Review of Social Media for Academics

I have written many times on this blog about my own experiences of using social media and other digital tools for academic work and my research focusing on how other academics are doing this.

One of the people I have encountered along the way is Mark Carrigan, an early career British sociologist. Appropriately enough, we first met on Twitter a few years ago, around the time I began experimenting with various digital tools for professional purposes. Since then, we have had many discussions there and on other online forums, as well as by email, about using social media in universities (and a couple of in-person meetings as well). Mark has now written a book on Social Media for Academics. It is the first book I know of to present a ‘how-to’ manual combined with reflections on the wider implications of  academic social media engagement.

Mark is a great example of someone who has strategically used social media while still in the very early stages of his career (completing his doctorate) to create a high profile for his work. He has now built on this experience not only to work in various positions involving promoting academic journals, departments and organisations, but to produce this book. In its chapters, Mark employs a casual, chatty style to painlessly introduce readers to the art of academic social media.

The book is distinctive because Mark’s sociological training allows him to contextualise the social, cultural and political implications of academic social media use. Yes, he offers  a multitude of helpful tips and advice about how best to communicate online, what platforms and tools are the most effective, how to develop your own voice, how online engagement helps in promoting one’s research and reaching wider audiences outside academia, building networks, curating interesting material you have found on the internet, finding time to use social media and so on. But there are also reflections offered on what academic social media means for professional identities and for academic work in general. In addition there are many pithy remarks drawing on Mark’s observations, for example, of the awkwardness that sometimes accompanies the experience of colleagues meeting in the flesh after having developed a hitherto purely online relationship, or the potential pitfalls of live-tweeting conferences or writing a tweet or blog post in haste and anger that then becomes widely circulated well after the initial irritation has subsided.

This book is highly recommended for higher degree students and faculty staff members who are interested in the possibilities of academic social media for both research and teaching, as well as researchers interested in future directions for the university workplace and academic identities.

 

An interview in which I talk about using social media to promote academic research

Late last year I was asked to do an interview about my experiences of using social media for academic purposes by librarians at the University of Sydney. Here’s the YouTube clip.

Opening up your research: self-archiving for sociologists

I have been reading more and more about the virtues of making one’s academic research available on open access sites (also known as ‘self-archiving’) and the best ways of doing this. There are several reasons why this is a good idea. Open access publishing makes your research visible by removing it from behind paywalls and rendering it accessible to anyone with an internet connection. An increasing number of research funding bodies are now expecting this as part of their requirements. It has been demonstrated that uploading your material to open access services increases academic citations of your work, and therefore contributes to its impact.

Sociologists in general are way behind academics in some other disciplines in their use of any kind of digital technologies as part of their research and scholarship. Those of us using social and other digital media, therefore, have fewer colleagues with whom to interact. A critical mass of ‘digitised sociologists’ has yet to be generated. In failing to use open access archiving, sociologists are missing out on sharing their work, gaining a greater audience and citation numbers, achieving engagement with those who do not have access to journal collections and accessing other sociologists’ research.

As part of my own attempts to work towards open access of my writing and research, I have recently been experimenting with different ways of achieving this. I have uploaded documents to the following open access archiving services: my institution’s e-repository, Academia.edu and ResearchGate. I did look into the Social Science Network as well, as its title suggests that it might embrace sociological writing. Having investigated this service and uploaded a few papers, however, it is clear that this service is far more oriented towards economics, business and management, legal studies, cognitive science and the humanities, so I have not pursued this option. I also investigated Figshare, but this appears to be used predominantly by scientists. Having experimented with uploading some papers to ResearchGate, the same appears to be true of this platform. Until this situation changes, I can’t see the Social Science Network, Figshare or ResearchGate as benefiting sociologists to any great extent. Academia.edu, by contrast, has far more sociologist members, and therefore at the moment provides many more opportunities to interact with other sociologists.

My experience suggests that combining the use of my university e-repository and Academia.edu is the most effective form of self-archiving for sociologists. University e-repositories are functional rather than fancy-looking, and do not provide any type of social networking functions. However they have been carefully established to capture all the metadata required to facilitate access by search engines (title, place of publication, date, what type of article and so on), constitute a permanent and secure space in which to deposit papers, generate a consistent hyperlink to the publications and are overseen and managed by university staff members.

As depositing my documents into the e-repository produces a stable URL that I can then easily distribute via blog posts or tweets, it is very easy to publicise them. I can insert this link into my Academia.edu publications page, thus directing readers directly to the e-repository archive if they wish to view or download the publication, as well as embed it in my university profile page and so on.

Academia.edu, for its part, provides features that university e-repositories do not. It includes social networking functions, offering the opportunity to follow other individual researchers and research topics and for others to follow you, and also facilitates discussions with other members. I therefore recommend using both services in conjunction with each other to achieve maximum exposure, as well as employing social media tools such as Twitter, blogs and Facebook to publicise the material that you have uploaded.

