Are you TikTok ready?

There is a vast world of creative media that can help academics cut through the noise of the internet, says Andy Miah. Here are five platforms you should be using

November 1, 2019
Tik Tok on a mobile phone

A little over five years ago, I put together “The A to Z of Social Media for Academia”, a Google sheet which consisted of digital platforms that were transforming how we worked and communicated with each other and the wider public. 

By then, the term “web 2.0” was well established among digital scholars, denoting a change in how digital data had gone from a static, html-based architecture to dynamic xml, which allowed simple sharing across platforms. 

The web 2.0 era signalled a shift away from complicated coding and even dedicated software, towards platforms that allowed us to get ideas, evidence and viewpoints across multiple channels with just simple web browsing skills.

It was liberating as an author and publisher. Platforms such as If This, Then That allowed us to create “recipes” which automated the process of moving content from one environment to another. Shifting a tweet into Facebook, for example.

And it was a major shift from web 1.0, when creating websites required knowing a bit of html code or at least knowing how to work specialised software like Microsoft Front Page or Macromedia’s Dreamweaver. Everything got a lot easier, really quickly – or so we thought.

Today, approximately five years since the initial excitement of web 2.0, we find ourselves as academics in an even more challenging situation. We have no difficulty in getting our work online, the challenge now is for anything we say to be noticed at all. Our content is drowned out by the tsunami of information that floods the mobile web. 

Despite all we have to share, academics do not have nearly the kind of following that even a C-list celebrity enjoys. And so, the function of a social media account today means something very different from what it meant 10 years ago. 

Today’s media environment demands that we make simple changes to how we share, such as adding compelling images to tweets, or using interface features like Boomerang on Instagram to make the content fit the context more effectively. 

This is no easy task for many academics, not least because the technical skills required now need to be interwoven with creative skills. Even making an image that has some text on it can be a challenge for many academics.

Because we need to work a lot harder on social media for our content to be noticed, I rebranded my list as “The A to Z of Creative Media for Academia”. 

Some platforms can feel like a world away from academia. But if you scratch the surface, you will find a whole lot of content related to what we do. 

Among the new platforms that seem least likely to be useful to academics but is actually incredibly content-rich is TikTok.

It can feel like a space for teenagers to broadcast their lip-synching dance videos more than a platform for researchers to communicate their work, but there are some great young people sharing scientific insights and teachers sharing experiments on the platform. Moreover, its highly sophisticated, in-built editing tools make it a lot easier to be more imaginative with video.  

The way to make ideas travel today is to be creative, so the revised A to Z list includes examples of virtual-reality installations and artificially intelligent discovery platforms like Wizdom, which are transforming how we identify relevant bodies of literature, but also how we decide which questions need asking.

It also includes some platforms which have yet to go mainstream, despite having been around for nearly a decade, like Prezi. I’ve used this presentation software for 10 years and I am still often asked which software I use when giving presentations.

The list has also been enriched with function categories, which indicate how the platform can be used for a variety of academic purposes, notably collaboration, research, workflow, teaching, presenting and data visualisations.

It’s also become an archive of platforms that came and went, or which were swallowed up by bigger companies. Who remembers Vine? Posterous? Lanyrd? Or StumbleUpon? They are all memorialised on the list. 

As before, it remains a live document and is always open to submissions, but here are my top five recommendations of creative media platforms academics should be using but probably aren’t.

1. TikTok You can dive deep into how teenagers share ideas, creations and dance moves, but there’s a fair bit of knowledge sharing too. It’s quite daunting, but it can also teach you about changing habits of content consumption, which can inform how you connect and share your own ideas.

2. Wizdom Still doing a literature search on your own through Web of Science or Google Scholar? Well this one shows you how artificially intelligent backed databases can create more collaborative ways of working that are set to change how we investigate. 

3. Instagram This may be the one platform you have had a go on, but if you haven’t quite figured out how to make it work, check out some brilliant communicators like Greg Foot, Maddie Moat or The Royal Institution. You can also search by subject tag to find out what’s most “grammable” in your area. Think of it less like marketing and more like storytelling in your discipline.

4. Twitter OK, you are definitely using this! But are you getting the most out of it? You can now go live on Twitter, meaning you could tweet every single talk you give and allow users to watch as it happens. Also, multi-thread tweets allow you to say more. But don’t forget that images and emojis help boost engagement, as does timing it right – 3pm is a good time to share.

5. If This, Then That Too busy to blog, tweet, or Insta? Then this is for you. It refines your workflow by setting up automatic sharing connections across platforms. It’s not perfect, but it’s vast and not just about sharing. For example, I have new journal content alerts pushed to me via Twitter direct messages so I don’t have to visit the journal’s website or receive more emails that I won’t read.

Andy Miah is chair in science communication and future media in the School of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Salford.

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For platforms of gross global tax avoiders only, it seems (Apple and Google).

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