Friday, August 17, 2012

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet? Social Media and Professing

LSE posted a set of suggestions for new scholars.  It is a good pretty good guide, but I don't agree with it entirely.  It also raises some questions, so let me pontificate (since this is my blog).

Let me take the recommendations in the order Salma Patel, the author, put them in and then comment along the way:

LinkedIn.  I believe that the neo-classic internet phrase that best applies here is "meh."  Linkedin provides some connectivity, mostly to the private sector, but I have yet to really find it useful.  Perhaps that is my experience, but I really do not know of any academic friends using it much.  It is aimed at networking, and is free, so no harm here.  Just not any real benefit as far as I can tell. Yes.  It is a cheap (free) and easy way to have a web presence.  It can serve as one's professional webpage, complete with pubs and cv uploaded.  Here's mine.  It is kind of a nerdy facebook where you can follow people's work, and they can follow yours.  The more of a footprint one can create that makes it clear what one's work is, the better.  Yes, there is a risk that someone may plagiarize your work, but if you get the stuff up on the web, then people will know who you are.  And that is the best defense against plagiarism in the long run.  People can copy you, but if folks know your work, then the plagiarist is just a plagiarist and your rep is intact.  If you hide your work, but someone finds it and copies it, you have less of an ability to claim that you were there first.

Twitter:  At this point, I think it is now a requirement to have a twitter account--I will be suggesting accounts to follow when I teach Civ-Mil Relations in a couple of weeks.  That does not mean that one needs to tweet.  But I do think that following interesting folks and various sources is a very valuable way to get connected and find out what is going on in your areas of interest.  I find so many links to so much interesting stuff to read.  The problem is actually doing the reading, but a lurker can get much out of twitter without ever posting.  I, obviously from my own behavior, think that tweeting is also important.  I have developed some very valuable contacts by engaging people in conversation, debating sometimes, building on other people's tweets and so on.  Of course, it is easy for me since I have tenure, but I find that there are plenty of interesting graduate students and assistant professors who tweet and are making a mark by doing so.  You don't have to be at the center of the academic universe if you can contribute something interesting to the conversation, whether that is a timely re-tweet of a piece one has discovered, an opinion added to the conversation, a link to a blog post that develops something further, or even just interesting pics.
    The funny thing is that I resisted twitter at first because I didn't think I could ever consistently say anything in 140 characters or less or find anyone else's short messages all that interesting.*  Even if we leave aside shortened links, there are plenty of folks who have demonstrated a capacity for insight, perspective, and humor (not just @depresseddarth).  Take a gander at the folks I follow (
* As it turns out, I ended up using this tool and discovered that although it took a couple of years to sign up, I was still ahead of 90% of the people who are on twitter now.  And this tool is super-useful to track one's own twitter account (I don't think I am the only narcissist on twitter) and others.  H/T to for the link.  
I probably should hashtag more to get my stuff wider attention.  Thus far, the only consistent hashtag I use is: #voterfraudfraud.  I use it when discussing the attempts to restrict the vote in the US with the excuse that there is voter fraud (which there is not).
So, much longer than a tweet, but the essential idea is that it is worth it as long as you avoid two dangers: major time suck and perhaps shooting one's mouth off a bit much.  Yes, do as I say, not as I do.  My new enterprise is launching NPSIA's twitter presence.  Twitter is an excellent way to advertise.

Blogging.  The suggestions that LSE lays out are quite good.  I think blogger/blogspot is easier for someone who wants to put no effort into formatting.  Wordpress is not hard, but not as intuitive as it would like to think it is.  Either way, the keys about blogging are, in my humble opinion:
  1. Write what you know. 
  2. Don't put too much time into it.  You will get little credit on the job market or by tenure committees for it.  
  3. It is valuable.  There are so many complaints about how we don't engage the public, that our funding produces research that never translates beyond our narrow circles.  Blogging is an excellent way to communicate to interested audiences, especially when combined with twitter.  Just follow the annual national security twitter fight club extragavanza to see young'uns more than hold their own against big-time experts.
  4. And be more restrained than I am about talking about one's institutions.  I tried not to say too much about the various tribulations I was experiencing in my past job, but it definitely leaked through.  Again, tenure is a beautiful thing.  Junior faculty should feel free to talk about their research and teaching, but perhaps not so much about more political challenges closer to home.
This entire post has been focused on a reaction to the LSE piece, so it has mostly been on the networking side of things.  All of this stuff has heaps of pedagogical dimensions as well.  But this post is long enough.  Remind me to get back to pedagogical stuff (sounds so much better in Russian: педагогический) if I forget.

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