One drawback of self-archiving is that one needs to be conversant with what can be quite complex copyright legislation. There are no standard copyright agreements across academic journal and book publishers in terms of self-archiving, and these can vary quite widely. Most journals and book publishers in sociology never allow authors to upload the final, published version of the document as it appears in the journal/book itself (often called the ‘publisher’s version’). Most do allow authors to self-archive the author’s own postprint version (the final version formatted by the author in a word-processed document that was accepted for publication by the journal following the review and revision process). Preprints (your version of a piece before it is peer-reviewed) can generally be uploaded straight away as the author holds the copyright for this material. However the uploading of postprints often has to wait for lengthy embargo periods, which in the social sciences tends to be 12–18 months. Some book publishers even require a three-year embargo period following publication of the final edited version for book chapters in edited collections. The copyright agreements of each individual journal or book publisher need to be checked when self-archiving, particularly in relation to restrictions around postprint versions.

According to the Budapest Open Access Initiative website (an extremely comprehensive source of information about open access and self-archiving), researchers should be self-archiving articles at both preprint and postprint stages of publication. Publishing on open access services is a great way to publish pieces of writing that would otherwise have languished on your computer hard drive, such as seminar or conference papers. It has been contended that writing book chapters, in particular, may be a waste of effort, as they are often not accessible to search engines and therefore difficult for potential readers to find. Publishing an author’s version on an open access service will overcome this.

I have found that a working paper published on an e-repository can be an effective choice for research that you are keen to publish quickly because it is particularly important or topical, rather than waiting the many months that the peer-review and standard publication process involves. This kind of pre-submission publication also allows for any comments or feedback from others to be incorporated (a kind of pre-publication review process) before finalising the piece in its required journal article or book chapter format. As well as pieces of a standard article/book chapter length, I have published quite short pieces of writing such as conference papers and collections of blog posts gathered under a single topic (e.g. collections on fat politics and digital sociology).

Two last pieces of advice. First, try to make sure that all the papers you upload are of ‘publication standard’: polished, carefully proof-read and attractively formatted. Second, include a statement at the beginning of each paper indicating how it should be cited. Including this statement, or at least enough information so that people can cite the document is very important if, indeed, you want your publications to be cited. I have come across several pieces of other people’s writing that they have uploaded to digital repositories where the document does not state even the year of publication, let alone other details, so it cannot be cited.

Further reading: The Academic’s Guide to Self-Publishing discusses self-archiving and lots more.

Why I blog

Recently I did a short audio interview with Mark Carrigan for his digital sociologist series about my academic blogging (you can listen to my answers here). Responding to Mark’s questions have made me think some more about the reasons why I blog as part of my academic work. Here are some:

  • I enjoy it! At the risk of outing myself as a word nerd, I love writing about ideas and investigating social life, which is why I chose to become a sociologist. My blog gives me the opportunity to do this writing in a different way from the usual academic format.
  • Academic blogging is a refreshing alternative to writing long, detailed academic pieces – journal articles, book chapters and books. It takes many hours of dedicated attention and focus to produce these pieces of writing. Once written, they must go through the review and publication process, which again takes months or even years. In contrast, I can quickly write a blog post, finish it, press the ‘Publish’ button and it is immediately out in the world.
  • Related to this is the notion of control over my work. When I write a blog post and publish it, I have full control over its content and form.
  • I can use the blog to present ideas that would otherwise not have a forum. For example, I have written quite a few ‘how to’ posts in relation to using social media for academia and tips for conducting academic research. These posts are not traditional academic pieces and would not have a place for publication and sharing if it were not for the blog.
  • Blogging affords me the opportunity to comment very quickly on current social issues, a far cry from the long lead times of traditional academic publishing (see, for example, my post on Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, which I wrote and published within 24 hours of the announcement).
  • I can use the blog for research purposes in various ways. First, to present some ideas I am currently working on in their early form. Second, to outline some of the findings of an academic piece that has been completed and published. Third, to respond to or comment on other academics’ work.
  • Blogging gets my ideas out from behind paywalls and makes them accessible to everyone. It therefore allows for an exchange of ideas not just between academics but with anyone who cares to engage. Sociologists write about ‘society’. What we research is about people, and with blogging, it can for and with people too. As academics we should be sharing our ideas and research with everyone, not just those who can access our work in university libraries or can pay for it.
  • While blog posts do not go through the standard processes of academic review and quality control, blogging provides a form of ‘post-publication’ review. People can read, comment on, share, tweet or blog about, reblog or cite the material, all of which are forms of engagement and commentary on the work.

The negative aspects of blogging? The only one I have yet identified is the additional time commitment required. For the reasons outlined above, I believe this is a small price to pay.

