Five tips for academics to get the most out of social media

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We’ve come a long way since the days of Friendster and Bebo, and social media has become more than just a way to catch up with friend. Social media is not only a way to keep abreast of the latest news in the world, but also a way to engage with an audience you may not have known you had.

Whether you’re a PhD toiling away at research, or a professor wondering how to best engage your first years, social media has made it so much easier to reach a wider audience and to fully engross the one you already had. Here we run through some simple tips to use widely accessible tools to help you out. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, why not check out our previous article on social media tools.

Before I get on to how to best use your own content, it’s worth noting that using pre-existing material can help build your profile and ensure there’s a steady flow of content. Of course, you should never plagiarise someone else’s work, but sharing links to interesting articles or blogs can help in keeping your audience engaged.

Not to get bogged down in overly technical jargon, and without going too in-depth, but a lot of modern social media platforms value consistency over almost everything else. A good example of this is YouTube, whose algorithm typically favours channels who post videos on a regular, reliable basis, which results in those channels showing up as suggested videos more often than their ‘less reliable’ colleagues.

You should set yourself a goal of posting regularly. A good place to start is once a week, maybe a fortnight if you’re caught for time. Ultimately, or ideally, you should be aiming to post once every other day (or, if you’re particularly ambitious, several times per day!).

Of course, producing that amount of regular, totally original content may distract from your “bread & butter” work, so sharing useful, relevant articles can be useful to keep the algorithms on your side.

This should be the foundation on which you build your online platform. While you may recoil at the word, blogging is really just a synonym for online publishing, typically specifically referring to self-published pieces.

Language is key when blogging, as you want to make the terms & words used as accessible as possible. Some people say you should presume that five year-old children are your audience, but I think that’s a bit reductive of a saying – you can respect your audience while still simplifying your content.

It’s important to be consistent with the style of writing you use. If your blog is usually very serious and technical, suddenly becoming conversational and humorous may be a bit jarring for the reader.

Variety may be the spice of life, but sudden changes do nobody any good. It’s also advisable to try to avoid using overly technical language, also known as jargon. While you might know what reversing the polarity of the neutron flow means, your readers mightn’t.

At the same time, you don’t have to ‘dumb it down’ too much. Simplicity, accessibility and regularity are keys to success when blogging.

Twitter, quite like pop icon Madonna, seems to be changing itself in new, wild ways every other week, most recently allowing some users to double the character count of their tweets to 280. Images are crucial to succeeding on the platform, as they break up the monotony that scrolling through blocks of text can bring. Even if you’re tweeting a link to an article or something you’ve done, using a photo offers you the ability to tag people without taking from your precious character count.

On Twitter, almost more so than other platforms, it’s crucial to act appropriately. And while that has other meanings, I use the term “act appropriately” here to mean choosing who you tag in Tweets, what hashtags you use and what images you use; everything has to be relevant to what you’re sharing.

The goal of tagging people in photos, or using hashtags, is to attract people who may be interested in you, not something unrelated you think might titillate or excite the general public. Be true to yourself, be true to your content, and the retweets will follow.

Almost everyone has a Facebook account – my 83 year-old grandmother has a Facebook account – which makes it an ideal platform to build and maintain a vast & varied audience.

Above I referred to YouTube, and their content algorithm: Facebook are trying to overtake YouTube as the primary video hosting platform, and tend to give priority over what shows up in people’s timeline to videos. Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and become the next Alfred Hitchcock, but adding a video (even a GIF, or animated picture) to your posts should help you access more and more people than otherwise.

As Shakespeare himself said, brevity is the soul of wit, so it’s best to keep your video under a minute – any longer and people may give it a skip!

If you’re a bit unsure about how to produce your own vids, don’t worry: plenty of pre-installed computer programs like iMovie and even Windows Movie Maker are more than capable of easily producing something quick & professional looking.

If you want to try something else, you can try using EditShare’s Lightworks program (which is free), or something like Final Cut Pro (which isn’t).

If video isn’t for you (which is fair enough), putting a picture with your text post is better than text alone.

Video killed the radio star, but podcasting brought them back. Millions of people listen to podcasts daily, whether it’s on your morning commute or while working, the world is podcast mad.

Microphones are surprisingly cheap these days, and you can get a half-decent USB microphone for less than €20. If you’re working/studying at a University, it may be worthwhile giving a call to your campus radio station or audio visual department, as their equipment will likely be of higher quality (and possibly free). If you’re worried about editing your podcasts, Audacity is a free audio editing software that works on pretty much every computer going.

SoundCloud is traditionally the first port-of-call for podcasts, as the hosting site allows for relatively easy access to iTunes and other popular podcast services. Mixcloud is a decent alternative if SoundCloud doesn’t suit (as is hosting the audio on your own site, but that’s a bit more complicated).

Anchor is a relatively new platform that allows you to use your smartphone to record audio, mix in songs from Spotify as well as adding background songs and sound effects. The learning curve on Anchor might be a little steeper than you’d expect, but for the level of versatility it offers, it’s worth giving it a go.