Every week there appears to be a new article telling you how to be an academic on social media and in the public eye. Apparently, you will lose out on prosperity and be cast from every public venue if you don’t have a meticulously curated Twitter profile and the right Linkedin contacts. While being online can be great for finding contacts and getting your work out there, I have honestly never said ‘Oh, I’ll never cite that critic, I have no idea what him and his cats do at the weekend’. The important thing is working out which things are useful and comfortable for you to use: the tyranny of ‘We all must do everything on social media to appear relevant’ ignores those who have serious problems with the ethics of the major sites and those who choose to keep some portion of their online ‘selves’ separate from their working profiles. But it is absolutely up to you to find out where your comfort zone is in all this. Unless ‘Twitter Kingpin’ is in your job description, it’s up to you.
As you know, academic work is porous and many-tentacled: that idea doesn’t stop swirling because it’s 6pm and that ‘pleasure’ book/TV show that gets you thinking. We often meet interesting, articulate people who say interesting things about both our subject and world events. We follow/like/repost them on social media, maybe even meet them for a coffee, become friends and collaborators. The aim, then, is to stop distractions and academic FOMO while finding ways to share our work and ideas. Personally, I use things as and when I find them helpful and useful. I also (how mortifying) have the ‘Self Control’ App for my computer and hide my phone when I’m trying to write.
Below are a few comments on different sites I find useful/maddening, and some ideas on how to work with them. You might find that other ways of working are right for you, and that’s more than grand.
What works for me is doing one sweep of my email first thing, another after lunch, another before I end my day’s work. Mail clients which ping all day long are the enemy of getting anything done, especially if you’d like to get any research finished during term. No one minds getting a response that’s the same day, not instantly. And STEP AWAY from the smartphone. Most phones have a neat little function to allow you to disable your email account (at 6pm on a Friday, say) and reset it again with a thumb slide (at 9am on Monday). Quite often we’re waiting to hear back about that article, that job, that grant, but you need to get some mental space away from the watched email that never boils. Learn this while you’re still a PhD student: the torrent of emails genuinely becomes a flood when you get an academic job.
I’ve seen academics use Twitter in a variety of ways, some are big into polemical rants, some enjoy taking pictures of their dinner, some use it exclusively for self promotion. Mostly, I use it for sharing events, mild ranting and pictures of David Bowie (not sorry). To make Twitter useable, first acquaint yourself with the ‘Mute’ button, which allows you to hide people without unfollowing them (and the resultant awkward conversation at your next conference). You can hate-read them at your leisure, then, with the added frisson of ‘You do it to yourself, and that’s what really hurts’. For Twitter, everything you do could lead to a loss in followers, so begin by not giving a damn about that number. I once lost 5 for tweeting an appeal to our local women’s shelter. Also, engage with other people’s stuff by retweeting them or, if you share someone’s link separately, have the decency to @ them in. Be generous and share, with credit. Also, I’m sorry to say, this is one employers will check out so try not to complain about everything too much. The world can be an awful injust place but there is a great difference between tweeting articles on Ferguson and complaining that they’ve run out of organic artichokes in the Holloway Road Waitrose. It’s all public. My main reason for choosing collaborators is ‘Will they bring decent biscuits?’ and, often, a scan through twitter is enough to make you realise that someone will not. In fact, they might complain about the level of saturated fat in biscuits. And that won’t do. Not at all.
3. Networking sites
Your first port of call when you get a paper accepted should always be your institutional repository, which should have a good team to advise you about copyright restrictions and sharing your work. If all is grand, then feel free to share your papers on this site. I like and loathe this in equal measures for the metrics it gives: we all have horror stories about the search terms which brought people to our pages (especially for those of us who work on gender and sexuality studies…) but it’s often handy to know that people in particular countries are looking for your research, and which papers in particular pique their interest. I like seeing what’s new in my field and bookmarking it for future reading, as GoogleScholar isn’t always the most accurate with assessing what I might be interested in reading. I do like the citation alerts on GoogleScholar, though, which has picked up a few place that I didn’t realise my work has reached. And before you dismiss these and other sites, remember: turn off the notifications. This is especially an issue for sites which think you might like to congratulate someone on their work anniversary.
The eye of Sauron might be reading this post, so I’ll try not to be libellous. I don’t really have a private profile as such: I never share information that I wouldn’t want in public, it’s mostly pictures of Manchester looking pretty at dusk. Where I have found it useful, though, is for ‘Pages’ for our Subject Association (hey, British Association for Irish Studies), Department (edited with colleagues, English at Salford) and for a conference I’m organising (Melancholy Empire). Once you sync these pages to Twitter accounts, you only have to post news once, and I like how FB allows you to schedule them. For example, I queue up all my BAIS events once a week over coffee, so we’ve something happening each day, it posts to Twitter, done. Metrics allow us to see what’s doing well and being shared. I presume that all data here is very much not my property, but it has been great to share public events and CFPs.
So, what do you do?