Ten tips for increasing your academic visibility

It is important that academic researchers draw attention to their research. We don’t engage in scholarship just for our own benefit. We want others to be aware of and use our research, including those outside the academy. Quite apart from the high value given to factors such as impact, stakeholder engagement and numbers of citations to your work, promoting goodwill and strong networks with your colleagues is important for your flourishing, including feeling part of a community and that you are making a difference.

Here are some ideas for increasing the visibility of your research to as great a range of publics as possible.

  1. Actively use social media: blog, tweet, sign up to Facebook groups of interest or make one of your own to bring like-minded researchers together. Use these networks to publicise your activities – including new publications, calls for papers, and event announcements. Be a good academic citizen and also publicise the outputs and activities of your colleagues – they will likely return the favour.
  2. Sign up to platforms such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu and maintain your profile, updating new publications on it. These platforms provide an easy way for people to request copies of your publications and for you to share them.
  3. Publish preprints and postprints in open access outlets such as your university e-repository, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, Social Science Research Network etc. This will make your work readily accessible for those who can’t access academic journals.
  4. Ensure that you have a Google Scholar profile that lists all your publications and citations. I can’t emphasise enough how important this is to make your publications and citations visible in one place. Google Scholar automatically links to all your open access publications as well, helping people to readily find your work. Important! – ensure that you check your profile regularly to weed out any inaccuracies that the Google Scholar algorithms may have created, such as not including a publication of yours or wrongly attributing someone else’s publications (and citations) to you. An inaccurate Google Scholar profile is not a good look, particularly if it appears that you are taking credit for someone else’s work.
  5. Sign up to Google Scholar alerts for your name – this will mean that every time you are cited, GS will email you a notification. This a fantastic way not only of seeing who is citing you but also how they are using and building on your work.
  6. Create some kind of web presence for your research projects, so that you can share updates, calls for participants, invite feedback on preliminary findings, announce events and list outputs (hopefully with as many as possible available in open access form). Consider including a section that provides resources such as links to other relevant websites and research groups, methods toolkits, curriculum ideas and reading lists.
  7. Take every opportunity to do interviews for mass media outlets and write pieces about your research for forums such as The Conversation.
  8. Make podcasts and videos to talk about your own research or interview other academics working in your area about their research.
  9. Don’t be afraid to self-cite in your publications (particularly if you are female – research shows that women academics are far less likely to cite their own work than are men).
  10. Use a platform like Slideshare to publish your presentation slides.

Edited to add: Also be aware that at times, increased visibility can bring with it unwanted negative attention, particularly if you research contentious or controversial topics that bring out the trolls, and if you are identify with a marginalised or vulnerable social group. If this is you, be careful in your choices about how to communicate your research publicly. (Thanks to Emma Renold for drawing attention to these issues when commenting on this post.)

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.

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.

Where are all the sociology blogs?

When I was preparing to set up this blog, like a good sociologist I did some background research first. I checked what other sociological blogs were out there on the web. I found strangely few of them. The blog that was listed first was ‘The Everyday Sociology Blog’ (http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com), which looks quite interesting with various sociologists posting. Closer inspection, however, reveals that it is part of an academic publishing house’s publicity efforts. Nothing wrong with that, but I was also interested in reading independent sociological writings from academics working in the area.

Other sociology blogs I found were very specialised, had wound up or had a particular barrow to push. I came across one post by Jon Smajda, who writes about the sociology of technology. His post, entitled ‘Why don’t more sociologists blog’?, argues that sociologists are rather diffident about blogging.

According to Smajda, many sociologists are wary of new computer technologies and self-promotion. They are also unsure about reaching out to a wider audience beyond the narrow confines of their academic discipline and writing for a potentially larger, unknown audience (http://jon.smaja.com/2008/08/25/why-dont-more-sociologists-blog).

I personally think that an important part of being a sociologist is to attempt to convey your research findings and views on social issues to a general readership.

Of course, I may have entered the wrong search term (I used ‘sociology blogs’) and there may be dozens  of interesting sociology blogs out there that I have yet to explore. Some I have found include ‘Sociology in Focus’ (http://sociologyinfocus.com), which has some lively posts about popular culture, ‘The Grumpy Sociologist’ (love the name!), which focuses on sports, masculinities, popular culture and violence (http://thegrumpysociologist.blogspot.com), ‘Sociology for the People’ (http://sociologyforthepeople.wordpress.com) by an advocate of public sociology, ‘BodySpaceSociety’ (http://www.bodyspacesociety.eu), looking specifically at digital technologies and ‘Monclair SocioBlog’ (http://montclairsoci.blogspot.com.au), which covers a range of topics by several sociologists.

Welcome to my blog. Given my current interests in medicine and public health, risk, parenting culture and childhood, food and critical weight studies, I will probably be blogging most about these topics. But we’ll see what happens!

Addendum: Since writing this blog, I have discovered some other interesting sociological blogs. Check them out on my Blogroll (scroll down the right side of this page to find it). Also see my Pearltrees ‘Blogs I like‘ and Dave Purcell’s list of sociology and other social science blogs here.