When it comes to making a foray into social media, the first question novices should ask themselves is, “What do I want to achieve?” That’s the advice of British sociologist Mark Carrigan, who wrote the book Social Media for Academics. He writes that social media tools can enhance any academic career, provided you choose the right tool to serve your professional goals and don’t let it become a time-waster.
Are you hoping to connect with journalists or a general audience on your way to becoming a public intellectual? Do you want to network with others in your field and expand the audience for your research papers? Are you using social media for research?
Answering those questions will tell you which combination of social media platforms will serve you best. Here are the main platforms you might want to explore.
Semi-private social media
Facebook remains the juggernaut among networking sites, with 1.7 billion users logging in monthly. However, there is a trend to semi-private social media, including direct messaging apps, particularly among younger audiences.
To meet that demand, Facebook offers the Messenger app and private discussion pages. Anyone can moderate a private page and they’re popular among teachers who want to create an online space for classes, or professionals who want to focus on industry issues.
But the hot social medium of the moment is Snapchat. The direct messaging app overtook Twitter in popularity this year and has about 150 million daily users, compared with Twitter’s 140 million.
Snapchat began in 2011 as the relaxed, fun app where users didn’t have to curate their photos since the “snaps” – photos or short videos – have a shelf-life of a few seconds. But its popularity with the under-25s has attracted news outlets and advertisers, and so Snapchat has an increasing amount of public content. More than half of its users are between the ages of 18 and 34, making it a good place for young academics to connect with peers.
Slack, another messaging app, began in 2013 as a business tool that lets remote workers stay in touch with offices all over the world. But it wasn’t long before Slack communities sprang up around interests, ideas and professions.
Moderating a Slack channel is an efficient way to keep in touch with others in your field and discuss current research or highlight your own. There’s also the option for private chat rooms and a search function for conversations, which makes it ideal for remembering shoptalk.
Looking for a stepping stone to help you become a public academic? Radio’s online cousin is a warmer, friendlier form of audio that serves specialty interest audiences and invites conversations between host and listener.
A good example of a podcasting academic is Hannah McGregor, an assistant professor in publishing at Simon Fraser University. She hosts a semi-regular podcast on Harry Potter from a scholar’s perspective.
Blogging may seem antiquated now – Google’s Blogger platform launched in 1999 – but WordPress and Tumblr (which is ideal for photo-heavy blogs) still have huge audiences. And Medium, with its simple white-page format, is a first choice for technophobes with text-heavy blogs, making it the site to launch many a rant-gone-viral.
Micro-blogging can be an end in itself or used as a tool for distributing your blog, podcast or video channel. Twitter, with its well-established hashtags, makes it easy to find those who share your interests and it can be a useful research tool. While it has a not-quite-fair reputation for being superficial, everyone appreciates tweeters who post useful articles or who tweet the highlights of conferences and events.
The old adage about a picture being worth 1,000 words is never so true as when talking about Instagram. Which could be why the micro-blogging site has almost three times Twitter’s daily users. It’s a natural fit for those in visual disciplines – fine art, dance, or architecture – looking for a wider audience. But if you have a knack for storytelling with pictures, it can also tell the tale of your field research or experiments.
Launching a Tinyletter newsletter is a good way to share links to articles, highlight job openings, or explore ideas about your own research for a niche audience. For example, Jay Owens, a British cultural geographer, publishes a weekly newsletter about the social and scientific history of dust called Disturbances. Brenna Clarke Gray, an English professor at Douglas College, also has her own Tinyletter, where she writes about a variety of subjects like work-life balance, writing and diversity in the media.
Shannon Rupp is Vancouver-based journalist who frequently writes about new media and technology’s impact on culture.