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, Academia.edu 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, Scoop.it 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 Scoop.it 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 Scoop.it 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.

30 tips for successful academic research and writing

Next month I am running a workshop on academic publishing for early career academics. As part of preparing for the workshop I jotted down some ideas and tips to share with the group which I thought I would post here. In the process of writing 12 books and over 110 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters over a career which has mostly been part-time because of juggling the demands of motherhood with academic work, I have developed some approaches that seem to work well for me.

These tips are in no particular order, apart from number 1, which I consider to be the most important of all.

  1. Choose something to research/write about that you are passionately interested in. I find that most of my research and writing tends to spring from wanting to find out more or understand more about a particular phenomenon that intrigues me. In explaining it to myself I end up explaining it to others, hopefully in a new and interesting way that is worthy of publication.
  2. Be organised – planning time use is essential when there are many demands on your time.
  3. Make sure that you set aside one or more periods of time each week when you devote yourself to research and don’t let other demands impinge on this time.
  4. So I can easily see what I need to do and by when, I use a white-board with a ‘to do’ list with tasks listed monthly and their deadlines. I rub off tasks as I complete them (usually with a great sense of accomplishment!). Very low tech, I know, but effective as a visual reminder.
  5. Plan your research in chunks: this morning, today, this week, this month, next few months, this year, next three years. Have a clear idea for what you want to achieve in these time periods and try to stick to this as much as you can.
  6. I don’t tend to think more than a year ahead when it comes to research outcomes I want to achieve, but I find it helpful to write up at least a one-year research plan at the beginning of each year. Some people may also want to prepare a 3- or 5-year research plan.
  7. Be strategic about every bit of research time available. Think about the best use of your time. Difficult cognitive tasks requiring intense thought often need a lengthy period of time, so plan to do these when this is available to you. Easy or less time-intensive tasks such as correcting proofs, editing or formatting a journal article or chapter for submission or reading some materials and taking notes can be fitted in smaller periods of time.
  8. Use whatever research time you have to do something, however small the task.
  9. Make a start. Once you have an idea for a piece of writing, create a file for it on your computer and write down anything, however rough and however brief, even if it is just a provisional title and some notes about possible content. It can always be polished and developed later or even discarded if you decide eventually not to go ahead with the idea.
  10. Organise your writing into different computer files: articles in progress, submitted articles, accepted articles, conference papers, blog posts, book proposals, grant applications etc.
  11. Organise your PDF journal article collection under topics in files on your computer.
  12. If you are feeling unenthusiastic or have hit a wall – leave that piece of writing for a while and work on another piece of writing.
  13. If no external deadline has been set, set yourself deadlines and try to meet these as much as you can, so that you can then move on to the next piece of writing.
  14. Use your writing in as many different ways as you can – conference papers, articles/chapters, books, blog posts. Turn the small (unrefereed) pieces into bigger (refereed) pieces whenever you can and vice versa. What starts out as a blog post can be later developed into an article, for example. Conversely some of the main arguments of an article can be used in one or more blog posts.
  15. Never let a conference/seminar paper stay a conference/seminar paper – turn it into an article/book chapter as soon as you can. If there is simply not enough substance for a piece that is the length of a journal article or book chapter, consider polishing and referencing the paper appropriately. Once it is at a standard where you consider it ready to be available to others, publish it on your university’s e-repository as a working paper. That way, anyone will be able to access the paper digitally and reference it.
  16. Decide on an appropriate journal as you are writing an article and tailor the argument/length to the journal’s requirements before you finish it.
  17. Once you think that you have finished a piece of writing and are ready to submit it, put it aside for a least a day and come back and read it again with fresh eyes. You will most probably notice something that could be improved upon. Once you have done this and are feeling happy with the piece, go ahead and submit. As another commentator has argued, you need to conquer your fear and send your writing off into the world: ‘we owe it to the words we have written to send them away’.
  18. Receiving feedback from academic referees on a writing piece or research proposal can sometimes be demoralising. Don’t let negative comments get you down for long. Grit your teeth and revise and resubmit as soon as you can, however tedious it feels. See this as an opportunity to make your piece the very best it can be. If the article has been rejected, take a good hard look at whether the referees’ comments are valid and if necessary, revise and then submit it to another journal. Remember that all successful academic writers have received negative feedback at times: that is simply part-and-parcel of academic writing and publishing.
  19. Rather than simply deleting material when you are editing a piece of writing, make ‘edits’ computer files into which to ‘paste’ this material when you cut it (I make several edits files under topics). You never know when you may be able to use this material somewhere else.
  20. Think about how one writing piece can lead to another as you are writing it.
  21. Make sure that your abstract is well-written and will lead others to your work (see here for guidelines on writing an effective abstract).
  22. Keep on top of the latest research published in the journals you use for your research. One easy way to do this is to sign up to email alerts with the publishers of the journals and you will be notified by them of the contents of each new issue.
  23. Inspiration for research can come from many places. Attending conferences and seminars and reading the latest academic literature in your field are all extremely important, but so are other strategies. As a sociologist, I have generated many ideas from listening to good quality radio programs, reading newspapers and my favourite online sites and blogs regularly and engaging in social media such as Twitter and Facebook with people interested in the topics I research (see more on social media at no. 25).
  24. Connect, connect, connect. Publicise your research and make connections with other researchers as much as you can. Make contact with others working in areas related to your interests even if they are in different departments or in other universities. Join relevant research networks or start your own.
  25. Strengthen your online presence. Think about using social and other digital media to promote your research, engage with the community and make academic connections. Set up a profile on Academia.edu at the barest minimum. Make sure your university webpage is kept up-to-date with your latest publications and research projects. Write blog posts (if you don’t want to commit to your own blog, do guest posts for others’ blogs or for online discussion forums), sign up to Twitter and relevant Facebook pages, put your PowerPoints on SlideShare, make Pinterest boards (see here for my introduction to social media for academics).
  26. Use digital bookmarking sites such as Scoop.it, Pinterest, Delicious or Bundlr to save interesting material you have found on the web (see here for a discussion of using tools like these for academic work).
  27. Use a computerised online reference manager such as Endnote, Zotero or Mendeley. Get in the habit of loading citations straight into this each time as soon as you come across them.
  28. Think carefully about who you collaborate with on research before agreeing to do so. Good collaborators will add immensely to your own work: bad ones will make your life difficult and you won’t be happy with the outputs you produce.
  29. Seek out the advice or mentorship of more experienced academics whose research you respect.
  30. Take regular walks/runs/bike rides. This will not only keep you physically fit but will also provide a mental space to think through an argument or come up with new ideas. Some of my best ideas have come when I have been in motion and my thoughts are unencumbered.

