A Professional Academic’s Guide to Using Social Media

Featured image for blog post by Cori Faklaris: What Works in Social Media (For Academics)

Academics can follow these tips on how to use social media to reach a wider audience for their research and for their careers.

Learn how to promote yourself and your research to a global audience with these best practices for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Odds are that, if you are reading this, you use some form of social networking app. According to Statista, Facebook’s flagship app alone had 2.2 billion monthly active users as of April 2018. YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat round out the top 5 in their global ranking – with a very long tail of other social media platforms following below, such as Instagram, Sina Weibo and Reddit.

However, using social media to promote yourself and your work for your professional life in academia and for a job search can be different from using social media for connecting with friends and family, for entertainment purposes or to fill up your spare time. In this post, I will introduce you to the best practices for social media branding and promotion that I have learned in my previous career as a social media producer and consultant. I use these best practices also in my new life as a researcher and academic, and I think you should too!

Why bother with social media for your academic work?

The cool thing about our online selves is also the scary thing: what we do is visible to anyone with an internet connection – and we will be held accountable for it. But we can also help spread awareness of ourselves and our work so our work can reach those it can help and so that we can make important connections for our career.

The default assumption you should make is that public posts on social media services are indexed by search engines. Three such indexed sites are TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook. When people look up information about you, this content and account may be among the first page of results. You should make sure enough information is there to find under your professional name AND to set you apart from others with your name.

Social media accounts are indexed in search engines

I checked my own search results using Google’s search engine in the Incognito mode (this mode helps you to see what the algorithm shows you when you are not “you”). Take a look below:

Screenshots of first page of results on Google for search term “Cori Faklaris” using Incognito Mode to control for cookies and web history influence on algorithm’s results return.

Screenshots of first page of results on Google for search term “Cori Faklaris” using Incognito Mode to control for cookies and web history influence on algorithm’s results return.

Each of these three social media sites has different strengths. Twitter functions as a real-time, public “water cooler,” where we can gather to share and discuss current events. LinkedIn is more for sharing professional news – best to stay away from gossip or politics (unless that’s what you research!). Facebook helps you show your humanity and take the temperature of the conversation among your closest social circles.

3 social media sites to know as a U.S. academic:

Twitter LinkedIn Facebook
  • Gathering spot for news, comments, updates, “lulz”
  • Personal branding 
  • Follow real-time posts from events and conferences
  • #hashtags, #chats
  • Share blogs, tips + career milestones
  • Make connections for jobs + research
  • Display your resume/CV info
  • Follow groups + thought leaders
  • Give people a sense of who you are away from the lab or class
  • Make social connections
  • Join or “lurk” in debates of interest
  • See what’s popular

How can you get noticed on social media?

This is a bit of a circular problem … the things you do to get noticed are the same things you do to prepare for the day when you get noticed.

Tip 1: Claim your name(s)!

Make sure to claim “your” name on all the social media sites that you think people might look for you on: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, InstagramPinterestSnapchatTumblr come to mind, as well as Google+ResearchGateACMGitHubStackOverflowReddit, etc. for STEM and other disciplines.

  • Use a permanent email account when registering your social media accounts.
    • Primary email for personal accounts is best, i.e. GmailName@gmail.com, Name@FirstLastname.com
    • “Neutral” email for group or shared accounts, i.e. labname@school.edu, smm@yourbusiness.com
    • Write down the login information for these accounts in a password-protected Excel or Google Drive doc.
  • Check availability of your name(s) on sites.
    • https://knowem.com/, search bar on social media sites
    • Username is search term: FirstLastname, LabName.
  • Register accounts on all relevant services, especially legal and/or professional names.

Totally up to you if you want to pull a Ross Geller and register your name as “Dr.” – via GIPHY

Tip 2: Fill out your profile + contact info

  • Always include your professional name somewhere so people know this is “you.”
  • Use a professional-looking photo of your face so people can recognize you offline.
  • Fill out all of the text input fields.
  • Add cover images or backgrounds that tie in with what people know you for.
  • If you won’t be hanging out there regularly, direct people to the places where you know you will be active. (For example: My bio at twitter.com/corifaklaris, which I claimed because it is my name, tells people to please follow me at @heycori instead, which is the account I most often use.)

In summary: Don’t look like a spammer, bot or fake account!

I try to be consistent with the text that I use for bios and other fields across all my social media accounts. It’s less work and adds to the consistent overall online presence I present.

Copy-paste from account to account still isn’t quite as automated as this – via GIPHY

Keep improving your social media accounts

The above are the absolute minimum that I think everyone should do to claim their territory on social networking sites. Below, I will discuss ways that you can improve your social media presence.

