Developing an Effective Academic Social Media Strategy

  • Which of these personas reflect your situation regarding your use of social media as a researcher or an academic?

    First case: You have realized the use of social media and deploy a number of them. However, because of time constraints, you are unable to maximize the use of these tools effectively and sometimes get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of time and effort required to keep up with them.

    Second case: You subscribe to a good number of social media sites and do your best to engage with them, but you fall short of achieving your goals of using the platforms, whether to build a community or achieve visibility.

    Or it could be any other scenario that makes the use of social media in your academic career an uphill task, unproductive or unrewarding.

    Social media marketing is an all-important activity to business people and entrepreneurs. As an academic, you may not use your social media to market a product or service per se. Rather, your use of social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Slack or Facebook might be geared towards purposes like academic branding, creating visibility for your research and yourself, sharing information, benefiting from information provided by colleagues and peers, or for science communication. In academia, you and your work are the products that require marketing!

    Another reason an academic or researcher may need to subscribe to a variety of media is the fact that various media are best for particular purposes. For instance, while Twitter a microblogging app, is valuable for giving and receiving quick pieces of information. LinkedIn, a similar platform has a more robust interface but is most useful for branding and projecting oneself for the industry or other opportunities and identifying with peers.

    As an academic or researcher, time has a high premium. With research, grant applications and lab work, meetings and classwork to deal with, academics and researchers have so much going. The only way most academics can incorporate the extra task of using social media effectively would be solely by strategizing. Applying a social media strategy goes beyond working towards a large following community or engaging in regular updates of your site regularly. It involves getting organized by applying a number of techniques to make better use of your social media toolbox, easily, efficiently and effectively. Here are some tried and tested strategies to apply in managing your social media presence:

    • Be conscious of your goal for engaging with each of the social media you use. Is it to receive and give support mutually in a community or perhaps to engage in science communication? Identifying your reason for engaging in each media will help you stay focused and make it easier to identify your audience, their needs and the type of content that will benefit them. At the same time, identifying the strong point of each media is very necessary. For instance, Pinterest and Instagram provide a different service from LinkedIn or Facebook Groups.
    • Be consistent with your posts by creating useful content regularly. Content is king. If you have successfully built your audience (by getting some followers), the fastest way to keep them tuned in and engaged is by tweeting or posting interesting, relevant and timely information. You might need to create a calendar to organize and schedule your content/updates (especially as a blogger). Use Google Trends (www.trends.google.com) to identify what is trending in your professional circle. You may engage in social media listening i.e. running searches online and on social media to identify trending topics. The worst thing you can do while managing your social media presence is to ignore your community or provide information of little interest to them. Be consistent! Be focused! Be relevant!
    • Work on your brand. Do this by maintaining a good profile by displaying a good profile picture and an updated bio with correct and consistent data (such as qualifications, websites, specialization, interests and affiliations). Use important keywords e.g. science blogger in your description so that you can be found with ease. The profile says so much about the individual behind the platform and can determine the following and the kind of contacts and opportunities a platform user/owner attracts.
    • Analytics are important. Identify who your audience is and how they became your followers, what they like most. Engage with your metrics effectively. Use data-driven practices in developing your strategy.
    • Use tools like Google Analytics or other SEO tools to optimize your social media content.  Apply tools to become more discoverable.
    • Finally, engage in regular social media audits: check out who is engaging with your profile or site, how and why (a type of evaluation) and restrategize.

    As explained, your purpose for using one or various social media as an academic might be as simple as keeping up to date with happenings in your professional circle; or as complex as practicing science communication (publicizing research findings to engage with members of the society). What is important is maximizing the use of your platforms by understanding how to use them and for what purpose – and planning (for audience, content and value) based on this knowledge. This is basically what a social media strategy is all about.