5 Social Media Tips for Academics

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Excerpts from a talk I gave about using social media as an academic and researcher to grow your “Brand.” The session was called “Academic Uses of Social Media” and was for the GradXO Program at the University of Calgary.

Writers are perhaps the MOST engaged people I’ve ever come across in terms of social media. I know very few professional writers or teachers of writing who don’t have an impressive online presence. Furthermore, writers engage not only with their own coterie and other writers, but with people in different fields who may be interested in what they say only tangientially.

Some critiques of academia are that we are perpetual students, or that we are elitist. Some say we live in glass boxes instead of breaking glass ceilings. There are many misconceptions about people in academia; that we are cold, socially awkward intellectuals who live in tiny apartments that resemble libraries or museums more than living spaces.

While my apartment fits that stereotype pretty well, I know that academics in all fields are doing incredible work. Work that can and should be disseminated to not only other academics, but to anyone who may find value or interest in our work. One thing that we have in common as graduate students is our desire for knowledge. We wouldn’t be here, otherwise.

In an era that feels more and more dystopic, and like we are falling into anti-intellectualism, the presence of academics on social media platforms is more important than ever. The world needs us, and perhaps more importantly, we need the world.

Being present on social media is a lot like keeping up with current events- it allows us to see what is needed in the world in terms of information. Engaging with other people out in the world keeps us grounded in the real-life value our work has, and allows us to receive feedback. engage with audiences, and share our work.

Spending half an hour on Facebook or Twitter, it is clear to me that three things are true:

1) Media literacy is absolutely imperative to the production and consumption of content. We are free to consume whatever media we choose, but it is increasingly important to be critical of this media (check out podcasts/ twitter accounts like @ohwitchplease or @hpsacredtexts for examples of loving something while still being critical of it and this video by Melissa A. Fabello on media literacy 101)

2) It is also clear to me that In a world of Google and Wikipedia, people are absolutely starving for knowledge, and are searching for it. Everyone has become an independent researcher, but they need the tools to understand legitimate sources, from news sources to reputable medical journals. (This leads to people being really excited about obscure bits of history, taking an interest in science, but also leads to people doing their own “research” on vaccines and coming to ridiculous conclusions, such as “vaccines cause autism- spoiler alert: THEY DON’T)

3) People are interested in the work we do here in the academy, but we often present our work in a way that is inaccessible to the very people it most affects. It either discourages them from engaging because they feel they are being talked down to, or the academic jargon and databases we use make it impossible for people to find.

I think we have a good chance of addressing the aforementioned issues by engaging on social media as academics, writers, teachers, and students.

Here are 5 tips for academics on social media:

1) Share the contributions of others to your field. Promote community and camaraderie; others will return the favour. See a cool piece of research? Share it on twitter and fit in a quick 120 character description of the link!

2) Promote your own work on different platforms. Do so in different ways; change your language, present it visually or in audio form, make graphics, write an informal blog or try to communicate your research in a single tweet!

3) Be yourself; share that cat video you find hilarious. Craft a bio to make you stand out; you are MORE than just your research, and connecting with an audience will be much easier if there is more than just a MA or PhD behind that twitter handle.

4) Maintain a consistent presence: keep your community informed and don’t be afraid to recycle content. Wrote a kick-ass article a couple months ago? Tweet it whenever it is relevant to a hashtag or a current event/ issue. Try to tweet at least once a day, use instagram and facebook once a week, and blog at least once a month.

5) Be real. Many students and prospective students will want to know what it is like to be in your position, and real perspectives are refreshing and valuable. I have a section of my blog dedicated to this, and I find that not only has it been helpful for people looking into starting grad school, but also helpful for me to process my experience as an MA student. Writing helps me learn, and sometimes when current events are devastating, I need to write in order to process those things as well. It also helps me feel more connected, as grad school can feel very isolating.

These five tips will help you bring your research into the public and help you own your academia AND your personality. Don’t forget to follow, RT, and interact with accounts and pages related to your field, such as writers, researchers, institutions, publishers, boards, guilds, etc. Social media can help you network with other students, professors, and other professionals in your field.

The push to focus on mental health initiatives on college and university campuses came about largely because of social media. Not only can social media engagement help combat feelings of isolation when you interact with likeminded individuals, but it can help you raise awareness about important causes. Often these causes align with your research interests, so don’t be afraid to show the world you care.

Many people are afraid of making mistakes on social media or seeming insecure or unprofessional. We are constantly learning and evolving as people and there is nothing shameful in that. For me, social media is an exercise in vulnerability, professionalism, and growth. Remember that you are the new voices of academia, and that your social media posts are an archive of your work and thoughts; they are of immense value, just like you and your research.

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