Social media for academic research self-publicity
In April 2011, Kyle Christie, a media relations assistant at the University of Sheffield, was writing in The Guardian about the use of social media to publicize academic research focusing on examples coming mainly from his workplace and belonging usually to sciences.
As pressures increase in the UK to make the higher education system more profitable as well as produce and publicize high-quality research and with international impact, the discussion about whether social media can or should be used by researchers is ever so current.
If taking Christie’s examples, social media is a quick and direct way of making research known to the world, as long as there is a good environment and moment to spreading the news. This implies though that there needs to be a genuine discovery (something with a twist that has the ability to grab attention whether it is the findings or the methodology) and have a researcher that is able and comfortable with communicating using social media.
However, there are many challenges with this model. For once, there are issues with access and comfort with technology, my work with social media trainings for academics in the UK, US and Bahrain showing that not all academics have the time or feel comfortable (as in use them often or trust social media) enough to use social media to publicize their work (this is work is reflected in two upcoming book chapters - http://www.anaadi.net/publications/).
Moreover, there is a need for clear policy from the institutions to whom these researchers belong to, one that would empower and support them to take their publicity in their own hands. While this might sound straightforward, this is not necessarily the case with media and marketing departments at universities with a strong corporate control sense. Furthermore, if this were to be the case, and researchers start doing their own online media and outreach PR, then why would universities need marketing and communication departments? Leaving academics to take care of their own online presence and publicity can certainly have advantages for them in the sense of providing them with more control and freedom in terms of the information they want shared as well the choice of environments and platforms they do so. This is however, a very delicate matter, a struggle between professional and personal interests and institutional goals.
Finally, there is a rather erroneous assumption that being active on social media can be presented as an impact factor – a metric for research in the UK which aims to establish the short, medium and long-terms influence of research on practice or policy. While social media can help spread the news, it can definitely not be considered the factor that leads to change but only as the channel through which news was shared.
My take on this, like with everything else online, is that the use social media needs to “feel natural yet strategic” by those engaging in it. For this, a lot more time needs to be spent in having universities decide on their policies for social media use including research communication and an equal amount of time needs to be dedicated to those curious about the environment but fearful or skeptical of it. Successful stories of social media use to publicize research by researchers come up only when there is support both at policy and personal level within the institutions they carry on their work.