How do we sound?

Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under
Graphic conversation (Image by Marc Mathieu on flickr; distributed under

I was in Castlemaine for #MelbWriteUp last weekend and spent some of my time planning out the two presentations I’ll be doing at the INORMS conference in September.

One of them is part of a workshop organised by Tamika Heiden. The other is a paper that I’m presenting with my La Trobe colleague Jason Murphy. Both of them talk about social media and the kind of community-building that can take place through these channels, whether by design or serendipity.

One of the things that gave me pause was having to think through what it was we do to run the Research Whisperer.

Having run it for over five years now, you’d think that’d be dead easy. And some of it was: the process of soliciting and the guidelines we give potential guest post authors; our schedules for blog posting and social media channels; and, broadly, knowing what our blog’s topic territory is.

What was slightly harder to do was to talk about the blog’s (and our social channels’) voice and tone. Part of this is because Research Whisperer is run by Jonathan and I, and we appear never to have had to discuss this issue at all.

This not-talking about it has happened in a good way, though, because we were well aligned from the start. In retrospect, this surprises me a bit because we are very different personalities and – if anything – seem to represent extreme ends of the tendencies towards introversion and extroversion.

This post talks about social media voice and account ‘ownership’. I talk a lot about professional identity and boundaries when I run workshops. It’s one of the most asked questions in terms of how one represents oneself to the public, and what this might mean – what are the risks?

Where possible, I shepherd discussion away from risks so that it doesn’t become the organising principle of how to craft a digital presence. There are things that everyone needs to be aware of, things that can go potentially awry, and pitfalls you should avoid. But these aspects shouldn’t stop you from finding your intellectual and collegial community, or sharing your research with those who are as passionate about its value and effects. They certainly shouldn’t stop you from finding your own voice online.

Given these deliberations, I thought it might be useful to give you some insight into how the Research Whisperer works in terms of its identity and voice. You’re reading what Tseen thinks this is, given Jonathan hasn’t read this yet… (but he will, because we almost always cross-read things before they go live).

In 2015, when the Research Whisperer presented at an Australasian Research Management Society’s event and talked about our blogging practice and audience, we were preceded by the fabulous Carol Saab of CSIRO. Carol is CSIRO’s Communication Content Manager. She gave a great talk about CSIRO’s social media channels and how the (large!) team behind the accounts strives for a consistent voice and tone. They have an official set of qualities associated with their account: “passionate, optimistic, action-oriented, authentic, clear”.

I thought about what we put through our social channels and the tones we used. Was it consistent? Did we have a cohesive identity? I would like to think that our tone is encouraging, supportive, informed, and empathetic – regardless of topic. There are things that make us really angry (our white-hot rage posts are some of our most popular – go figure!), or need to be given more air-time because they are important. Many of our posts are about our broken academic systems and processes.

Livetweeting from the Research Whisperer account has had an erratic past – we’ve both livetweeted as @ResearchWhisper, but Jonathan’s more likely to do it than me. Among all the hang-ups I have in life (and, boy howdy, do I have hang-ups…) one of them appears to be whether I livetweet through the Research Whisperer account! I’m not sure why I shy away from it for livetweeting when I’m otherwise totally fine to inhabit that skin.

With an institution-face account like the one I run for work, it’s easier to explain: in my livetweeting, I want to use my own voice and, more often than not, this doesn’t sit perfectly within a formal university account. In addition, when I tweet from the institution-face account, I’m hyper-aware of speaking as a friendly and helpful unit of a university. The account’s voice represents an organisation.

With the Research Whisperer, that’s not the case at all. It’s just Jonathan and I. We work at universities but the Research Whisperer doesn’t represent those organisations. We are well aware of the fact – sometimes painfully – that we are organs of our universities and these affiliations count. How and when they count, however, is a grey zone.

The Research Whisperer is much looser with voice because, mostly, it’s two of us being our very different selves. Our content for our social streams is shared on a much more ad hoc basis than that of a formal institutional account. The things that make us laugh, or get excited, angry, intrigued, can be very different, and this is why the content you get on our channels is as diverse as it is.

We don’t hardwire any social channel scheduling, except for sharing our weekly post. Everything else we put through is organically harvested (from each of our personal feeds as well as the Research Whisperer’s more substantial one) and sometimes shared through an app like Buffer. What this means is that, while the Research Whisperer has an ostensible posting schedule of two posts a day on its social media channels, whether those schedule slots are filled is somewhat up to the whims of the gods (well, Jonathan and Tseen, actually). And I think that’s fine.

Our most active face on social media is our Twitter channel. When Jonathan or I retweet or update with an opinion about research or higher education shenanigans that we feel is personal (rather than neutral), we’ll use an attribution of ^@jod999, ^JOD, ^@tseenster, or ^TK at the end of the tweet. I’d be hard pressed to give you a logical breakdown of when I use the designation or not.

Some of this post may sound unprofessional. From questions I get asked, I think some people assume much more strategy and planning behind how the Research Whisperer runs than is actually the case.

That’s not to say there is no planning (we’re not the Keystone Cops) but we don’t run the Research Whisperer to a template. And we like that about it (and us).


  1. Having a consistent tone and clear identity is important in keeping the social channels healthy. And more importantly, sharing information that you really want to share is crucial. Sometimes people like sharing news or information without reading them thoroughly, or without having a clear perspective… That damages your identity and results in poor engagement of the audience…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just going with the headline on something can be a very bad move at times. Always pays to know what you’re passing onto your online community. I do, however, have confidence in some blogs/bloggers enough that I’ll share their posts with only a cursory look at the content.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for a very insightful post, Tseen. I enjoyed reading that you and Jonathan have acted organically to create the tone and purpose for RW. I don’t think anything you describe is unprofessional! Just that there are many ways of working and you that didn’t see a need to formalise things. Very heartening to hear.


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