Tip 3: Find + follow model accounts

  • Look up your colleagues in the search bars of social media sites.
    • Follow, connect with or friend all of them 🙂
    • Notice why you find pleasure in reading the posts of  certain accounts. What types of posts do they share? How do they mix in links, photos, videos, commentary?
    • Try out what seems to work for them.
  • Click on lists of followers or connections of these colleagues to find more models.
    • Follow, connect with or friend the ones you seem to have the most interests or people in common with.
    • Notice whether and how other the audience engaged with their content – through comments, likes/favorites/reactions, shares, etc.

On Twitter, you can also search on hashtags like #AcademicTwitter or #PhDlife or #gradschool to find like minds outside of your research field or school. They also might lead you to new and fun hashtags to spice up your own posts and make them findable!

You can also identify Twitter accounts to follow by clicking on the “Followers” tab and scrolling through the account cards for people who have applied the same TLC to their social media presence that we just talked about.

Don’t feel you have to follow everyone. However, it’s a good practice to make a connection on social media platforms with any institutions that you are affiliated with and any researchers and colleagues in your area, also.

Whenever someone adds me on social media. by wobbyxSep 18 2014

Whenever someone adds me on social media.
by wobbyxSep 18 2014 Source: //imgur.com/06MZzcj

Tip 4: Post something every day

This is where you really need to get serious about building your online brand. It does not happen by accident. Like with scholarship, it takes a systematic application of work and focus.

  • Choose one social media account as your primary focus of energy and time.
    • Block out 10 minutes each weekday for this work.
    • Take 5 minutes to scan for a link to post – maybe a recent reading, a video you watched, a meme you laughed at or saying that you found inspirational.
    • Type in or copy/paste a link to this content, with a personal comment that speaks to why your attention was drawn to it or why you think it has value for others.
    • For the rest of this time block, reply back, comment on others’ posts and follow at least 10 other accounts.
  • Choose two more for weekly maintenance.
    • Block out time once a week (on the weekend?) to post to these secondary social media accounts using this method for each of the two, for a total of 20 minutes.

Real talk: this involves a commitment of at least 90 minutes each week. I know – where does this time come from?! Maybe you can take a few minutes when you are sitting on the bus or subway during your commute to post and comment via your smartphone, or you can come into your office a little earlier each day to drink your coffee while tending to your accounts.
hills clock

There’s always a little time here and there –  via GIPHY

Tip 5: Cross-promote these accounts on all your other communication materials

Include info for your social media accounts, with links, on all your other accounts and materials:

  • List your active social media accounts in a prominent spot on your website. (You do have a website, right?)
  • Include your social media account info at the top of your resumé and curriculum vitae.

And don’t forget:

  • Your business card.
  • Email signature.
  • Presentation slides.
  • Blog posts.

kermit gif


Tip 6: Keep these ground rules in mind for your social media posts

  • No more than 2 in-line tags per post: Don’t go #crazy with the #hashtags #all #over #the #place, #please. #nomorethantwoinlinetagsperpostpleasethanks
  • Avoid posting divisive sentiments: We are all human beings with passions and emotions. But remember that you are using social media to gain an audience for what you have to say, not to drive away that potential audience.
  • Sarcasm doesn’t come across well: Compared with in-person cues such as body language and vocal intonation, online communication tools have limited bandwidth for transmitting rich and complex meaning. Emojis and GIFs can only help so much. Best to refrain from posting statements whose meaning will change if they are taken at face value and/or out of context – because they will be.
  • RTs may still be read as = endorsements. Even passing along statements that were originally made by others, which is very easy to do in some social computing platforms, can be misread by your audience as expressing your own full meaning and intentions. Disclaimers don’t get you off the hook.

Whew! Social media is a lot of work and worry, amirite? But it can pay off in the long run. Just like the other work you do to communicate your research and your other contributions to your academic field, social media can help you to reach a wider audience for your work and to make vital career and collaboration connections.

Thanks for reading! I hope you learned in this post how to promote yourself and your research to a global audience with these best practices for Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

In a second post, “Foolproof formulas for boosting your academic brand on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn,” I will discuss how to think more systematically about building your content and your followers – for those who want to make social media more core to their professional life.

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About Cori Faklaris

Cori Faklaris, XRDS social media editor, is a doctoral student researcher at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (expected graduation: 2023). She currently studies information security and user behavior in social computing and is advised by Laura Dabbish and Jason Hong. Previously, she earned an M.S. degree in Human-Computer Interaction from the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing (Thesis: The State of Digital ‘Fair Use’) and a B.S. degree in Journalism, News-Editorial sequence, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Media. In between these degrees, Faklaris spent nearly 20 years in the U.S. news industry as a reporter, editor, designer, programmer, analyst, social media producer and general “Doer of Things No One Else Wants to Do.” She writes and consults occasionally about effective strategies in digital communication, practices Zen Buddhist meditation and paints abstract-expressionist artworks. She shares her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA with her two cats, Dexter and Addie.

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