This is the second of our social media week posts. Here Eloise Zoppos examines how postgraduate students can manage their professional social media use. Eloise Zoppos is now embracing the virtual for the professional and you can find out more about her on her website http://eloisezoppos.com or follow her on Twitter @eloise_z.
Lately it seems like everything virtual is now normal: using Facebook to contact friends, reading the news online, calling people through Skype, online banking. Over the last few years, this rise in online activities has slowly begun to seep into the academic world with online conferences, virtual internships and online resumes (hosted on both LinkedIn and personal websites) just to name a few. This got me thinking about whether as a postgraduate student interested in getting published I should be investing more time into using social media for professional purposes.
I was already aware of some of the benefits of using social media for professional purposes, such as exposure. Creating your own website, hosting one on various platforms like WordPress or Academia.edu or even just creating an online resume on LinkedIn can be a great way to get your work out there and let people know about your research. If someone is interested in your work, having your own website can also act a one-stop-shop where people can find out more about your work, your writing and your research area. Something I did discover that I wasn’t aware of already was that social media sites like Twitter are great for keeping up with the latest research. Many key academics from a wide range disciplines use Twitter and I’ve found it a great way to keep up with their latest research findings. Various organisations and groups also use Twitter, and since creating an account I’ve used Twitter to keep up with reports, conferences, scholarships, grant opportunities and job openings. I’ve also recently realised that social media practices like blogging can be a great way for postgraduate students to keep the writing process up. It can be fairly easy for students to get lost in the black hole of the literature review (or maybe that was just me?! – see how I managed the literature review process) and having your own blog can be one way of keeping your writing up. Even if you’re not using your blog to write about your research specifically, when it comes to writing an old saying comes to mind: Use it or lose it!
It became pretty obvious from these benefits that the answer was a resounding ‘yes!’ I should invest more time into using social media for professional purposes. However when it actually came to creating a virtual presence for myself I struggled to come to terms with the potential problems and consequences that could come from representing myself online, such as whether it would hinder future opportunities by providing links to written pieces that certain readers might not like, how I could go about representing my university institution in a responsible way, and what were to happen should my students see my website or Twitter presence. The question then became how exactly to manage my professional use of social media? Along the way I’ve picked up a few easy tips that may help others thinking of creating a professional virtual presence manage their professional social media use.
Firstly, a disclaimer on a website or even on a Twitter account stating that the views are your own and are not representative of your university affiliation can be a helpful way to represent your university institution in a responsible way. However the problem with a disclaimer is that many people use a disclaimer in much the same way as they use the statement “no offence”; that is, a ‘but’ follows and they use it an as excuse to say whatever they want! So while using a disclaimer can be an effective way in managing your professional use of social media, using it in this way is not that helpful at all.
Secondly, I found that knowing the purposes of my virtual presences before creating them was an easy yet effective way of managing them. For example, my website was created to essentially act as an online resume. So while I do include the name of the university that I attend, the images are carefully chosen to portray the right mix of public yet professional. Likewise, when I created my Twitter account I knew I was going to use it as an open platform for my website and for keeping up with the latest research findings. Again, knowing its specific purpose helps me to choose appropriate content in terms of what I tweet and how I respond to other Twitter users.
Keeping personal life and professional life separate is another effective way of managing your virtual presence. One way to do this is to dedicate certain social media sites for personal use and others for professional use. For example I know many people who use Facebook for personal purposes, and Twitter for professional purposes. This is an easy way to keep personal life and work life separate and avoid any potentially messy situations like editors, publishers or reviewers seeing you discuss (read: complain) about the review process on Twitter! Another common method of keeping the personal and the professional separate is creating two separate accounts on the same medium, for instance creating a personal and a professional Facebook account. However while this seems like a great idea, you still have no control on what people post on your professional Facebook account which can become problematic if it is left open to public viewing. Two accounts on the same social media medium can also blur the lines between the personal and the professional even further as it may become increasingly hard to decide and control which material should be posted on either account.
So, while a professional virtual presence is (arguably) almost a necessity in today’s academic world in terms of publishing, scholarships, grants and job opportunities, remember the golden rule for managing the virtual for the professional: never post something you wouldn’t want your supervisor/colleague/boss/prospective-boss or most importantly your Mum to see!