Further Resources

PhD2Published: http://www.phd2published.com

Writing an article in 12 weeks: http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=1107

Getting published: what academics need to know (advice about books only): http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/apr/27/getting-published-academics

How to publish your journal paper: http://www.apa.org/monitor/sep02/publish.aspx

A sociologist’s adventures in social media land

I have recently published a number of blog posts on the topic of digital sociology and using social media for professional academic purposes. I have added a little additional material and collected these posts together in an e-document entitled Digital Sociology: An Introduction

Below is the preamble to this document. The complete document can be accessed here.

Like many academics, I was quite oblivious to the virtues of using digital social media for professional purposes for rather a long time. Although I used Facebook for private reasons to keep in touch with family and friends, and had signed up to Academia.edu and LinkedIn to connect with other academics, for several years these were the only social media platforms I used.

Then one day earlier this year the scales fell from my eyes. I wrote a piece for an online news and discussion site, The Conversation. This site was designed for academics to write accessible articles directed at the general public, who in turn are invited to comment. After only a few hours following publication of the article, more than 500 people had read it, and several had commented.  A couple of days later the post had accumulated over 2,000 views and many more comments. I was amazed by the way such a forum offered instant feedback on my ideas and a large readership. This was such a different model of publishing from the one I was used to: academic journal articles and books, which took many months and often years to appear in print following completion of a manuscript and even longer for responses to appear.

I soon decided to set up my own blog so that I could engage in such public engagement under my own terms: yes, gentle reader, the very blog that you are reading here. I then joined Twitter, a micro-blogging social platform that I had previously thought only as a forum for celebrities to post inanities and politicians to spread propaganda (my Twitter handle is @DALupton).

Again, I was surprised at what I found. I initially had set up a Twitter account as a way to publicise my blog posts but I then found that it was a really useful way to engage with academics and others working in or interested in the same topics I was. I found that people shared links to interesting blog posts, news articles, journal articles and books. They chatted about their latest research or debated a contentious issue, and I readily joined in. Using Tweetreach, a tool to document how far one’s tweets were travelling, I found that some days I was reaching up to 80,000 Twitter accounts. This is thanks to the exponential nature of the practice of retweeting, where one’s followers retweet one’s tweet to their followers, and so on. The power of online social networks was obvious.

I then decided that I needed a way of preserving, curating and sharing all the interesting blog posts and news articles that I had discovered via Twitter. I signed up to Delicious, a digital bookmarking site, to achieve this (my collections are here). I then discovered Pinterest, a curating platform for images, and found that it provided a fascinating way to collect images relevant to my research and share these with others: see my boards here. I set up an account with Storify to make ‘social stories’ using material drawn from the web (they can be viewed here), and shared my PowerPoint presentations on ShareSlide (here). I used Paper.li to start up a weekly newsletter, Health & Society, to publish some of the great information I was discovering online about one of my major research interests. I experimented with Pearltrees to curate and bookmark websites (see these here). Using an online wizard I even made my own app providing key concepts on medical sociology (see it here).  And of course I used Twitter to let other people know about these initiatives.

