Social Media Platforms for Academics, A Breakdown of the Networks

Social media is a great, free way to network with your academic community

I love social media because I’ve seen how it brings people together. Social media can create communities. In 2020, social media trends suggest a move towards authenticity. Influencers aren’t seeing nearly the engagement they used to.

Organic social media is unpaid social media. It’s what we use every day to connect with each other and share content.

Paid social media, on the other hand, includes things like boosted posts and ads.

I want to tell you that organic social media is alive and well. And that’s why I’ve created this guide to the social media platforms for you.

Looking for my guide to personal academic websites?

Organic social media is very effective for connecting niche audiences and communities academics like you have.

I’m Jennifer van Alstyne, and this is my blog about social media, websites and your online presence. I share advice articles and interviews each month.

Last year, I broke down 3 myths of social media. Basically,

  1. You don’t need thousands of followers to have an engaged audience. Recent data suggests smaller audiences are more engaged.
  2. You don’t have to post about your work all the time.
  3. And, you have more control over your visibility than you may think. Not just in terms of privacy, but in what you choose to share.

In this post, I break down the big social media platforms and what they’re used for. Updated December 2020.

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What social media platforms are best for me?

Hand holding a compass

Social media has changed significantly over time. But the basics are that people use online platforms to connect with each other and share content.

That content can be text, sound, image, video.

It can be long-form like blogs.

Or short-form like tweets.

You can connect in real time with people through these networks.

Check out this data visualization from Esteban Ortiz-Ospina to see how social media use has changed over time.

From “The rise of social media,” Our World in Data

With many social media platforms to choose from, where you spend your time is up to you.

Here’s a list of some of the most popular social media platforms.

General social media platforms

I’ve selected these social media platforms to detail because they are the best for connecting with the public and your scholarly community.

This is not an exhaustive list. Here’s Wikipedia’s list of social networking services.

Academic and research social media

Some social media platforms and tools are more geared towards professors and researchers.

  • Academia.edu
  • Altmetric
  • Google Scholar
  • ORCID
  • ResearchGate
  • Mendeley
  • Innovation Catalyst Global (AUS)

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Social media is great for academics to connect with each other and the public

Woman holding tablet with laptop in lap, both have Facebook pulled up on the screens

Facebook

With 2.7 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the largest social media network.

On Facebook, you can connect with people as friends, or network with them in groups. You can post

  • text
  • video
  • images
  • videos
  • and links.

You can also share time-limited content through stories, which last 24 hours.

With your personal profile, you can create a page or start a group.

You can make events and invite people to them.

You can save posts to read them later.

You can even host a fundraiser for your favorite nonprofit.

You can go live on video, to talk about your work or interests.

Most people I talk to use Facebook to connect with their family and friends.

Many academics on Facebook, have joined groups or liked pages from the associations and societies they are members of. This can help you stay connected to your field in real time.

I used to think Facebook wasn’t my favorite platform. My Digital Well-Being stats tell me otherwise. I spend more time on Facebook than other social media platforms. Between my friends, family, and the groups I’m a member of, I do enjoy my time on Facebook quite a bit.

For academics, Facebook can be a good to find community. Search for the organizations you care about. See if they have a group or page, and if conversations are going on.

When faculty and researchers share their work in meaningful ways with their Facebook audience, it can have amazing impact. Not just for your professional life. When your friends and family get what you are up to, and why, it helps your personal relationships too.

Facebook also owns Instagram, which is also on this list, as well as the messaging platforms Messenger and WhatsApp.

Instagram

Instagram is a visual social media platform you might consider. It’s the one that has the highest engagement. That means, when you post something, you tend to get a higher percentage of people interacting with that post than you would on other platforms.

With over 1 billion monthly active users of the platform, Instagram is highly popular.

Over 500 million people view Instagram stories, their 24 hour time-limited post.

Instagram is a visual-based social media platform. While it used to be based around photos, Instagram now allows video too.

You can share images and video as a post or story.

Pro Tip: Did you know you can share you Instagram stories to your Facebook profile? This is an easy way to share your content with more people.

And longer videos can be shared on IGTV, the section of Instagram now dedicated to longer videos. Recently, Instagram rolled out Reels, a new short video feature often compared to TikTok.

On Instagram, you can follow people to see their content regularly in your home feed. Or you can find content with Explore, which suggests things you’d be most interested in based on your past engagement.

You can even bookmark or share your favorite posts.

A lot of people not on Instagram tell me it’s because their “not good at photography.” Instagram’s trends are moving towards authenticity. Your bad photos are totally welcome there. So are your

  • screenshots
  • stock photos
  • selfies

I love stories because I can hop on and say hi to people. I can ask them a question using a poll or quiz.

And posts? They’re not just for your photos. Instagram post captions can actually be quite long. Many people are starting to use the platform for micro-blogging.

Instagram is my favorite platform for academics to find people with similar interests. And, it’s a great place for graduate students to connect and find community.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most powerful platform academics are on but don’t use well. Because so many of you are on it already, it’s a social network you should be taking advantage of.

LinkedIn is a professional networking site. But it’s more social than you might think.

