There are so many different platforms that it is difficult to know where
to start. Yet, social media are firmly part of mainstream culture, and
can really help extend the reach and impact of research.
With that in mind, I developed a 6-step plan for
academics and other researchers, who want to use social media to develop
their profile and the visibility of their research.
Step 1. Get a digital identifier
This is a one-off task: go to ORCID’s website,
register, and obtain your own researcher identifier. It takes less than
a minute, and you get a persistent alphanumeric code, which is unique
to you, and that you can use to identify all your work (not just
articles, but also datasets, figures and many other formats).
ORCID is useful for everybody, but is particularly valuable for those
researchers with common names, those that changed their name (e.g., as a
result of change in their marital status), and those whose names tend
to be misspelt or incorrectly cited (e.g., because of cultural
You can learn more about ORCID, and its relevance for researchers, here.
Step 2. Set up an online profile on key platforms
This is another one-off task, with the occasional requirement for an
update – for instance, when you finish your PhD or change jobs. Though,
you will have to replicate it in as many platforms as are relevant for
you and your audience.
As a minimum, you will want to create a profile on:
- Google Scholar
– Google Scholar is a search engine for academic literature. Its appeal
is fairly narrow – i.e., only relevant for those already searching for
academic work and authors. Still, you should create a profile on Google
Scholar to ensure that your work is credited to you (as opposed to
someone with the same name – see step 1). Google Scholar
profiles give anyone looking at your profile an overview of the work you
have done. Plus, you are alerted every time Google detects that your
work has been cite, which, in turn, can help you understand how your
work is being used, and whether certain pieces are not getting the
traction that you think they deserve so that you can do something about
it (see steps 3 and 6). Instructions on how to set up your Google Scholar profile are available here.
- Research Gate and/or Academia.edu
– these are social networks focused on research professionals. Thus,
again, their appeal is a bit narrow. However, there is a trend for
universities to advise their students to sign up for these social
networks and follow the authors mentioned in their syllabuses. This
trend means that you could be missing a great opportunity to increase
your reach and the visibility of your work, if you are not present on
these social networks.
- LinkedIn –
This is the premier professional social network in the UK. It is a
symmetrical network, meaning that you can only connect with people that
want to be connected with you, too. So, the potential for discovery is
quite limited. However, it is a great way to stay in contact with
professionals you have met (e.g., at an academic conference, or industry
meeting), and your former students. This presentation has some tips for academics on using LinkedIn.
If you are feeling brave, you can also create your own website. Free and user friendly platforms include wordpress, weebly, wix or blogger.
Having your own website may seem like an unnecessary complication,
but it does mean that you can control what you share, and how you share
it. For instance, you can adopt a more conversational tone than a
typical institutional website, and you can share different types of
content (i.e., not just text, but also pdf files, photos, videos, or
power point presentations). You can also have links to your social
network profiles, social media accounts, and so on. Finally, you can
tweak and update your information as often as you wish, and experiment
with different templates or styles – for instance, you may want to draw
attention to a new project that you are working on, or to a new paper
you just published (see steps 3 and 6).
Step 3. Make your outputs available
The vast majority of potential readers of your papers, who are not
affiliated with a higher education institution (HEI), do not have access
to academic journals. They need to pay to access individual papers,
meaning that the likelihood of someone reading your paper because the
title and abstract look very interesting (and, often, they don’t), is very low. In fact, even potential readers based in HEIs may not have access to many journals, due to budget cuts, or embargoes
(which, in some cases, are longer than one year!). That is, even those
that are very motivated to read your paper, may not be able to do so.
Thus, you really want to make your papers widely available (subject
to the journals’ terms and conditions, of course). This is something
that you should do whenever you have a paper accepted, for instance.
Alternatively, you can schedule some time now and then, and upload your
outputs in batch.
You can share open access versions of your papers via your institution (if applicable), and via the academic social networks mentioned in step 2.
An advantage of the second option is that your followers get a
notification that you have a new publication, hence drawing their
attention to your new papers. You can also share papers via LinkedIn and
Slideshare (one example, here).
Other outputs that you can share, include:
- Powerpoints of your conference presentations, invited talks or classes, on Slideshare;
- Course notes and other teaching materials, on Udemy;
- Datasets on figshare;
- Audio on soundcloud;
- Video on Vimeo or YouTube.
This is where having your own webpage really starts
delivering benefits, as you can also post all of these materials on your
website or, alternatively, provide links to the platforms mentioned
above where you have uploaded your outputs to.
One note of caution,
though. I do NOT recommend sharing the findings from your research
before they have been reported in paper which has already been accepted
for publication. This is not so much a matter of plagiarism (on the
contrary, it might help you in a dispute), but rather a matter of originality of your research (which is a key criterion of acceptance by top journals).
Also, keep in mind that everything that you post online (including metadata) is:
- public (even if you shared it privately)
- permanent (or very, very, very difficult to delete)
- not free (time really is money)
Step 4. Connect with others
The ability to connect with other researchers with similar interests,
extending professional networks, and keeping up to date with certain
topics, are the top benefits, for academics, of using social media, reported in various studies such as this one or this one.
It is a way of tapping into the social benefits of going to a
conference, but at a fraction of the cost, and with fewer time or
You can start by following people whose work you are interested in, on the academic social networks mentioned in step 2.
Because these networks are based on asymmetrical networks (i.e., you
can follow someone, but that person does not have to follow you), they
really help with discovery and network development. These networks also
allow you to search for users by research area, methodological interests or keywords; and they will suggest
researchers you might want to follow (e.g., whose work you have cited).