After using all these platforms and investigating what they could offer as part of my professional practice, I wrote a post for my blog on how sociologists can use Pinterest, another for the online forum Crikey on making an app for academic purposes, and a further three-part series for my blog on the topic of digital sociology.

Digital Sociology: An Introduction gathers together these articles in one place as a resource for others who might be interested in using social media in their practice as an academic, as well as for those who might be interested in what the term ‘digital sociology’ might encompass. I have also added some additional material on using Storify, Pearltrees and infographics tools.

Does using these social media tools take time out from other academic work? Yes, of course. But I would contend that it is well worth the time and effort. You can use these tools as little or as much as you want, depending on what you find you gain from them. And judicious use of these tools both contributes to and enriches your research and teaching efforts and attracts more readers to your other more ‘traditional’ academic research outputs. These are surely major goals for any academic.

These are the three main reasons I use social media as part of my academic professional practice:

  • Research: to let others know about mine, to learn about that of others and to gather material to support my research.
  • Creativity: using social media can be a great way to create items to share with others quickly and easily and often in a pleasing visual form.
  • Engagement: social media offer an accessible way to engage with other academics and non-academics.

Digital sociology part 3: digital research

In my previous two posts (‘Digital sociology part 1: what is it’ and ‘Digital sociology part 2: professional digital practice’) I presented an overview of the four practices of digital sociology and looked in more detail at professional digital use. This final post in this series on digital sociology looks at the various approaches to researching digital technologies from a sociological perspective.

Analysing digital data

Titles such as ‘digital social research’ or ‘digital social science’ tend to be used to refer to conducting ‘e-research’ using digitalised data sets that may be shared collaboratively using digital platforms. The focus, therefore, is on the collection and use of data and the tools to analyse these data rather than on the ways in which users of digital technologies are engaging with these tools and devices as part of their everyday lives: see, for example, the Oxford e-Social Science Project.

This approach is interested in the most efficient use of tools to store and analyse digital data and the ways of dealing with the constant churn of information on the web as well as the ethical issues around using such data such as copyright, privacy and data protection concerns. Research also includes investigation into how researchers engage with web archives as research tools and the reasons why they may choose not to do so.  ‘Naturally’ or incidentally generated data that are already collected by various web platforms (for example Facebook and Twitter posts, search engines, SMS messages and even GPS data) are used for analysis. Researchers may also elicit data for their own concerns, including using web-based surveys. This approach to digital data analysis is also interested in ways of recording and analysing data for qualitative analysis, including images, videos and audio data.

The terms ‘webometrics’ or ‘cybermetrics’ have been used to describe quantitative social research using digital data sets drawn from network websites and social media sites. While these approaches seem quite widely used in such fields as information science and technology, thus far they seem little used by sociologists.

Research into how people use digital and social media

As I commented in my previous post, people are now using digital and social media platforms and devices across the life span, from infancy to old age. Many of the consumers of media have also become content producers through the use of social media such as micro-blogging and blogging platforms and sharing tools such as YouTube and Flickr.

Since the advent of the internet,many sociologists and other researchers have used data from online communities to research many varied social issues, from the use of health-related websites for patient support and information sharing to the ways in which people with anorexia support each other in their ‘thinspiration’ quest, how people of ethnic minority groups represent themselves online, the articulation and organisation of online activism, self-presentation, self-identity and patterns of sociability on social networking sites such as Facebook and how ‘mummy bloggers’ share their experiences with other mothers on the web, to name but a few topics. Another topic of research has featured how people interact with their technologies: how they deal with the plethora of information streaming forth from the internet, what they use their digital devices for, how these devices are employed at home and in the workplace and so on. Children and young people’s use of digital technologies has come under quite a deal of scrutiny as well in a social context in which there is continuing concern about their ‘addiction’ to these technologies, their access to online pornography, cyberbullying or online sexual predation.

This kind of digital sociological research has clear overlaps with research in digital anthropology, digital cultures and cultural geographies of digital technologies, much of which is also directed at exploring the ways in which people interact with and use digital media using both qualitative methodologies (such as interviews, focus groups and ethnographic research) and quantitative approaches such as surveys and content analysis of digital material.

Critical digital sociology

A further topic of digital sociology research is that which directs critical attention at the ways in which sociologists and other academics themselves use digital media. This is a reflexive approach that draws on contemporary social and cultural theory to analyse and interrogate the kinds of subject positions or assemblages that are configured via digital technology use as part of professional practice. While such a critical approach does not preclude professional digital use, it opens up a space for reflection upon the implications and unintended consequences of such practices.

