I use Twitter a lot.
I have used it across my various professional faces for over ten years now.
I get invited by other institutions to give masterclasses and invited workshops about creating and managing digital identities.
I teach workshops about ‘researchers and social media’ every semester. I’ve written quite a few blogposts about social media, including what I like seeing researchers post, how to run a shared social media account, what is your social media ‘voice’, what I tweet, why I’d unfollow you (and why I’d follow you), and posts on livetweeting. And I’m still learning a lot about its use and flexibility.
I recently started participating in a social media challenge, and I’m having a great time and feeling rather enlightened about my own practices. I thought I’d share them with you (now, ten days in) and compare my thoughts with when the challenge is over at the end of September.
I saw that Melanie “The Leveraged PhD” Bruce was running a social media challenge in September (across Instagram and/or Twitter), I got excited enough about it to join up.
I think this is because I’ve been interested to join a challenge since the beginning of this year when my fabulous friend and colleague Narelle Lemon ran Feb Flourish on Instagram. For Narelle’s challenge, while my spirit was keen, my post-holiday mind was weak. I enjoyed seeing others’ posts but ended up not participating myself. An additional factor was that, while I’m on Instagram, it’s not a commonly frequented platform for me and I seem to use it mostly to post images of succulents and textures (and to receive surreal memes from my daughter). As such, it’s not a presence that does much ‘professional’ work for me.
I also saw Melanie’s first month-long challenge earlier this year and RW Jonathan participated in that one. Again, it was focused mostly on Instagram (I think!) but I was almost tempted to break my non-professional, moseying Instagram presence to participate.
So, third time lucky!
First things first: What’s a social media challenge, you ask?
Well, there are many flavours of challenge on various social platforms. Melanie’s description is: “A fun way to develop your social media presence. You’ll have a daily prompt to inspire you to create a post for your feed. It’s a great way to expand your network by finding and interacting with others doing the challenge.”
On a slightly more academic note, George Veletsianos has said:
“Scholars use social media for nonprofessional purposes, revealing multiple dimensions of their selves. For example, scholars have shared not just their scholarly successes, but their vulnerabilities and struggles (eg, with a divorce) and sought help with personal issues and causes that they are passionate about (eg, equal rights legislation and raising awareness concerning debilitating diseases). Importantly, it appears that engagement with and sharing about issues unrelated to the profession is a value that is celebrated by this community” – Veletsianos, “Open practices and identity” 2013
Social media challenges fulfil the aims outlined by Veletsianos, when done well, and certainly ‘reveal multiple dimensions of academic selves’. I often find myself saying that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be ‘professional’ but don’t be a robot, and by that I mean don’t be boring as and only foist your papers, projects, and presentations on others. If there’s no human in there, you’ve lost me (and probably many others…or maybe you wouldn’t have gained followers in the first place).
Onto the main purpose of this post: what am I learning to date?
1) It’s really satisfying to participate alongside colleagues who’ve also done the ‘Researchers and social media’ workshops I run, or been at other events focused on research communication (e.g. #EspressoRW). Being able to see their practice clearly on display and get to know their multidimensional selves, as well as see their interactions with others in the challenge, is a lot of fun. It’s fascinating to see what they share of themselves, and how. It gives me insight into what researchers who are newly on Twitter might be happy to share.
2) Being given the premise to interact and the diverse prompts means that sifting through others’ engagement is very good insight into what they’re like online (and, hopefully, a good indicator of what they’d be like offline). Unlike glad-handing a range of people at (always) forced networking events, which I don’t attend, this mode of meeting new people is easy, low-stakes, and so much less awkward. It could also mean that the ‘weak’ ties may be so weak that they don’t last beyond the challenge – but that’s something I’m interested to see after it’s over. A big bonus is meeting colleagues who are friends of friends and having them join your online circle.
For me, one of the things that’s essential to this kind of challenge is, if someone you don’t know makes a comment on your update and wants to engage, ENGAGE. It’s not that hard. If it’s a buddy, it’s OK not to respond to every single thing, but if it’s a potential new colleague and they’ve never reached out to you before, ignoring them seems counter-productive.
3) The organisation that’s necessary to participate well has made me reflect much more on where I draw the boundaries around what I post. It has made me reflect anew on why I’m even in the space and what I want to do there. I tell my workshop participants all the time that that’s a crucial part of having a meaningful presence online. I realised when I was a few days in that I had been on Twitter so long, and have been across so many other accounts, that I had stopped thinking about why I was there. Or, indeed, why I had built such an invested online identity in the first place. Now, I remember. It was to find and grow an intellectual community (not only of academics) in which I could find fellow travellers for the things I wanted to do, the conversations I wanted to have, and the perspectives I need to hear about.
I’ll be reporting back post-30 September on how the entire challenge has gone for me.
Meanwhile, if you feel the urge, you can join in Melanie’s challenge now, even though the month’s already started: theleveragedphd.com/social-media-challenge (thanks for hosting it, Melanie!)