Let’s Bust 3 Myths About Social Media for Academics

Social media use is expanding so faculty and researchers should take note

According to Pew, in 2005 just 5% of adults had one or more social media accounts.

Today, it’s a whopping 69%. Of adults age 18-29, that number is even higher at 88%.

That’s almost 9 out of 10 of your students, and the majority of your friends and colleagues.

Hey there, I’m Jennifer van Alstyne, The Academic Designer. Welcome to The Social Academic where I bring you tips and tricks to own your online persona as a researcher or academic.

This time, I’m breaking 3 myths about social media academics like you need to know.

People like you have been reluctant to jump on the social media train

Woman writes on whiteboard in classroom

Researchers and academics have been reluctant to jump on the social media train.

Your audience is waiting to discover your

  • research
  • favorite teaching practice
  • or, talk about a shared interest

So why are so many people like you staying off social media?

A few years ago, an anonymous PhD student shared the sentiment of many academics with The Guardian, “We are in the midst of a selfie epidemic. We document every moment of our lives…and now this culture has infiltrated the world of academia.”

They have specific issues like live tweeting events, cell phone use at lectures and conferences, and a worry over the correlation between the number of likes you get and your employability.

And these are all valid concerns.

But the reality is at minimum, 69% of people use types of communication that promote the sharing of information like your work, and academics should use that to their advantage.

There are ways to use social media where you

  • share just what you want to share
  • use it professionally, personally (or both)
  • are on just the platforms you want
  • can connect with your scholarly network

You have more control than you might think over things like what, how much, and how often you share.

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Maybe social media is something I need to consider for my academic life

woman completing a 4 puzzle pieces puzzle with a thumbs up sign

7 out of 10 is enough to stop and say wait a second, maybe social media is something I need to consider.

Emily Willingham contributes to Forbes a somewhat scathing defense, noting social media pros like being able to connect with research funders, that academics are less bound by geography, and that social media creates opportunity for “idea exchange, troubleshooting, problem-solving and venting.”

Just check out #AcWri #PhDAdvice and #ECRchat on Twitter. There is a mixture of all of these things.

Studies have “documented the exacting nature of self-promotion,” that it takes all day, requires constant attention. And, that to “brand the self, to build one’s social capital as an investment in the future, to remain ‘visible,’” is a jarring idea of scholars. That makes sense.

But remember, social media is free. And, it takes less time than you think.

Let’s break these 3 myths about social media

woman standing in a field holds mirror reflecting the field

Myth #1 | I heard I need thousands of followers

This isn’t true. You definitely do not need thousands of followers to have an engaged audience.

Don’t get me wrong, more followers helps. What’s more important than how many, is who your followers are.

If you have 100 or 200 followers, and they’re mostly graduate students, academics your field, and friends/family, it is likely that a high percentage of those people will be interested in your content.

Your goal should be engagement (how people interact with your content), not follower count.

Myth #2 | I don’t want to post about my work all the time

It’s okay if you want your social media content to be an outlet for your favorite hobby, cat photos, or adventures.

If you’re an academic I suggest you dedicate a portion of your bio to what you do.

If you’re say an astronomer who tweets mostly about baseball, just include that too.

Check out my suggestions for your Instagram and Twitter profiles.

Myth #3 | I don’t like to be ‘visible’ and want my privacy

That’s okay. I think it’s fair to say all of us have been a bit scared of social media at one point or another, even me.

I wrote about how I stayed off social media for years because of this exact reason.

I just joined Twitter this year (2018).

Social media makes you as visible as you want to be.

There are a variety of options to control your privacy. And the major platforms academics and researchers should be utilizing — Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — allow for reasonable control over who can see what information.

You have more control than you think.

Here’s an example. I tweeted every day for a month and the most personal detail I shared was that one day, I read with my cats. You decide what content you share.

I’m not advocating for you posting on social media every day. Far from it. The only thing I suggest is be consistent.

If every academic and researcher commits to one social media post per month, the scholarly network online will grow.

The longer you remain consistent, the greater your following will be.

The 2 truths you need to know about social media

So we broke 3 myths about social media for academics.

  • You don’t need thousands of followers on social media
  • You don’t need to post about your work all the time
  • You have more control over your privacy than you think

Here are 2 more truths you need to know.

People want to follow people.

People like to learn things about the people they follow.

By that, I mean we need to do the work ourselves to make our profiles accessible to an unfamiliar audience.

People want to engage with real people. And that means being able to tell a bit about them. They need to learn a bit about you to know why to connect.

Learn more about social media platforms academics and researchers should consider.

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Jennifer van Alstyne View All →

Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and public relations consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help academics, researchers, and writers control their online presence and share their work with the world.

She holds a B.A. from Monmouth University in English, and an M.F.A. from Naropa University in Writing & Poetics where she was the Jack Kerouac Fellow. Jennifer also holds an M.A. from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Literature and Cultural Studies where she was one of four master’s fellows and a finalist for the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award.

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