Burrows (2012), for example, has written on the ways in which metrics such as the’ h-index’ and ‘impact factor’ constructed via digital citation indices contributes to ‘a complex data assemblage that confronts the individual academic’ (p. 359). These metrics have become integral to the ways in which academics, academic units and universities receive funding and are ranked against others, and in the case of individual academics, to their prospects for employment and promotion. Uprichard (2012) has commented critically on the call for sociologists to use digital data in their research, focusing in particular on data-mining of the transactional data that is produced through live-stream interactions on the web such as Twitter and Facebook posts and updates. She argues that approaches to such data are often ahistorical and thus lack the richness of context. Further, they tend to be preoccupied with questions of method over sociologically imaginative ways of analysing the digital data that are collected. Other sociologists have addressed the ethical issues of using data from online communities and forums for research, including consideration of such questions as whether or not such communities constitute public or private space or whether researchers should make themselves known to communities when studying their interactions.

Very few sociologists (or other academics) have published critiques like these thus far. However the role played by digital technologies in the academic workplace looks to increase in importance as universities are moving (very quickly in some cases, more slowly in others) towards more extensive incorporation of online teaching as part of their credentialed courses. As an academic discipline sociology has traditionally played an important role in identifying and commenting upon the social and economic inequities underpinning the workplace and other social spheres. In this spirit, as digital technologies increasingly become part of the academic world, continuing critical and reflexive examination of these technologies and their implications for academic practice and selfhood should be an integral dimension of digital sociological research.

References

Burrows, R. (2012) Living with the h-index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary academy. The Sociological Review, 60(2), 355—72.

Uprichard, E. (2012) Being stuck in (live) time: the sticky sociological imagination. In Back. L. and Puwar, N. (eds) Live Research Methods (Sociological Review Monograph), in press. Preprint copy available here.

Digital sociology part 2: professional digital practice

In my previous post (‘Digital sociology part 1: what is it?’) I explained the concept of digital sociology and presented four aspects I considered integral to this sub-discipline: professional digital practice, sociological analyses of digital use, digital data analysis and critical digital sociology. In this post I focus on professional digital practice, or using digital media tools for professional purposes: to build networks, facilitate public engagement, receive feedback, establish an e-profile, curate and share content and instruct students.

It is clear that a revolution in how tertiary education is offered is on its way, as demonstrated by the recent decision of elite universities such as Princeton and Stanford to invest significant sums of money in massive open online courses which at the moment are provided free of charge to anyone who wishes to enrol (including, I note, an ‘Introduction to Sociology’ subject). The move towards open access and e-publishing of scholarly work also seems inevitable. Furthermore, creating en ‘e-profile’ is becoming an important part of academic work. Judicious use of social media allows you to exercise better control and manage the content of your online persona in a context in which search engines are constantly collating information about you.

For all these reasons, an understanding of how to present knowledge and promote learning in digital formats will soon become a vital part of academic practice. Here’s some specific ways in which academics can use some of the digital tools now available:

Building networks

Using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can be a highly efficient way of connecting with other academics working in a similar area as well as interested people from outside academia. These platforms allow participants to join networks arranged around topic or discipline areas and to contribute in discussions and sharing information within these networks.

Facilitating public engagement

Blogging sites such as WordPress and micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter can be used as easily accessible forums in which academics can communicate their ideas in short form. Unlike traditional journal articles that are locked behind paywalls, these platforms are free to access and material can be instantly published, allowing academics to share some of their research findings quickly. They therefore allow academics to promote their research and share it with a far greater audience than they would usually find in the traditional forums for publication. Links can be provided to journal articles so that longer academic pieces can be followed up by readers.

Receiving feedback

Blogs and micro-blogging platforms also allow interested readers to comment and engage with authors, thus facilitating public engagement. You can ask a question in a blog or Twitter post and receive responses, or readers may simply chose to use the comments box to make remarks on something you have published. Quora is a social media platform designed specifically to ask questions of anyone who uses it. Once you have set up an account you can publish a question or answer other people’s questions, as well as follow others’ questions to see what the responses are. You can also follow topics or people.

Establishing an e-profile

Sites such as Academia.edu and LinkedIn as well as your university profile webpage are ways of providing information about yourself. In Academia.edu, designed specifically for academics, you can list and upload your articles, conference papers and books and you can follow other individuals and topic areas and be followed in turn.

Curation and sharing of content

Curation and sharing platforms such as Delicious, Slideshare, Pinterest, Scoop.it, Pearltrees, Bundlr, Paper.li and Storify, as well as referencing tools such as Mendeley, Citeulike and Zotero, allow academics to easily gather and present information and, importantly, to then make the information public and share it with others online. On SlideShare you can share your Powerpoint presentations and the referencing tools allow you to gather lists of references on specific topics and then share these with others. Several of these tools, including Pinterest, Bundlr and Storify, allow you to insert your own comments or analysis on the material you have gathered.

