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Using social media as an academic: ways to create a sense of community and boost your profile

26 February 2017 - BY Ayeesha Cain

Our resident social media expert takes you through how to use social media for Academic purposes.

Social media is a great resource to connect with other researchers in your field and share your work with a broader circle. Setting up an account and using it properly can be daunting if you’re not sure where to start. Similarly, learning how to use social media professionally or transition your chosen account(s) from a personal to a professional focus can be equally challenging.

These suggestions will help you get the most out of your profile.

The why

If you’ve decided to create an account for professional purposes it is important to be clear on the goal. Make sure to ask yourself just why you’re setting up an account in the first place:

  • Are you an influencer? Do you have a unique point of view to share with others on an important discussion?
  • Are you a connector? Is your aim to find and connect with people in your field, university or other universities?
  • Are you interested in distributing research? Do you need to promote published journal papers or interesting analysis of current affairs or events?
  • Is this account for you or your employer? Are you creating an account on your behalf or on your employer’s? Make sure you understand your liabilities.

If you’re still unsure about the benefits of social media for academia The Conversation posted about the benefits which include reducing isolation, promoting openness and publicising research. Similar articles have run in Forbes.

The what

Ensure that you have a balanced approach to posting content. While you can use Twitter or Facebook as a stream of consciousness, having a plan in place and knowing what is coming up will not only put your mind at ease but mean you can use your time wisely. Finding the right content mix can mean balancing:

  • content you create
  • interesting content created by others
  • content that inspires you
  • conversations.

Remember: All social media posts are a form of publication. If you would not write it in an academic review, don’t blog about it or post it on Twitter or Facebook.

The how

Readers churn through social media posts at a rapid rate and attention spans are getting shorter, when posting assume your content will be shared or seen in a fleeting moment. Structuring post so they’re easy to understand will not only help your message cut through quickly, but it will also help others reply or share your content.

For maximum engagement make sure to:

  • Front load your content. Much like the inverted news pyramid, put the most important part of your sentence at the beginning of you post with the least important information at the end. Utilizing colons will help you master this style. This Good Content Co post goes into more detail.
  • Guide your reader. Make sure to guide your reader to the link or destination before posting any hashtags. This will help get more eyes on your research or content.
  • Use hashtags sparingly. Hashtags are a great way to reach people outside of your network, by focusing on one or two hashtags per post you will be able to test their impact without overwhelming your audience. They should always add value to your post, as Campaign Capital illustrate in this blog post.
  • Keep up to date with best practice content length. Hubspot has a lot of good free resource for this.
  • Cross-promote your social media accounts – use Twitter to refer to your blogposts and insert Twitter feeds that you follow in your blog.
  • Develop your own style guide. What you say online will be around for longer than you think. Posting in a consistent voice and in a consistent format will help your audience feel at ease and build trust. Follow the Guardian style guide Twitter account for some witty insights into developing a style.

The help

If you experience writers block or just don’t know where to start in the content creation process fear not! Drawing inspiration from others is part of the content creation process. Try these techniques:

  • Mine hashtags. Searching hashtags is an easy way to see if they are used, what relevant conversations are happening in that space and whether people are engaging in debates. Frequently used hashtags for academics include: #PhDchat #Acwri #Ecrchat. 
  • Use Paper.li. Paper.li can help you find and organize content. You can then share your insights with your networks automatically.
  • Use Twitter lists. For your own curated group of Twitter accounts create a list. You’ll get to group conversations by lists and can see what lists your followers have created.
  • Connect with other likeminded individuals. Other people’s posts can be a springboard for your own unique commentary on an issue.
  • Stay up to date with events. Social media activity piques during public events. You might see more relevant conversations around these events, too. For event calendars see the international days observed by the UN or your local government.
  • Conversations. Chat to people, find out what’s on their mind. This is where the best inspiration comes from.

Check out these examples of academics using social media:

For more ways to utilize social media for your career see The Guardian, Times Higher Education, Harvard Business Review.

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.