How To… Use Social Media To Boost Your Research Profile

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to pimp your research profile, then this post is for you! In our first piece of 2018 we have a special guest post from the wonderful Tseen Khoo of The Research Whisperer blog (check it out if you haven’t already, it’s fantastic!). Here Tseen explains the do’s and don’t’s of social media etiquette and how to make the most out of your social media presence.

Do have a clear idea of why you’re there and who you want to share your work with. Once you know who your audience is and what kinds of things you’d like to say to them, it’s so much easier to set up a social media presence. When you don’t have clarity around these two key points, it can be frustrating to come up with an efficient, coherent way to run your account. Once you have those foundational aspects in place, then you just need to research the practicalities of specific platforms and where your audience is likely to be hanging out. There’s no point spending ages on managing a Twitter account if the people you want to connect with are mostly on Instagram or Facebook.

Don’t set yourself up to fail. Many academics set up a social media account because people tell them to, or they feel they have to. You don’t have to BUT if you want to see what the fuss is about, or you can discern value in cultivating a good digital profile, give yourself time to learn about it properly. Many researchers are dismissive and denigrating of social media after ‘trying it’ for a few days. If you think of your social presence as joining an existing community, it gives you an idea of the time you’ll need to get to know the tone, language, and culture of the space. This introvert’s experience with social media might provide insight and inspiration to get you started!

Make sure you post images when you can. Most social media platforms are geared to be visually stimulating so including photos, screenshots, diagrams, whatever, can help people notice and engage with your updates and posts. For example, people are more likely to click through on Twitter links when tweets have images included. Try to acknowledge source of images where possible, of course, and here’s how you find good Creative Commons images.

Followers are looking for informative, engaging, responsive accounts that bring value. Think of how your account could share resources or FAQs around your research area, feature good blogposts, make infographics or share aspects of primary material (e.g. scans from archives), discuss methods or processes that would help other researchers, or simply shares your experiences – good and bad – as an academic researcher. You don’t have to do all of these things but, chances are, you’d be a great account to follow if you did a few of these things every so often. Here’s why I’d follow you on Twitter.

Followers are turned off by accounts that only broadcast information – there’s a reason it’s called social media. If all you want to do is broadcast information about your new publications or events, there are other ways to do that already without setting up a social media account. It is especially heinous behaviour to not engage or talk to anyone, or help anyone else out, then ask them to promote your news or event for you (because they have a much larger following, for example). We see this kind of behaviour all the time offline – colleagues who only notice you when they want a favour from you – and it’s just as obnoxious online.

Try to embed your social media activities as part of your professional practice. It can be a powerful tool in your researcher kit, especially with impact and engagement as the new normal. When these activities are done well, they often put you in the way of opportunity (aka creating your own ‘luck’) and do a lot of work on your behalf (e.g. in showcasing your ability to lead and manage discussions or talk about ideas spontaneously).

Never forget that the most successful academic accounts on social media are those that understand the online sharing economy. If you approach your digital presence only with ‘what can it do for me?’, then you won’t be getting as much out of it as you’d think.

Think about articulating your digital presence so people can make sense of who they are looking at when they do a search. Most of us are represented online across a series of sites and have ‘portfolio’ selves. It can be useful to gather your online self at one website (most blogs can function as personal websites very easily) and you can give your profile and associated activities a steady logic. This is what I did with my long-standing WordPress blog when I realised that I was spread across the internet in a potentially confusing way: turned it into a personal website.

Remember that you can have fun. As a researcher. Seriously, you can. I’m mostly on Twitter, and the community I tap into there is my own tailored staff room. It’s full of people I love talking to, who are working on fascinating topics and get to fabulous events, and who like the same memes I do. They’re funny and compassionate, and share wonderful things with me. Academic Twitter gives me hope that academia can be high-achieving (broadly defined – I’m not talking metrics!), open, generous, and fighting the good fight.

The problem with a lot of academics on social media is that they forget they’re meant to be people – you can be professional without sounding like a robot. In fact, many social media robots are fairly sophisticated so you may be sounding worse than a robot! It’s fine to cultivate a professional profile that focuses on sharing things that speak mostly to your academic identity, but let your social media voice have a personality.

TK PandM
Dr Tseen Khoo is a Lecturer in the Research Education and Development team, Graduate Research School, La Trobe University. She’s been a Senior Advisor (Research Grant Development) at RMIT University, a research fellow at Monash University and the University of Queensland. With Jonathan O’Donnell, Tseen created and runs the internationally recognised research development and research culture blog, The Research Whisperer.




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