Using Social Media to Support Research Management – ARMA training and development event

Last week I gave a brief presentation at a training and development event organised by ARMA (Association of Research Managers and Administrators) entitled ‘Using Social Media to Support Research Management’. Also presenting were Professor Andy Miah of the University of Salford, Sierra Williams of the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, Terry Bucknell of Altmetric. and Phil Ward of Fundermentals and the University of Kent.   A .pdf of my wibblings as inflicted can be found here.

I guess there are three things from the presentation and from the day as a whole that I’d pick out for particular comment.

Firstly, if you’re involved in research management/support/development/impact, then you should be familiar with social media, and by familiar I don’t mean just knowing the difference between Twitter and Friends Reunited – I mean actually using it. That’s not to say that everyone must or should dash off and start a blog – for one thing, I’m not sure I could handle the competition. But I do think you should have a professional presence on Twitter. And I think the same applies to any academics whose research interests involve social media in any way – I’ve spoken to researchers wanting to use Twitter data who are not themselves on Twitter. Call it a form of ethnography if you like (or, probably better, action research), I think you only really understand social media by getting involved – you should “inhabit the ecosystem”, as Andy Miah put it in a quite brilliant presentation that you should definitely make time to watch.

I’ve listed some of the reasons for getting involved, and some of the advantages and challenges, in my presentation. But briefly, it’s only by using it and experiencing for yourself the challenge of finding people to follow, getting followers, getting attention for the messages you want to transmit, risking putting yourself and your views out there that you come to understand it. I used to just throw words like “blog” and “twitter” and “social media engagement” around like zeitgeisty confetti when talking to academic colleagues about their various project impact plans, without understanding any of it properly. Now I can talk about plans to get twitter followers, strategies to gain readers for the project blog, the way the project’s social media presence will be involved in networks and ecosystems relevant to the topic.

One misunderstanding that a lot of people have is that you have to tweet a lot of original content – in fact, it’s better not to. Andy mentioned a “70/30” rule – 70% other people’s stuff, 30% yours, as a rough rule of thumb. Even if your social media presence is just as a kind of curator – finding and retweeting interesting links and making occasional comments, you’re still contributing and you’re still part of the ecosystem, and if your interests overlap with mine, I’ll want to follow you because you’ll find things I miss. David Gauntlett wrote a really interesting article for the LSE impact blog on the value of “publish, then filter” systems for finding good content, which is well worth a read. Filtering is important work.

The second issue I’d like to draw out is an issue around personal and professional identity on Twitter. When Phil Ward, Julie Northam, David Young and I gave a presentation on social media at the ARMA conference in 2012, many delegates were already using Twitter in a personal capacity, but were nervous about mixing the personal and professional. I used to think this was much more of a problem/challenge than I do now. In last week’s presentation, I argued that there were essentially three kinds of Twitter account – the institutional, the personal, and what I called “Adam at work”. Institutional wears a shirt and tie and is impersonal and professional. Personal is sat in its pants on the sofa tweeting about football or television programmes or politics. Adam-at-work is more ‘smart casual’ and tweets about professional stuff, but without being so straight-laced as the institutional account.

Actually Adam-at-Work (and, for that matter You-at-Work) are not difficult identities to work out and to stick to. We all manage it every day.  We’re professional and focused and on-topic, but we also build relations with our office mates and co-workers, and some of that relationship building is through sharing weekend plans, holidays, interests etc. I want to try to find a way of explaining this without resorting to the words “water cooler” or (worse) “banter”, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Just as we need to show our human sides to bond with colleagues in everyday life, we need to do the same on Twitter. Essentially, if you wouldn’t lean over and tell it to the person at the desk next to you, don’t tweet about it. I think we’re all well capable of doing this, and we should trust ourselves to do it. By all means keep a separate personal twitter account (because you don’t want your REF tweets to send your friends to sleep) and use that to shout at the television if you’d like to.

I think it’s easy to exaggerate the dangers of social media, not least because of regular stories about people doing or saying something ill-advised. But it’s worth remembering that a lot of those people are famous or noteworthy in some way, and so attract attention and provocation in a way that we just don’t. While a footballer might get tweeted all kinds of nonsense after a poor performance, I’m unlikely to get twitter-trolled by someone who disagrees with something I’ve written, or booed while catching a train. Though I do think a football crowd style crescendo of booing might be justified in the workplace for people who send mass emails without the intended attachment/with the incorrect date/both.

Having said all that… this is just my experience, and as a white male it may well be that I don’t attract that kind of negative attention on social media. I trust/hope that female colleagues have had similar positive experiences and I’ve no reason to think they haven’t, but I don’t want to pass off my experience as universal. (*polishes feminist badge*).

The third thing is to repeat an invitation which I’ve made before – if anyone would like to write a guest post for my blog on any topic relevant to its general themes, please do get in touch. And if anyone has an questions about twitter, blogging, social media that they think I might have a sporting chance of answering, please ask away.

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