information. Not only are social media an excellent alternate way of discovering new articles, but you can also collect data. For example, if you were active in the field of linguistics and you want to track how language is affected by online activity, there is a wealth of information available, for example just looking at what people are discussing on Tumblr and how they are doing so.
Social media can allow you to collaborate on multiple fronts. By putting you in contact with people in your field you otherwise might not have known about, but also as a peer support group, as for example here on twitter, where using the hashtag #phdchat PhD-students share their experiences of PhD work and ask questions and motivate each other.
Perhaps most importantly social media allow you to communicate in different ways. First to promote your work. If people don’t know your work is out there, they won’t be able to read it. Traditional papers and books might cross people’s desk organically, but things like blog posts, lectures, or poster presentations might easily go unnoticed. So let people know they are out there. As is aptly demonstrated by some of your colleagues here on Twitter.
But you can also communicate your work to the general public. Not everyone will land a spot on a TV show or be invited to give a TED talk, but you can still reach out to the general public to inform and perhaps even educate them. Or to create greater awareness for your field of study. These examples from Twitter are special research teams that use their feeds to get people excited for their projects or people talking about their work. This Tumblr is a blog on which an Eindhoven industrial design student shares his experiences of working on his assignments. The Facebook group is run by a Leiden lecturer in Old English, who started the group as a place to share the interesting information and titbits he comes across not only with his students, but with other like-minded individuals as well. For Pinterest the example is less clear-cut, but I ran a search on technology, science and robotics and this is what popped up. If you have a nice visual to go with your research, this might make it pop up on many people’s radars who wouldn’t even have thought to look for it.
And lastly, you can monitor the reach and impact of your work through altmetrics. I use Tweetdeck here as a simple example, you can also use a service such as Hootsuite. Just through searching my name and the URLs of my blogs, I can see who is talking about me or the content of my blogs on Twitter. If you use services such as Impact Story or altmetric.com you’ll be able to find even more information on who is talking about your work.
When you start out on social media, there are several things to consider. Find out what works for you. Not every platform will be as comfortable for every person and the way you interact most comfortably with each also varies. Do you want to be online all the time or do you want to spend a limited amount of time at set points in the day or week. If the latter, you can use a scheduling tool such as Buffer.
Think about privacy concerns and decide what you want to let people see and how much you want to let private and professional mix. Some people don’t care, others keep them strictly separate, but it’s easier to mix streams later on than it is to separate them once things are mixed.
Lastly, know your intended audience and choose your message and medium accordingly. If you want to reach younger people or prospective students, you might want to choose Tumblr or Snapchat and adopt a more casual tone. If you want to mainly reach your peers, you can be more technical and in-depth, and less accessible to the lay public, on a blog. Do you want to present mainly visual elements, then again Tumblr or even Pinterest might be a good fit. But it is important to know what you want to say to whom so you can actually reach them, instead of talking into the void.
If you want to learn more, you can check out the Connected Leiden Researcher for more information and links. If you want to learn more about Social Media and policies here at Eindhoven, you can contact the Communications Expertise Center.