Social media for academia: some things I have learnt

2012 was the year of my big experiment: trying out various forms of social media for academic purposes. I was in many ways a social media novice when I began, as I had only really dabbled in Facebook, and LinkedIn before my period of experimentation began. But around the middle of last year I made the decision to jump in with both feet and try as many social media platforms as I could, all in the name of sociological experimentation as well as personal interest in what I could achieve using these tools.

Here are some of the things I have learnt thus far:

  • Twitter is an invaluable tool for academics. Through using Twitter I have made wonderful connections with a range of people I never would have encountered otherwise across a diversity of countries. I have had fascinating conversations in real time not only with other sociologists but also bioethicists, philosophers, nutritionists, anthropologists, fat activists, medical practitioners, graduate students, health care administrators, people working in digital technology development for medicine and  health  … the list goes on. Using Twitter I have been able to share not only links to my own research and blog posts, but also to many other news items, blog posts and academic articles and have benefited enormously from other people’s sharing of such information.
  • Starting my own blog has also been a great decision. My posts have allowed me to share some thoughts quickly and easily with anyone who cares to read them, and to engage in a conversation with those who have taken the trouble to comment. Allowing my research and ideas to reach a much wider readership has been a major benefit of blogging.
  • I discovered Pinterest, and have used it extensively to gather material for research purposes. Several of my recent publications have now included hyperlinks to one or more of my Pinterest boards to allow readers to view the materials to which I refer. I recently presented at an academic conference using two of my Pinterest boards simply by calling up the links on the laptop provided on the podium and showing relevant images as I talked.
  • I have found that uploading my PowerPoint presentations to SlideShare works well to give others ready access to them. I now try to upload the slides to SlideShare before my presentation, so that when I deliver it I can include in my final slide the links not only to my blog and Twitter account, but also to the SlideShare of the talk I had just presented. Audience members can then access the slides immediately if they so desire. I then tweet the link so anyone else who might be interested can take a look.
  • Curating tools like Delicious, or Bundlr are essential for collecting posts and news items from the web under topics that you have specified. Here again these collections can be used in academic publications as useful links to further information. You can also tweet the links or post them on Facebook etc. so that others know about them.
  • Specialist Facebook pages can be made to link to others working on or interested in a topic and build a community. I made three such pages last year.
  • Storify is a useful tool that you can use to quickly gather material from the web, including Twitter posts and Instagram images, and collate a ‘story’ by bringing a diverse array of such material together. I made several ‘stories’ last year using this tool, several of which I have used in the same way as I have used my Pinterest boards and and Delicious collections, by gathering research material and also linking to the ‘stories’ in my publications. As part of researching my new book The Social Worlds of the Unborn (due to appear later this year in the Palgrave Pivot series) for example, I made a Storify on news coverage of the announcement of Kate Middleton’s pregnancy late last year. I was able to tweet the link to the Storify the day after the announcement, then use a link to it in a blog post and have included it in my new book as well (along with links to my relevant Pinterest boards and collections on the unborn).
  • A curating tool that you can program to automatically bring together articles from certain websites or by topic is a boon. I use Prismatic for this.
  • I have also learnt about ‘strategic tweeting’: that is, selecting the best time of the day to tweet when people will be likely to be checking their feed, taking into account different time zones. Although I am based in Australia I have many followers in the northern hemisphere, so I have learnt to allow for this when tweeting. If there is something that you really want to catch people’s attention with, you will probably have to tweet it several times at different times of the day or on different days.
  • You can use the ‘altmetrics’ provided by social media tools (eg. number of Twitter followers, number of views of your blog) along with the more usual metrics on citations produced by Web of Science or Google Scholar to demonstrate in job or grant applications that you are participating in engagement with the public as well as making an impact on your field.

Using the tools I mention above has allowed me to keep on top of developments in my current areas of research interest, many of which are rapidly changing as new research or technologies emerge.

As a final observation: I have learnt that the immediacy and range of digital publishing is a feature that no academic should discount. If you want your research findings and ideas to stay behind paywalls, accessed largely only by the relatively small number of academics in your field, and wait for months or even years for even these readers to be able to do so while your material proceeds through the publication process, then avoid using social and other digital forms of publishing. If you would like to see your findings and ideas instantly available to a wide range of readers, then using digital media is the way to go.

See also my previous posts A sociologist’s adventures in social media land and Digital sociology part 2: professional digital practice.

