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The competitive academic environment means researchers need to engage in active self-branding to build their reputations. Their online narrative is a vital part of this.
Researchers can create profiles on institutional web pages and academic social networking sites such as Academia.edu, ResearchGate, Orcid and Google Scholar, and they can use mass social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Each online profile is a micro-narrative that maintains one’s digital public identity and contributes to a researcher’s image.
An online presence offers opportunities to create connections, associations and interactions with others. There is, however, a distinction between having a profile and being present on that profile. Being present means having an accurate profile and an up-to-date publication list. Therefore, each profile should:
- Be clear, recent, relevant and detail one’s research expertise
- Cover the essentials – tick all the boxes, especially in presenting accurate information and showing a broad network of contacts.
Many researchers are sceptical about social media networks. This is partly because of their lack of time to maintain profiles. Paradoxically, scholars expect one another to have updated profiles but are far less dependable when it concerns their own.
Researchers often feel uncomfortable branding themselves online and struggle to find the balance between modesty and arrogance. Constructing research-related profiles might mitigate this issue by putting the researcher and their work first in the narration. The five following steps offer directions to help you create research-related profiles:
1. Develop an online networking strategy.
This will dictate which social networking sites, academic or otherwise, are best suited to constructing your online narrative. To do so, ask yourself:
- Why engage with this social network site?
- What’s your purpose in strengthening your online presence?
- How does it enable sharing of your research and academic career story?
2. Take time to understand the format and audience of the academic and social networking sites. Learn the platform functions: what are the conditions and features? What is the platform’s tone and communication style – brief and breezy? expansive and formal? Is its audience the public you want to engage with?
Explore different social media platforms to identify what each one requires to create an engaging profile. If microblogging, top-line news and engaging in global academic chatter is your thing, use Twitter. Want to share papers, track their impact and follow colleagues, use Academia.edu. For storytelling through imagery, use Instagram. A platform’s format has to work for you and allow you to operate within your comfort boundaries. Once you have identified your preferred social media outlets, it’s time for the next step.
3. Create a research-related profile on your chosen platform(s) with details that highlight your work, interests and achievements.
4. Start sharing current work and research-related ideas and knowledge. Eventually, you can start to explain why these things matter on a personal level.
5. Do not create scattered information with several half-completed profiles. You should compose a strong social network chain that offers a rich narrative of your career.
Accountability, transparency and verification of expertise are key ingredients to a thriving online profile that reflects a researcher’s image offline. Examine your personal research story and choose what to focus on, which may vary between platforms. Invite responses from your audience, opening up opportunities to start conversations, build relationships and spark collaborations.
How can LinkedIn fit into a researcher’s online narrative?
LinkedIn is one of the most popular social networks among scholars. It offers an opportunity to connect and develop networks with others in your field, to gain access to difficult-to-find publications, and to stay up to date with activities and information shared via this channel. It offers opportunities to join interest groups, follow research activities and communicate your own research to wider audiences than an academic journal. The emphasis should be on content rather than form.
Here are some practical tips to support you in getting your LinkedIn profile’s basic settings right.
Open your profile, go to the “Add profile section” below your profile photo and ensure that you enter details for every option suggested. Here are the essential ones for researchers:
1. Use the “Featured” section of LinkedIn
Determine which aspects of your research career should be highlighted in this section, such as specific articles, other social network profiles or recent posts. Consider uploading media such as short videos or presentations you have given at conferences.
2. Add publications, patents, projects, honours and awards
Scholarly profiles are about researchers and their research-related outcomes; list all your work and all your achievements.
3. Publish peer-reviewed articles on LinkedIn
This is a great opportunity to speed up your research distribution and make your work known and available outside academia. Be sure to use an open-access downloadable link.
4. Write LinkedIn articles
LinkedIn articles tend to score well on Google. Those who seek can read what you choose to make public, like your thoughts and interests, translational research and knowledge, or whatever creative outbursts you wish to share.
5. Be active: keep updating, sharing and reacting
Remember: there is a distinction between having a profile and being present.
Tjitske Dijkstra is the founder of Academic Career Coach and works with academics to help them define their career paths.