With more than 760 million users, the platform is about more than getting a job. Yes, businesses do recruit and hire talent through LinkedIn.

It’s also a great place to learn and connect.

On LinkedIn, you get a professional profile that acts as a CV or resume. But it’s actually a bit better than that.

LinkedIn has a dedicated space for your bio, and the ability to add multimedia, links, and recommendations.

You can let people know about your publications. And your Awards and Honors.

On LinkedIn you can connect with your network. And you can follow people who share content you like.

You can join groups.

You can send messages to people you’ve connected with. And send inMail to people you haven’t.

In addition to following people, you can also follow organizations you like, and topics of interest.

You can share posts

  • text
  • image
  • and video

For academics who want to blog, but aren’t prepared to host and manage a website, I recommend LinkedIn most. You can share long-form content as articles.

LinkedIn profiles and articles are mapped by Google regularly. So it’s a great alternative for making an impact.

Faculty tell me LinkedIn is an effective way to keep up with past students.

If you haven’t taken a look at your profile in a while, it’s time for an update. My biggest tip for your profile is to use keywords in your headline.

Most of the time I see “Assistant Professor at X University.” The only way to tell what field this person might be in is by going to their profile, and looking at their education background.

And that may or may not be correct. To really find out, I’d have to Google them, and hope their faculty profile is up to date.

If you have something like, “Assistant Professor of English at X University | 20th and 21st century literature,” well that’s more specific.

LinkedIn is powerful. And, it’s more effective for long-term networking with the larger academic community than Twitter.

Twitter

Twitter, for most academics, is the best way to share your work.

Twitter has more than 330 million monthly active users who post 500 million times a day. Twitter is popular for academics and researchers though it has a smaller audience than Facebook or Instagram.

The platform isn’t growing all that much. And young people aren’t very into it, preferring Snapchat and YouTube.

While it’s a great platform to share your work and find an academic community, I don’t suggest it be your only platform. (That’s why I’ve placed it 4th on this list. I wanted to be sure you checked out the others too.)

A tweet is a post with a character-limit. 280 characters is the space you get for your message.

But you can thread tweets together to start a conversation, or share a longer message.

Tweets can be tagged with location.

You can also tag, mention an account, in tweets using the @ symbol, or in photos.

And you can use hashtags to mark the content of your tweet, or share it with a specific audience.

In tweets, you can share

  • text
  • images
  • videos
  • and links

You can follow people to see their content in your feed.

You can reply to tweets.

And you can bookmark tweets for later.

Now there are ‘fleets,’ a new social media story-like post on Twitter.

One useful way academics can keep track of their community on Twitter is by using lists. Lists are great because you can keep track of people’s tweets without seeing them in your home feed. You can see all the tweets from the people on that list in once space. And, lists can be private (just for you), or public (to share with your academic networks).

Twitter is where I’ve heard the most success stories about social media in terms of reaching the public. And when it comes to networking and collaboration.

YouTube

Not everyone thinks of YouTube as social media, but it is. And, it’s the fastest growing of the platforms.

We’re talking 2 billion monthly users, who “every day watch over a billion hours of video…” around the world.

On YouTube, you can search for videos and watch them.

You can have a personal channel where you can upload your own videos.

You can organize and sort videos you like into playlists. And you can choose whether they are public or private lists. For instance, I have a playlist of videos related to Old and Middle English from teaching British literature surveys to undergraduates. And I have a list of funny videos my friends shared with my in college that still makes me laugh when I come across it.

I also have public lists on The Social Academic YouTube channel like

YouTube has a social component: you can

  • like
  • comment
  • and share videos.

And you can subscribe to channels you like to see their content on your home tab.

If video is your thing, YouTube is a great place for you to build community. I just started creating content for YouTube in 2020.

Generate attention for your work with short informational videos. Find inspiration on the Academic YouTubers account on Twitter.

Upload a lecture for your class, and set it to private so just your students can access it once you send them the link.

You control the rights to your content. Check out their Terms of Service.

For most academics though, YouTube is a great place to find content for your classroom.

Learn how to organize your favorite videos with YouTube playlists.

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Learn about academic and research-based social networks

Academia.edu profile on laptop screen

Academia.edu

Academia.edu is the biggest of the academic social networks, with over 114 million accounts. Their website says their platform is “for academics to share research papers.” The website allows you to share your papers, and see their impact.

You should know the company is making money off your research. Don’t let the .edu fool you. It’s a for-profit company. All of these are (except ORCID).

With Academia.edu, you can create an academic profile which shares your bio and affiliation.

You can connect with scholars in your field, and follow their work.

You can do limited searches for your research interests. Advanced searches are available with a premium subscription.

You can download public papers, and request private ones.

And when you share your research, you can track it’s impact in views and downloads.

Note that you may not have legal permission to share your work. Read your publication contract and terms.

While I do have an Academia.edu account, I find there are better ways to share your research, like on a personal academic website that you own and control.

Altmetric

Altmetric is a tool that tracks research impact.

While it’s not a social media network, it’s generally included in discussions of academic social media.