29 thoughts on “Social media for academia: some things I have learnt

  1. Thanks Deborah for this fascinating overview of your social media exploration. You’ve triggered my interest in Pinterest and Storify – two mediums I haven’t used yet. I’ve been hesitant to delve into these realms because they seemed complicated – you make them seem simple. I like the way you’ve used Slideshare too. That’s a really great idea and helps get the information out there in an accessible format.

  2. Reblogged this on Centre for Medical Humanities Blog and commented:
    Deborah Lupton is a sociologist in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. She specialises in the sociology of medicine and public health, risk, the body, parenting culture and childhood, food, obesity politics and critical weight studies, the emotions, and digital sociology.

  3. Thank you Deborah for taking us on your journey across social media. I appreciated reading what worked for you and why, but I am curious to know if there were any approaches that did *not* work for you.

    • Hi Martine

      Well, one approach that was not really successful was curating a weekly compilation of material on the sociology of health using The tool itself worked quite well, but I only if I was checking that appropriate material was compiled each week. And not many people seemed to be reading the compilation, so I decided to give it up as it didn’t seem to be worth the bother.

      I am also finding that my Facebook pages (one on the Sociology of Health, Illness, and Medicine, one on Digital Sociology and one on the Sociology of Parenting) have not yet attracted many ‘likes’ and I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps there aren’t many academics or students working in these areas who are on Facebook?


  4. Hi Deborah – thanks so much for this post! We have also experimented with social and digital media in our research! So great to hear what others are doing – Here’s the digital story we made about our research!
    It was a great thing to do – it was a great experience for the team and it has been a really helpful way to share information about the research and to recruit!
    cheers, kerrie (also at @keznoo)

  5. Another useful piece, thanks. I was wondering though…how much time/effort all of this social media takes? How do you schedule/integrate it? Do you have to log into several platforms everyday? It seems important that academics know why they’re doing it and what it adds. You’re very clear on that, but there’s a lot of white noise and self-promotion out there and I wonder if academics feel pressurised into doing social media. Although the positives are clear and worth sharing, have there been any annoyances/difficulties?

    • Hi Julia

      You are right, you do have to devote additional time to using social media. But I see it these tools as important contributors to my research as well as a way of promoting my research.

      Twitter would be the main platform that I regularly log on to at various points each day. I just factor in time each day to keep on top of my Twitter feed and log out for hours at a time when I am focusing on something else.

      I’m not sure if academic feel pressured to use social media at the moment. Maybe they will one day, but the vast majority appear to be totally oblivious to what social media have to offer academics, including their supervisors.

      As for annoyances or difficulties, it is true that social media use can take up too much time. Again I would emphasise the importance of logging out for lengthy periods so that you can concentrate on others things. I deliberately choose not to follow too many people on Twitter to keep the feed under control. With my blog, I aim at about one post a month, which I find pretty manageable.I find I may spend a lot of time on Pinterest when collecting images for a board, but then may go for weeks without doing anything on it. I use Storify when I think it will be useful, but not all that often. And I update my Facebook pages fairly regularly but certainly not every day or even every week sometimes.

      I think that you can soon learn a practice and rhythm of work that works well for you, bearing in mind other demands on your time …


  6. Thanks for this post, it’s an inspirational read. I’m an academic and I’m quite new to blogging (3 months since first post) and Twitter (12 months since I joined). It wasn’t until I started to use these social media that I learned their value for interacting with others (academics, general public, politicians etc). It’s a good feeling when someone comments on, likes or retweets your work. This doesn’t happen when said work is behind a paywall!

  7. Excellent information, if only because it reports actual personal experience. Also valuable for the sheer range of options discussed. I have been phobic of twitter for one (who need more noise!), but this post has made me reconsider. Thanks for sharing all this. I’ll make good use of it!

    • Thank you, Andreas, I have thought of this but have not yet got around to trying it. I have heard of someone who gave a talk and scheduled her own tweets about its content to accompany the talk as she spoke – genius! I will have to try that one day …


  8. Thanks Deborah. That was a great summary of your experience. I too find twitter invaluable for keeping up in my fields (EdTech and PhD practice). I feel quite sad when people tell me they ‘haven’t go time’ to use these tools.

    • Thank you Mary-Helen. I think that often when people say that they ‘don’t have time’, what they really mean is that they don’t realise what these tools have to offer, or else they are a little afraid of new technologies or simply don’t feel as if they can be bothered to learn new things. I can understand all these reasons, so that’s why I’m trying to spread the word that social media are not hard to master and what their value are.

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