Making The Most Of Social Media: Practical Tips For Academics

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Social media is a powerful tool with which academics can share their work, foster interdisciplinary collaboration and engage with wider audiences than they would ordinarily have access to.

Embracing social media is not only vital for enhancing professional visibility but is also an avenue for shaping public discourse and making meaningful connections with fellow academics.

These five strategies provide actionable advice to empower academics to harness the potential of social media to promote their work, foster connections and contribute meaningfully to the global academic community.

1. Identify objectives, audience and platforms

Establish why you are using social media. While there are myriad ways that engagement on social media platforms can be beneficial, it’s useful to outline clear goals, which might include sharing research findings, connecting with colleagues and promoting your institution’s programmes.

Social media requires consistent and regular posting to maintain visibility and audience engagement.

Managing social media accounts alongside teaching, research, outreach and administrative duties can be time-consuming and challenging for academics.

Once objectives are set, you can decide on a schedule for creating and posting content and allocate time for social media activities. Consider using social media management tools such as Hootsuite or Sprout Social to schedule posts, monitor engagement and streamline your workflow.

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Identify your target audience, which could include students, faculty, alumni or the broader academic community and the wider public. While your writing will at times appeal to multiple groups, practise tailoring content and style to resonate with your audience’s interests and preferences.

Brainstorming on the type of audience you want to reach will naturally lead you to consider the most appropriate platforms.

Social media platforms each fulfil different purposes: Facebook fosters personal connections and sharing of various content; LinkedIn focuses on professional networking and job opportunities; Twitter enables real-time discussions and news sharing; and Instagram is primarily a visual platform for sharing photos and videos.

2. Leverage storytelling techniques

Academics familiar with crafting lengthy, detailed arguments in their writing might find it challenging to pivot to a more casual and conversational style for social media, where brevity and conciseness are preferred or required.

Storytelling is a useful strategy for bridging the gap between conveying complex findings in lengthy formal treatises and communicating in a personalised and engaging manner.

Amy Deacon, a senior lecturer in zoology at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine campus, finds threads on Twitter a useful method for storytelling online.

“When I have a new paper published, I try to make a thread of three to eight tweets that tell a story of the science and the study. Each tweet should still stand alone to some extent, but together they tell the story.

The first post usually includes the main point of the study, so if people only read that they’ll get the gist. But you can hook people in with a question so that they follow the tweets.

Numbering each tweet in the thread as 1/4, 2/4 and so on helps readers to keep track. It is good to try and attach some kind of image, graph, link or gif to each tweet within the thread, not just the first one. You can write the whole thread and then post at once when all is complete.”

Use storytelling techniques to present your research, insights or experiences in a relatable and engaging manner. This approach will help you create memorable content that resonates with both academic and non-academic audiences.

3. Incorporate multimedia elements

A picture, video or gif can be worth a thousand words. Visuals and multimedia can greatly enhance your social media content, making it more attention-grabbing and appealing. Grabbing users’ attention in a crowded social media landscape is the entry point to effective engagement – without this, your writing will go unnoticed. Use images, videos and infographics to illustrate ideas, research findings or educational initiatives.

Xavier Moonan, a UWI lecturer in petroleum geology and president-elect at the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Latin America & Caribbean Region, uses Instagram to showcase work in the field with his students. His profile, which is a smorgasbord of photo and video imagery of sedimentary structures, rocks, (oil) rigs and mud volcanoes, doesn’t only provide an opportunity to showcase his work in traditional ways, like the analysis of geological maps, but also serves as an engagement tool, providing students and prospective students with an eye-catching view of study and work in the field.

4. Engage with your audience

Writing for social media isn’t only about conveying your ideas in a cogent manner.

It also involves engaging with others and their ideas. Interaction is at the heart of social media, so respond to comments, participate in discussions and ask questions.

This fosters a sense of community, encourages dialogue and can lead to valuable connections and collaborations.

Dr Deacon explains how Twitter, her platform of choice, has aided engagement with her audience: “Twitter is an interesting platform for science communication by scientists for scientists – much of the target audience is still academics who would understand technical explanations, but when they are browsing Twitter they don’t want to read text straight from a scientific paper; they want a fun thread that is easy to read but accurate and interesting. If they are interested to find out more, they can follow up by reading the actual paper later.”

Engage with others in your field, share ideas and work together on projects or initiatives. This collaboration can lead to new insights, opportunities for growth and even unexpected partnerships.

Jessie Daniels, a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), has explained how a simple tweet at an academic conference led to a series of collaborative blog posts with academic colleagues, which eventually led to the publication of a peer-reviewed paper.

This beautiful alchemy of academic curiosity and collaboration is possible through the vehicle of effective social media use, in which effective writing and communication are key.

5. Analyse your performance

While the success of high-level objectives such as sharing your work and collaborating with colleagues might be easily apparent, it helps to get more granular when assessing your social media engagement.

The details of the feedback you receive will allow you to improve and optimise your performance.

Use social media analytics tools to track key metrics such as the engagement and reach of your posts.

This data, which is available on most social media platforms via the individual posts themselves, can provide valuable insights into what content resonates with your audience and inform your future content strategy.

Consider alternative metrics (altmetrics) to assess the impact of your social media activities on citations, research collaboration and public engagement. There is now notable evidence that suggests sharing “research on Twitter is correlated with greater citation counts”, research shows.

David Riley is the digital marketing lead at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus.

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