Tips for academics on blogging and social media

Scholars failing to engage with Twitter and other platforms are missing out on crucial resources

October 25, 2015
Man with smartphone strapped to baseball cap
Source: Reuters

Social media and blogging can help academics to achieve core goals such as increasing the readership for their work and engaging with the wider public. But what are the most effective tools and the most effective ways of using them?

For Mark Carrigan, a research fellow at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Social Ontology whose forthcoming book, Social Media for Academics, can already be pre-ordered, “the key media are Twitter and blogging and they are very interconnected – my blogs feed automatically into my Twitter account, which then drives an audience for the blog”.

An enthusiastic blogger since studying for his PhD, Carrigan found great value in using the medium as “a public research notebook about what I was reading, working my way through difficult literatures in public…There is something quite specific about the experience of clarifying your thoughts by articulating them so openly.”

At the same time, by sharing online, “an audience coalesces around you and you make a lot of contact with people asking similar questions and reading similar things”.

A key challenge for bloggers is developing an audience – very difficult, in Carrigan’s view, “unless you are blogging at least a couple of times a week”. Although Carrigan’s own blogs have “a natural limit of around 1,000 words”, he suggests that other academics should “find examples of people who are blogging, preferably within your own discipline, and see how they approach it. As you start to get into it, you may find that you want to try things in new ways, but it can be useful to imitate someone at first as a way of developing your own style.”

An alternative, for those unable or unwilling to blog regularly, is to “guest blog for an established site”: Times Higher Education, for instance, now invites blog submissions from academics on a variety of topics.

Twitter has equally great potential for academics, both for promoting their work and as a research tool, particularly in areas moving so fast that academic publications have not yet caught up. When beginning to explore a new area, Carrigan consciously searches through relevant themes and topics to find a few hundred new people to follow, since “it’s a safe assumption that if you find people who share your interests, they will tweet things relevant to your interests”.

One simple technique for profile-raising that Carrigan recommends, for anyone who has given a presentation, is to “put all your PowerPoint slides on a service like SlideShare and make them available on social media. It is useful for those who saw your talk, or didn’t see you talk but wanted to, since they are then able to see some of the content online.” 

A final and often neglected technique that Carrigan mentions is podcasting.

As a PhD student, he wanted to engage with his academic heroes but was wary of just emailing them a long list of questions. They proved far more receptive to the idea of his recording an interview, which he then edited and put up online for a wider audience. The number of hits has reached as many as 20,000.

10 top tips for academics on blogging and social media

  • Think through carefully exactly what you want to achieve by engaging with social media
  • Consider producing social media content as a normal part of your working life
  • Develop a sense of the advantages and limitations of each different platform
  • Be realistic about the time available to you – it may be more effective to engage on one platform than to spread yourself across many
  • Be aware of who might see what you are publishing online, but don’t become paralysed by overestimating your visibility and the potential risks that come from this
  • Make your blogs easier to find and navigate by tagging and categorising the contents
  • Always include details of your blog in any conference presentations
  • Make sure all your friends, colleagues and collaborators know about your blog
  • Set up automated links on Twitter to announce each new blogpost – and allow people to subscribe to your blogs by email
  • If you use Twitter to promote a blog post, make sure the title is clear and self-explanatory.

Mark Carrigan’s Social Media for Academics will be published by SAGE next year.

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Print headline: Play the imitation game to develop social media style

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