Teaching

The platforms listed above can also be used as teaching tools, providing new ways of engaging students both through classroom teaching and in student assignments, where students can use the tools themselves to collect, curate and present information. Students in any area of study need to be trained in using social media and other digital technologies as part of preparing them for their future careers, as these technologies are increasingly becoming part of the working world.

Some examples of using digital and social media in sociology

This blog post itself is an example of professional digital practice in action. It is an edited version of a longer Storify presentation, and I was first inspired to write on this topic by an exchange I had on Twitter (for the Storify presentation, which contains additional information on digital sociology including weblinks to relevant courses, books, articles and blog posts, go here.

Digital media are being increasingly used as part of academic conferences. For example, academics often tweet about the content of the presentations they attend, providing a ‘back-channel’ of communication that can be shared with both those participating and those who cannot attend. These tweets can then be presented and preserved in Storify as a record of the conference to which anyone can have access.

I have previously written in detail about how Pinterest can be used for sociological research (see my previous post on ‘How sociologists and other social scientists can use Pinterest’). As I commented in this post, this curation platform is a wonderful way of collecting images related to one’s research interests. It also offers various possibilities for teaching, allowing students to curate and comment on their own image collections.

Paper.li provides a platform to create online newsletters by collating material downloaded from other sites. It can be used by academics to collect recent blog posts, the abstracts from newly published journal articles or online news articles relevant to a specific topic which they then share with their social networks on a daily or weekly basis.

Sociologists may also like to think about making their own apps for teaching purposes. It is possible to access app maker wizards online that are easy to use and inexpensive. See here for my account of how I made my own app explaining key concepts in medical sociology.

Further Resources

The LSE Impact of the Social Sciences blog provides invaluable content for academics interested in using digital media. It also has a handbook on maximising the impact of one’s research (including via digital means) and a guide to using Twitter for academic purposes, both of which can be downloaded free

See also the University of Warwick’s research page for links to useful articles about creating an academic e-profile.

See my Delicious stack ‘Social Media and Academia’ for an extensive collection of articles and blog posts  and Mark Carrigan’s Bundlr collection on ‘Academia 2.0’ . Also see #mlearning and #digsoc on Twitter for tweets on this topic.

My next post ‘Digital sociology part 3: digital research’ will provide an overview of how sociologists can use digital data and research the ways in which digital and social media are used in everyday life.

How sociologists (and other social scientists) can use Pinterest

English: Red Pinterest logo

English: Red Pinterest logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have recently discovered Pinterest, a social media platform which has recently become very popular. The concept of Pinterest is overwhelmingly visual and draws upon the idea of older techniques of collage or scrapbooking: collecting interesting images, grouping them together under a theme and displaying them to others. As a visual bookmarking site, self-described as a ‘virtual pinboard’, Pinterest allows users to ‘pin’, or transfer digital images to an interest ‘board’, or webpage that they make themselves and give a title to. The images are then collected together on this board and made available for others to see. Users may ‘repin’ images from other people’s boards, pin images they have found on other websites or use images of their own (their own photographs or infographics, for example). A wealth of high-quality and diverse images are available to use for Pinterest purposes.

One important feature of the site is that each pinned image has a commentary box below it which allows the user to provide details of the image or comment on it. There is quite a bit of space provided for such commentary: up to 500 characters. The website is set up so that pinning or repining is extremely quick and easy. Users can install a ‘Pin It’ button (bookmarklet) on their computer so that when they come across an image they wish to use it is simply a matter of clicking on the button and the image is added to one of their specified boards. Other people may ‘follow’ boards, comment on them and may be invited to contribute pins to them.

Statistiques: la croissance de Pinterest

Statistiques: la croissance de Pinterest (Photo credit: La Fabrique de Blogs)

When I first investigated Pinterest it seemed that it was simply a forum for people to collect and post images of cute children or animals, fashion outfits, holiday options, objects they would like to buy, home décor, wedding ideas, recipes and so on. These do indeed seem to be among the most popular of board topics and the website’s own description of what it offers focuses on these kinds of uses. However the platform is becomingly increasingly used not only used for private purposes, but also to publicise commercial enterprises or sell goods, create employment resumes and even for political campaigning. I notice that school teachers have also begun using Pinterest to display lesson plans and collect relevant material for their work to share with other teachers or with their students.

It seems that few academics are using Pinterest at the moment, or have even heard of it. But closer inspection and reflection on the capacities of the platform led me to think that Pininterest had the potential to be a very useful tool for sociological research and teaching (as well as for other academics in the humanities and social sciences).

