Social media for academic authors

As an academic publisher, I naturally have an interest in developing academic authors. This post is about how authors can use social media to develop their writing. The post was written to accompany the University of Cambridge’s Writing Skills Summer School, but I hope it will be useful more generally.

Why use social media?

Social media writing provides the following benefits to academic authors.

1. It gets you writing. Anything that gets you pen moving across the page or your fingers moving across the keyboard is to be welcomed. In the process of getting ideas and arguments out of your head and onto paper or screen, writing sharpens your thinking: the process of verbalising and articulating forces you to make decisions (“What’s the best word for that?”; “What am I really saying here?; and so on).

2. Social media gets your name out there, attached to your research and the key words that define your research. You become more discoverable.

3. You get feedback. For example, the ‘back office’ functionality provided by blogging sites such as WordPress give you detailed statistics on page views, click-throughs, and so on. You can also receive ‘likes’ and comments on the blog itself. If you use Twitter, people can reply to your tweets or retweet them. For writers, feedback is gold dust: it provides valuable information about what people find interesting about your work and what they do or don’t understand.

Where to start

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest starting by developing web pages and posting biographical/curriculum-vitae-type material. Obvious places to do this are:

  • on your institution’s website;
  • on academia.edu;
  • on LinkedIn.

Examples of Cambridge researchers’ pages include the following:

Develop a strategy

Whilst, on the one hand, social media lends itself to exploration and experimentation, on the other hand there is a danger of being too scattergun. Over time you can develop a strategy by deciding where you stand on the following questions:

  1. For whom are you writing?
  2. Why are you writing?
  3. How do you want to present yourself?
  4. What do you not want to show about yourself online? (For example, it may be advisable to place restrictions on who can read your Facebook pages.)

Measure your performance

Use metrics to assess your success. Ensure these are aligned with your aims. For example, if your aim to to develop a network of researchers in Australia, a relevant measure might be the number of such people you’ve exchanged personal messages with as a result (direct or indirect) of social media. 

Be aware that the most visible, most discussed, metrics often tell you very little. For example, you may gain lots of followers on Twitter, but so what? Do they actually read your tweets? And if they do, do you derive any benefit from that? The best metrics are those that concern calls for action that are relevant to your aim: for example, if you wish to disseminate your findings amongst business people, the number of such people who download a white paper you have written.

Twitter

Avoid using Twitter primarily as a way of telling people about yourself or your work. Think of it more as a listening tool – a way of gathering useful information. Devote time to helping other people, for example by replying to questions or forwarding useful links. Earn the trust and goodwill of other users.

Some good advice on Twitter for academics is available online. The London School of Economics’ invaluable ‘Impact of social science’ site provides an excellent guide to Twitter for academics here. Mark Carrigan has blogged here on why academics find Twitter useful. And DIY Ivory Tower provides advice on ‘leveraging Twitter’ here.

Examples of recent Cambridge PhDs who use Twitter in contrasting ways are Joanne Wallis (Politics) aka @AsiaPacSecurity and Rehan Hussain (Chemical Engineering) @rehanofkhi.

Blogging

The growing importance of blogging is demonstrated by the way that academic authors, editors, and publishers are having to work out how the best way to cite them. (For example, see the American Psychological Association’s advice here.) According to two academics – Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson – “blogging is quite simply one of the most important things an academic should be doing“.

There has been some serious research on the relationship between blogging and such variables as professional reputation and paper downloads. (For example, see here.)

There is plenty of advice available online on how to blog effectively. For introductory advice, see ‘How to write a blog‘ by Hazel Gaynor. Also, ‘12 things every business blogger should know how to do‘ by Susan Young (don’t be put off by the word ‘business’!). For advice on how to elicit readers’ comments, see the post from Scott Berkun here.

My favorite blog from a Cambridge researcher is The Saga-Steads of Iceland by Emily Lethbridge. My favorites from doctoral students at other universities include The Architecture of Analogy by Cameron McEwan (also Dundee).

Scriffon 

Let me just mention a straightforward writing tool, namely Scriffon, a review of which I’ve posted here. One useful feature of this tool is that it allows each account-holder to post under three different pen-names. This features may be useful to academics authors by enabling them to wander off piste and experiment with different authorial voices and personas.

Other social media sites include Google + and Pinterest.

Where next

Using social media‘ by Aoife Brophy Haney provides a succinct guide for academic researchers.

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