LinkedIn has similar search and suggestion features, but you can only
connect with people who also want to be connected with you.
Another great way of connecting with other researchers and/or users of your research is by following them on Twitter or, even, Facebook.
Both platforms have search and suggestion functions. Another way of
identifying people to follow, on Twitter, is to note who is mentioned by
people that you are already following, or to check relevant hashtags
(see step 5). Here is a list of Twitter accounts I like to follow – not all academia related, though.
As for time commitments, you will probably have to invest some time
in finding out who to follow, when you join each network. After that, it
is a matter of briefly checking the suggestions made by LinkedIn,
ResearchGate and the other platforms, if you wish. You can also connect
with people during or after an event where you come across people that
interest you; or if you come across their content on someone else’s
Twitter timeline or hashtag (see step 5).
Step 5. Join the conversation
This is where social media can become distracting and overwhelming,
if you are not careful. So, you want to manage your time carefully, to
make sure that you learn how to navigate this new environment and make the most of it.
A good place to start is by joining discussion groups on LinkedIn, the academic social networks (mentioned in step 2), or even dedicated discussion websites such as Quora.
There are also specific pages or groups on Facebook, usually associated
with a professional association, conference, or a publication.
In addition, many professional associations now have webpages or blogs pages with useful information for their members (this is one of my favourites). And there are communities for specific interests, like Piirus. These pages tend to welcome contributions from their members and/or allow for comments.
And, then, my favourite: Twitter. Twitter has been
compared to a noisy pub or party. Or, if you prefer, the coffee breaks
at a conference. There are lots of conversations going on. Like at a
party or a coffee break, there are conversations that are interesting,
others that are entertaining, and many that are not relevant. So, there
is no point in trying to keep up with all that is going on. The key is
to follow accounts that interest you (see step 4), and to monitor hashtags that may be of value and interest. Piirus has various lists of hashtags relevant for researchers.
Increasingly, events (such as conferences) will adopt a specific
hashtag – you will want to follow this to find other people attending
the event, and you will also want to add the hashtag to your tweets
related to that event. Finally, you may also want to monitor hashtags
related to your topic – for instance, #marketing, or #IoT (for internet of things).
And, of course, make sure that you are adding to the conversation, too. My tip for beginners, is to try the following experiment for one month:
- Find 10 Twitter users to follow. Including a couple that know you in
real life, and who know that you are new to Twitter. They will offer
- Tweet three things every day. The first one, is a link to something
of professional interest (e.g., a news story, a paper, or a blog post).
The second one, is an interaction with another user (e.g., comment on
something they shared; or simply retweet something that they posted).
The third one, is to write or share something not strictly professional
(e.g., a photo of something interesting you spotted, a comment about a
movie you watched or a book that you are reading, and so on – something
that helps other people connect with you as a human being).
- Whenever someone that you are following retweets something
interesting, check the person that posted the original message and
consider whether you want to start following them.
Regarding time commitments, you do need to be disciplined, as social
media conversations are a bit addictive, and can turn into a rabbit
hole. You need to limit when and for how long you check Twitter, the
discussion boards, and various pages that you follow. Also, do not use
push notifications (you can change this in your phone settings), as they
are very distracting.
Step 6. Make your research (and knowledge) accessible
This may be the last point but, in my view, it is the most important
to create research impact. Not only are our papers expensive to access,
but they also tend to be written in very formal terms, and not be very
user friendly (for instance, in-text referencing can be very
distracting). As a result, even if your work can be accessed by your
intended audience, it does not mean that it is accessible.
To make your work, or your subject knowledge, accessible, you want to write in plain language, a reasonably sized font, and lots of space. You will also want to keep your text reasonably short – for instance, focusing on just one point, or aspect of your paper, at a time.
This is where blogging really comes into play (see step 2 for free platforms). If you do not want to have your own blog, you can always post on long form sharing platforms like Medium, or LinkedIn’s long post. In fact, these options may be even better in terms of reach. See this post to help you decide whether to keep your own blog or post on one of these platforms.
And, of course, there are curated blogs that will be
very happy to take your blog post and which may even help with matters
such as editing or images. Platforms such as the LSE Impact Blog, Piirus, or The Conversation are great places to start.
If you do not want to write, of if you want to mix things up and/or
stretch yourself creatively, there is also the option of voice. Examples
include Mark Carrigan’s “A conversation with”, the Philosophy Bites podcast, or PodAcademy. Podcasts
do require some commitment in terms of time to organise interviews (if
relevant), require a good microphone, and may take up a lot of time in
editing. So, do weight the pros and cons of this option, carefully.
And there is also the option of videos. There are quite a few researchers on YouTube (I like this one).
But, like podcasts, it does require some time and commitment. Another
(and simpler) option is to use a software like Camtasia or Screen Flow
to record voice over your slide presentations (here is one example). And an even better option is to make very short videos on your mobile phone (e.g., for Snapchat – examples here), which you can then upload to YouTube – zero editing required!
Finally, a few suggestions to help others learn about your work and expertise:
- Join databases such as The Women’s Room, especially if you are from an under-represented group or if your work is very niche;
- If your work relates to topics of productivity and self-improvement, consider sharing it on Pinterest. If it works for Harvard Business Review, it can work for you, too!
- Consider curating content relating to your topic, via aggregation platforms such as paper.li (example here);
- Edit Wikipedia pages relating to your area of work. It takes a few minutes, only, and it can really help improve the quality of information available in this widely popular source of information.
Let me know what you think of this list. What would you add or want to know more about?
6 steps to promote your work on social media – a guide for academics and other researchers – Ana Canhoto