Social Media for Academia

Every year I become more convinced that to be successful as a scholar and academic I need to embrace social media. However, that prompts some explanation.

First, is to ask what does it mean to be a successful scholar and academic? For me it's about producing research that informs and assists others in their endeavours, either through contributing to and moving forward the scholarly discourse in my subject or by my research helping to improve the conditions of life. This might sound rather grandiose, but I mean it. I hope that, however modest my contribution may be, my research will have a positive impact on the world. Skilful and creative use of social media can be extremely useful in achieving that objective, I believe.

Which leads to the second question as to why social media is necessary. It's unavoidable that the internet is the most commonly used and most effective means of scholarly communication available today. It's essential for helping to push forward and shape the scholarly conversation. To be sure, conventional methods such as books, journal articles and other publications are also essential, as is regular attendance at conferences and other meetings. But social media is hugely effective for reaching out to new audiences, as well as for maintaining and developing existing relationships at a distance; and as electronic communications develop, so the number of distant relationships seems to increase year by year. And this leads me to the crucial questions of how to use social media most effectively, which media platforms to use, and why.

I like to think that I am an early adopter of internet communications, at least among my peer groups. But the more I use it, the more I realise it is a learned skill and that its use has few limits in terms of time and investment. In early 2011 I took the decision to work harder on using social media to boost my online presence and that has paid off in terms of the number of people that I am reaching. Stats from Google Scholar show that since I made that decision the number and rate of citations my research has received has increased (Figure 1). That may be to some extent due to some good quality publications since that time, but I also can't help concluding that it is also due to increased usage of social media.

Figure 1: Number of citations to my research as of 28 December 2014 (Source: Google Scholar My Citations).

In my experience one very useful site has been Academia.edu. Since 2011 I've uploaded advanced versions of my published research, talks, and other information to that platform and been incredibly surprised at the large number of page views and downloads (Figure 2). Members of academia.edu are students, academics and specialists, and the evidence from there shows that my research is getting a broader and deeper audience than previously within the scholarly and higher education communities. The international data also shows that my research has a broader geographical reach, too. It's very gratifying to see that the time I've spent developing these platforms and pages has been worthwhile in terms of the penetration of my research.

Figure 2. Screenshot of my research analytics on Academia.edu showing 60 day views to 28 December 2014 (Source: Academia.edu).

However, I've also come to understand that, like most things in life that are worthwhile and difficult, effective and creative development of a sophisticated and integrated online presence requires time, effort, patience, and dedicated study. There is still so much to learn in terms of which platforms to use for what, how each platform operates, how to join up activity on different platforms to develop an integrated approach to using social media for research, as well as simply finding the time and money to devote to the task. But I also want to share my knowledge and experience so that others can also benefit, which is one more reason for creating this blog and website.

So, I want to make 2015 the year of social media for me and my research. Over the coming months I'll need to do the following to make this work:

  • Read and learn about using social media from the experts.
  • Apply that knowledge to developing my current platforms.
  • Expand into new territories and create new platforms.
  • Link my platforms together and develop an integrated approach.
  • Review and track my progress and implement lessons learned.

Within these there will be a lot more besides, especially in developing an efficient method of rolling it all out and tracking my progress and its results. But I think I'm going to have fun doing so, and hopefully my research will not only have an expanded impact in the world, but I will meet some fellow travellers and make new friends along the way.