Because of its emphasis on the visual, it is most relevant for the purposes of curating and displaying images that are related to the subject matter one is researching or teaching about. Pinterest boards can be used by sociologists for the following purposes:

  • To display images which are related to the topic of a book or research article you have published. The weblink for the relevant board can be given in the article or book so that interested readers can view the images which you have collected on that topic. The commentary box allows you to provide some analysis or contextualising material under each image.
  • To display infographics: data represented as graphs, tables, social maps, flow-charts and figures relevant to the board topic.
  • As a repository for images you have collected that can be used and analysed as part of a current or planned research project.
  • To display images of book covers written by others on topics related to your boards that you have found especially useful or interesting.
  • Boards can be used to publicise and promote your own academic writing. This only really works with books and blog posts or website pages, given that Pinterest is overwhelmingly a visual medium and has limited space for text. However if you wanted to promote your research article, you could include an image of the journal’s cover and give the title of your article in the commentary box below, along with a link to its online version.
  • Universities or individual academic departments or research groups can set up their own Pinterest sites and use boards to promote research and teaching initiatives.

Some ideas for university teaching include:

  • Giving your students access to a set of images that are related to the unit subject are teaching. The images can be displayed on your computer during class-time, or the link can be provided to students for them to view the boards out of class time. You can use your own boards or others’ boards. (If there is a good board already existing on a particular topic there is probably no point replicating yourself unless you curate a substantially different set of images or one specifically tailored to the content of the subjects you are teaching.)
  • Engaging students and promoting their understanding of the visual and cultural dimensions of a topic by asking them to make their own boards and curate images relevant to a topic, or together contribute to one big shared board. Part of this activity could be asking students to provide analytical commentary for images, or to write an accompanying essay that analyses the images or contextualises them in relation to academic scholarship on the topic.
  • Collaborating with other academics to share ideas and resources for teaching.

Last, there is the opportunity for sociologists and other social scientists who are interested in researching digital cultures or commodity culture to use Pinterest boards that others put together as a source of research data. The questions of why Pinterest is currently so popular, what types of photographs and topics are selected by users and what all this may imply for concepts of identity and the presentation of the self, media use, social relations and so on offer great potential for academic research.

Some commentators on blog sites and newspaper opinion pages have already begun to speculate about how and why users are using Pinterest. One commentator has argued that using Pinterest to display commodities one would like to buy is a kind of ersatz consumption, satisfying the desire for the real thing and therefore replacing consumption (‘Can Pinterest and Svpply help you reduce your consumption?’). Others have commented on the representation of women’s bodies on Pinterest boards (‘Pinterest’s  Thinspiration problem’ ) and how women use Pinterest (‘Pinterest and feminism’). It has been suggested that Pinterest allows users to display their taste to others (‘The real reason Pinterest is so popular’) and engage in creative pursuits involving the collection of striking or beautiful images, just as people once enjoyed making collages, photo albums, scrapbooks or collecting and displaying stamps (‘A picture gets a thousand likes’).

So far I have made seven boards of my own on Pinterest. Each of them is related to a recent or current research topic. For example, the third edition of one of my books, Medicine as Culture: Illness, Disease and the Body, was recently published. The book discusses the ways in which medicine, health and illness are understood, represented and experienced via social and cultural processes. There are many examples in the book of the ways in which medical practitioners, patients and particular illnesses or diseases have been represented in popular culture. I have created a virtual pinboard that I have entitled ‘Medicine as Culture’ and collected images there that are relevant to the subject matter discussed in the book. Images on this board include an 18th century wax anatomical model of a skull, doctors from medical television shows, doctors working in a surgical theatre in different historical eras, contemporary and historical anatomical drawings, plastinated bodies from the BodyWorlds exhibition, digital m-health technologies, artistic representations of the body, anatomy and illness, health promotion campaign materials and the pages from a latter-day doctor’s journal. I also included images of the cover of my Medicine as Culture book and other related books I have published, as well as books by others which were seminal to my own work in this area.

Some other interesting Pinterest boards on sociological topics I have discovered include:

  • The Sociological Cinema: many boards, including ‘The Environment”, ‘Social Theorists’, ‘War and Military’, ‘Gender and Physical Violence’. ‘Teaching Sociology’ and ‘Bodies’.
  • Sociological Images: includes a range of boards on topics such as ‘Racial/Ethnic Objectification’, ‘Deconstructing Disney’,’ Social Construction of Everything’ and ‘Social Construction of Race’.
  • LSE Review of Books: boards include such topics as ‘Sociology and Anthropology’, ‘Politics and International Relations’, ‘Philosophy and the Humanities’ and ‘Urban Studies and Architecture’.
  • Prof Jess: her boards include ‘Sociology of Emotion’, ‘Sociology (Music)’ and ‘Sociology of Sport(s)’.

Further information about Pinterest for beginners can be found here.