Thing 15: Social Media
Social media can be a powerful tool for networking and raising your research profile. Its conversational style fosters open, informal professional connections and enables engagement with the wider community.
The lines between the personal and professional have become increasingly blurred because of the fluidity of social media, and many people now choose not to use separate online identities or personas. Discussing and promoting your research, sharing information of interest and highlighting some of your day-to-day activities creates a human side to academia and research and lets followers get a glimpse of you as a ‘real’ person. Most importantly, remember to put the ‘social’ into social media and try to keep the conversation going when people comment.
Many research organisations have started their own social media accounts, presenting a more personal side to a corporate face. Whether it’s your own social media account or an institution, the primary function is to build relationships with followers.
Altmetrics (metrics that are complementary to traditional, citation-based metrics) can measure the impact of mentions via social media. The Library has a guide explaining how to use alternative metrics software. Tools such as Strea.ma and Storify can showcase your posts at events or help give a complete media picture by collating content.
This post covers the ‘big three’ social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and discusses ways you can use them to raise your profile, connect with others and highlight your research. We also provide links for you to explore. The Thesis Whisperer (Dr Inger Mewburn) is prominent in all platforms. Consider how she uses them differently. The University of Melbourne also has many local accounts covering research. Browse their social media directory for inspiration.
Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Australia, with 17,000,000 monthly active Australian users (July 2017). You may have your own personal account but there are a number of ways to use the power of Facebook to connect with other researchers, promote yourself or share information about your institution.
Researchers can connect with an international audience in three key ways:
- Build your own personal research profile.
Are leaders in your field on Facebook? Are there pages and groups devoted to your research area? If so, consider joining and making contact. If not, perhaps you’ve found a gap to fill.
- Create a page that shows your area of interest or represents an organisation.
Is Facebook more valuable to you as a place to build your public research profile or as a place to build or join networks?
- Bring people together via a group.
Consider the pros and cons of making a group public or private. For example, making a teaching group private would allow the students to engage more deeply with their peers without worrying who else can see their participation.
Things to consider
- Don’t assume that the general public won’t be interested in accessing your research and sharing your interests! A surprising number of people love to hear about the nitty gritty of doing all kinds of research.
- The visual and interactive nature of Facebook enables you to share experiences from your field trips or look behind the scenes at your department. This is where you can share knowledge as a curator or expert in your field.
- Facebook Live offers real time video streaming, enabling viewers to respond (ask questions or comment).
- Facebook Events can help promote talks, functions, launches, exhibitions or any public event. It allows followers to register interest and Facebook will remind people as the event gets closer.
- Facebook also offers a space for mentoring, where researchers at different stages of their careers can interact both socially and professionally.
- Thanks to smartphone apps, Facebook and Facebook Pages Manager (IOS and Android) are an extremely mobile way of maintaining groups and pages. Similarly, the ubiquitous nature of smartphones means followers can access your posts anywhere and anytime.
- You can measure your impact and success in different ways: the number of likes, the number of conversations generated, and the quality of interactions. If you’re running a Facebook page, you will have access to Facebook Insights, which is their free analytics service.
In the last few years Facebook’s algorithm has been a hot topic. With the introductions of ‘boosted’ posts and Facebook Ads, pages without an advertising budget can struggle to be seen. By ensuring your content is engaging, your posts can still hit their target. This may be another reason to consider if a page or group is best for you.
What others have tried
|Individual pages||Community pages||Institution pages|
With a limit of 140 characters per tweet, Twitter requires you make every word count. (Newsflash: Twitter has just announced it is testing a 280 character limit.) Tweets can also contain links, photos and videos. Twitter allows you to share news, information and ideas spontaneously and conversationally.
Researchers can use Twitter to share, disseminate and publicize research; it also allows you to follow other researchers or particular areas of interest. Twitter can be a powerful publicity tool, as well as a means of networking and potentially collaborating with other researchers. It can even be useful for crowd-sourcing information, data or statistics. It allows you to connect with people you may have met briefly at conferences, or follow inspiring guest speakers or experts in your field.