Why? Because Altmetric monitors

  • Public policy documents
  • Mainstream media
  • Online reference managers
  • Post-publication peer-review platforms
  • Wikipedia
  • Open Syllabus Project
  • Patents
  • Blogs
  • Citations
  • Research highlights
  • Social Media, and other online platforms

For anyone publishing articles, this can be a valuable tool for showing the impact of your work (including on social media).

This free bookmarklet helps you see the metrics of published articles with a DOI. You can drag it to your bookmarks bar, and use it when you have an article open to see measured impact.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a search engine for “scholarly literature” including

  • articles
  • theses
  • books
  • abstracts
  • court opinions

It helps you find the publications you need, but not necessarily access them depending on permissions.

If you are an author of a scholarly publication, it can be helpful to have a Google Scholar profile. It’s sometimes called Google Scholar Citations. Get started here.

I have a Google Scholar profile and have found it helpful.

You can add your publications.

Add keywords that relate to your research interests.

And you can make it personal with a profile photo and website.

The metrics Google Scholar provides can help you see things like where your article has been cited. Learn more about Google Scholar metrics.

Most academics use Google Scholar to search for articles. Did you know you can also browse top publications as well? You can select a broad category in the top left corner.

Google Scholar has more search capability than some people realize. Did you know you can star a paper to save it to your library for later?

And you can create alerts for a topic of interest. And alerts for specific events (i.e. when your paper is cited).

You can even follow your colleagues to be notified when they have new articles.

So, if you have papers that show up in Google Scholar, go ahead and set up a profile. If not, consider creating a profile for the library and alerts features if those are helpful for you.

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ORCID

An ORCID iD is a “digital identifier that distinguishes you from every other researcher.”

Run by the non-profit ORCID, their vision is to connect research and innovation to its creators. “We enable transparent and trustworthy connections between researchers, their contributions, and affiliations by providing an identifier…”

There are more than 6.9 million ORCID iD’s.

When you register for an ORCID iD, you can create a profile and update your record.

Not just for publications, but for awards and your affiliations. For some fields, it’s common to include your ORCID iD on grant applications. Some journals require it for manuscript submission.

This can be helpful for researchers. But you should also note this isn’t a social a platform.

Learn more about how to register for an ORCID identifier.

ResearchGate

ResearchGate is another networking site that focuses on sharing papers.

A lot like Academia.edu, it’s free to join.

And it allows you to share your publications, and see stats and metrics about your work.

With over 15 million members, it’s a place you can create a profile and share your research.

ResearchGate is “built for scientists.”

You can share your research, background, and CV. Learn more about setting up your ResearchGate profile.

You can follow other researchers.

And you can even endorse skills. Kind of like on LinkedIn.

Hiring managers can find candidates.

And you can promote a conference here.

You can do a lot of things with ResearchGate.

Mendeley

You may know that Mendeley is a program people use to manage papers and citations. But did you know it’s also a “social network for researchers”?

This Elsevier subsidiary has 6 million users.

You can create a research profile which includes your affiliation and publications.

Their site says, “Rather than a typical social networking profile, your Mendeley profile focuses on your scholarship.”

You can join public or private groups.

Groups is where I’ve heard about people networking because you can share materials and papers.

You can create reading lists.

And, collaborate in projects.

Learn more about how to find groups to join on Mendeley.

Innovation Catalyst Global (Australia)

This Australian-based networking platform connects experts with the public. Funded under Australia’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), the platform “aims to boost industry-researcher collaboration.”

One way they do this is through their Expert Connect, which automatically pulls data from journals and other sources to create your researcher profile.

It’s pretty cool because you don’t need to update it, just claim your profile.

People in industry can connect to the experts they need using simple search terms.

And one thing I like is the Find Her filter, which helps industry leaders find women experts. They’re still working out some kinks, but I like this idea.

Similarly, they can connect through Innovation Challenges, which helps people in industry find solutions to their problems by matching them with experts who can help.

While IC Global is currently indexing Australian researchers, at 70,000 profiles, this is a growing platform to watch as they expand.

As you can see, there are many types of social media

Follow, like, share written on speech bubbles

People ask me all the time: “What social media platform should I be on?”

The answer is, whichever you want. If you’re looking to find your scholarly network, it’s already on each of the major general networks I talk about here

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

My top suggestions for most people though, are Twitter and LinkedIn.

Want to learn how to manage your online presence? Sign up for my free course.

Research your platform before you join

It’s a good idea to research social media platforms before you join them. Not every platform will be right for you. And that’s okay.

If you’re looking to find papers, and follow researchers in your field to see what they’re publishing, one of the academic networks might work well for you.

It’s a good idea to learn a bit about each platform before you join. And, be sure to read their Terms of Service.

I also suggest taking a look at their guides on Privacy settings, so you know you have the control you want.

Enjoy your time on social media

More than anything, I think it’s so important to enjoy the time you spend on social media. If you’re on a platform already and not enjoying it, think about why.

Do you know how to use that platform properly?

Are you aware of the tools and features available to you?

How are you connecting with people there?

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Platform-specific data in this article is from the official websites unless otherwise indicated.

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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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