There was a time when I used to leave people alone about their social media engagement.
Whether they wanted to get involved or not, that was their business. Who was I to say otherwise?
Oh, how things have changed.
In my current role as a researcher development academic, I’ve become That Person.
I’m the one who goes: “So, do you have a Twitter account? Have you set up your Google Scholar profile? Have you put your work in the university repository? Really? It’s easy to get started, and can be so much fun, and these are the professional benefits… [5 mins of waxing lyrical]… would you like me to help you get started?”
Those that invite me in then find that I’m apt to check in on them on Twitter – encouraging them to ‘de-egg’ their Twitter account with a profile picture, or flesh out their bio. I’m well aware that this can get annoying, so do my best to ensure that this kind of coaching is welcome and helpful, not irritating. I connect them to relevant hashtags, organisations, and people so they don’t feel they’re hanging out in an empty room.
One of my key aims in crusading about researchers gaining social media literacy is the development of a stronger feeling of researcher community. With a dispersed staff and graduate student profile across more than half a dozen campuses, it can be tricky to feel like everyone’s part of the same organisation.
If they invest some time and focus on building collegial and discipline networks, they’re usually fine to fly solo. Some of the researchers take to the medium immediately, which is always a treat.
This is the first semester that I’m trialing a cluster of three ‘researchers and social media’ workshops, pegged at broadly ‘intro – intermediate – advanced’ categories. An impossible and doomed demarcation, of course, but I’ve tried to reduce potential boredom or mismatched expectations by being specific about workshop activity. The second level one, for example, flags that it talks about building your networks now that you’re on social media, the challenges of blogging, and how to share research findings/activities on social channels.
I’ve run the first workshop (‘101’ level) twice now, and am about to do the second level one next week. I have been having a very good time. Not only do I get to talk about stuff that I know very well and am extremely – perhaps scarily – passionate about, I get to encourage and convert people to an ongoing, amplified mode of intellectual sharing and companionship. That’s what I have gained from my own usage, and I think anyone can cultivate the same.
Running workshops that are wholly focused on social media is a world away from putting on a session, say, about publication and citation strategies, where introducing social media is a bit of a Trojan Horse moment.
Even so, I have found certain resistances that are interesting and challenging to address. They crop up in the talks and workshops I’ve been invited to give, within my research network, and in my day-job sessions. Many of them are echoed by the experiences of my colleagues who also run workshops and give talks on social media literacy.
These are the top three issues we meet:
1. I don’t have the time (but I want the benefits)
I’ve had my ranty-pants on about this issue before, and it spawned a whole post about the Twitter face of the problem: Top 5 reasons I’ll follow you on Twitter. If you were picking up any other skill or area of knowledge in academia, you’d expect to put in the hard yards before gaining understanding. Let’s not even talk about being an expert in it. Yet, when it comes to social media, people seem to expect that it’ll be a quick study. I think it’s because they are often dismissive of social media education as ‘below’ academics. Many still don’t accept it as part of a contemporary academic skill-set.
2. I only want a professional account.
Given that the entry point for many people who attend these kinds of sessions is the ‘how to boost your citations’ kind of exhortation from managers or supervisors, it’s not surprising that this issue comes up. Many researchers do create and manage accounts with a strong ‘work face’, and they are human and engaging.
Others, however, interpret ‘being professional’ on social media as only feeding out information that is very tightly constrained to academic or research concerns, at the expense of personality and broader sector engagement (e.g. they don’t address current affairs relevant to their field, or participate in associated conversations with non-academics). If you do this, you’re basically replicating intellectual silos online.
3. I don’t get workload points for it.
This is a complaint that’s closely affiliated with #1, because it’s not that people ‘don’t have time’, it’s that people don’t have time that they are willing to spend on working with and expanding their social media skills and activities. While I think that recognition of these activities will gain ground, they won’t ever be on par with teaching or research, and they’re only now potentially creeping into some versions of academic promotion criteria (e.g. ‘outreach and engagement’).
So, for now, the value and opportunities gained in growing your connections or profile on social media must mean something to you. It cannot be viewed as a necessary evil that your institution requires of you. As I said to an academic the other day, you are not your institution.
An adept and engaging presence on social media means more than showcasing your research. It’s a component of career-building, a calling card for that next position, and your chance to develop an international profile at any stage of your career. Would that be worth it?