Things to consider
- Start following people: this is the basis of Twitter. Look for people and organisations in your field; have a look at who they’re following and think about following these people.
- If you’re at a conference, lecture, or event consider live tweeting. This will help share information amongst attendees and those unable to be at the event. It’s also a useful reference tool highlighting quotes or information you found interesting. To ensure others find your tweets, remember to use the official event hashtag. Here are more tips for live tweeting.
- Having a Twitter presence can be a great way to raise your researcher profile and connect with others in your field. This article discusses how female researchers are more prevalent on Twitter and that mathematicians and life scientists are less likely to use it.
- Twitter Analytics can help you see the impact and reach your tweets are having as well as information about your followers.
- Twitter also has ads. This allows organisations or businesses to have further reach with their tweets or target specific followers.
- Videos you have recorded (up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds) can also be shared, offering vox pops, behind the scenes, commentary or footage from a conference, activity within your office or lab, or even your lunch break.
- URL shorteners such as https://bitly.com/ or unimelb save characters and can be used to share links without using too many letters or numbers.
- Finally, Twitter provides a useful glossary of Twitter terms.
The Research Bazaar at Melbourne Uni (@resbaz) also encourages researchers to get onto Twitter, as it gives you academic currency and can mean higher citations. This guide from Newcastle University supplies lots of useful links to Twitter lists and discussions about academic tweeting and why you should use Twitter during your PhD.
What others have tried
Originally designed as a photo sharing platform, Instagram continues to evolve. You can share video via posts (1 minute in length) or via Instagram Stories (available to view for 24 hours) which has become incredibly popular. These visual options allow you to communicate your research in a language that is global and easily digestible. You can use captions to expand on any messages your images touch on, or create small, simple infographics to explain your research. By using targeted and specific hashtags, you can attract likeminded users to your content.
The nature of images lends itself well to social media. By telling stories with images you can draw the viewer into the work you do. Consider showing ‘behind the scenes’ of your research or profile staff within your research institution, giving a human perspective to the work you do. Some accounts focus solely on research or a specific subject, while others blend the personal and professional. The visual diary aspect of Instagram allows followers to see all elements (work, study, social, family) of your life, including your lunch or the amount of coffee you drink.
Things to consider
- You can choose a personal or business Instagram account.
- Basic analytics, called Insights, is available with the business account, giving information on followers and engagement and impressions on your posts.
- If you have other social media accounts, it’s good to try and keep your usernames the same, especially for business accounts. Also fill out your biography. It should be short, informative, and give people an idea about who you are and what you’re likely to be posting.
- Instagram is now owned by Facebook, and introduced an algorithm overriding the original chronological order of posts. Here are some tips on ensuring your posts get seen.
- In recent years Instagram was targeted by spammers. Attempting to solve this issue ‘shadowbanning’ was introduced. Here’s some useful information explaining what this is and how to avoid your posts being accidently hidden from followers.
- Instagram has also introduced sponsored posts. Find out more about Instagram Ads.
- Following people is a good way to start seeing other people’s content, but also to get people to start following you back. You can have a look at who these people are following, and follow anyone on their lists if they interest you.
What others have tried
NB: Instagram account login required to view examples below.
More things to consider
Privacy & security
Consider your own personal privacy and the privacy requirements of your institution. There are various settings you can tweak within each social media account to manage your privacy.
Availability & sustainability
Ease of access to social media makes it user-friendly but it does make you available to others outside of normal working hours. How available should you be? Strike a balance with your posting. Be regular and consistent but avoid spamming people with content or responding at times you don’t feel comfortable with. Set boundaries about how much time you will spend each day.
Always favour content and images that you have produced yourself; always link out to content publish elsewhere (rather than republishing). Use images that are freely available for reuse (such as creative commons licences), and when in doubt consult the University’s Copyright Office.
The University has a useful Social Media policy that provides guidelines and recommendations for how researchers can best use social media as part of their professional engagement with colleagues, students and the public.
This post was written by Sarah Petchell (Collection Development Team Leader) and Andrea Hurt (Client Services Librarian (Arts)).