Navigating social media
Pros, cons, and possibilities
Social media might not be the first thing you think of when you think of ‘academia’, ‘writing’, or ‘career’. But it can help you with all three, if you know how to use it!
This is a post about how to use online tools like social media to improve your online presence, showcase your work, and build the career you want. I’ll cover a few of the more mainstream forms of social media, their pros and cons, and some of the ways you can make your social media experience as safe, pleasant, and productive as possible.
But the very first point about social media, and the most important is this:
You don’t have to do any of it!
No matter what you see other people doing, whether it’s tweeting, blogging, or ‘gramming, you don’t have to do any of it. And if you do want to try using social media, you don’t have to do all of it. But if you think it might be of use to you or to your career, or even if you’re just intrigued, read on!
What is ‘social media’?
‘Social media’ is an umbrella term for interactive, computer-based technologies that enable us to create and share content with one another, and to network with one another. While there is considerable debate about what exactly qualifies as social media, the following are examples of what tends to be placed into that category:
Networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, etc.)
What about websites, you ask? Well, it depends. The more a website enables interaction or information sharing among its users, the more likely it is to qualify as an example of social media.
What’s so special about social media, anyway?
Apart from helping you while away the hours spent sitting on a bus in traffic, social media can do a few other things:
It contributes to your online presence. And online presence matters. The first thing many prospective employers are likely to do when considering you for a job is plug your name into a search engine and see what pops up.
It gives you a bit of exposure. Social media is an efficient way of getting your name out there, which can help bring opportunities your way.
It can improve your communication. When you’re obliged to produce content on a semi-regular basis, it encourages you to think about what kind of content you want to produce, and how you want to go about it. For example, I’ve found that Twitter has made me a better writer, which is why I’ve incorporated it into some of my teaching.
It helps you form connections. I know, I know—‘networking’ is so very UGH. But like it or not, who you know—and who knows you—matters. Social media can put you in touch with people and groups you might otherwise never encounter in person, something that’s been essential during the pandemic.
It gives you a modicum of control. Times are tough, and the academic job market is essentially a lottery. But social media is a great way to shape what people know about you and your work, rather than simply leaving those things to chance. You can use it to show the world what you’re an expert in, what kind of a writer or speaker you are, what kind of achievements you’ve made, what kind of work you want to do, and what kind of a colleague you might be. And this can open all sorts of doors in all sorts of job markets.
But it’s not all great, right?
True, there are some potential drawbacks to social media, or at least some things about it that might make you hesitant to use it:
It gives you a bit of exposure. I know this is also on the ‘pros’ list above, but it’s exciting and scary to put yourself out there for the world to see. What if you say the wrong thing? Or attract attention from the wrong people?
You might feel pressure to, well, say something. If you have a blog, won’t people expect you to write on it? If you’re on Twitter, don’t people expect you to tweet?? But what if you don’t have anything you want to say???
It takes time to maintain. And who has any time to spare these days?
These are not minor points, and they were raised in the workshop I ran last week on social media. But there are things you can do to limit risk and discomfort online:
Go private. Twitter, Instagram, and many other forms of social media offer ways of locking your content so it’s only available to followers you pre-approve. They can also let you block content and users you don’t want to engage with.
Just pick one. My thanks to Daria for mentioning this in my workshop! Instead of trying to make use of multiple platforms, try to pick one that seems like it might be particularly useful for you. If you’re an animated speaker, for example, TikTok might be a good option. If you’re working with visual media, maybe Instagram is the way to go.
Pick what you can manage with the time you have. There’s no need to exhaust yourself blogging or making involved TikTok productions if you don’t have the time—even the occasional tweet or shared photo can be extremely effective.
It’s fine to listen, read, and watch. You don’t have to reply or post or chat or interact with other social media users every day. It’s fine to just see what other people are posting. That way you won’t miss job ads posted on Twitter or LinkedIn, or the latest updates from your favourite museum on Facebook.
Take your time. You don’t have to respond immediately to what you see on social media, though it can be tempting. Before you tweet out that hot take, try saving a draft of your tweet and returning to it later. It’s never a bad idea to take time to reflect.
There are take-backs and do-overs! If you see a typo or error in something you posted, you can delete it and post a corrected version. Similarly, if you have second thoughts about something you posted, or if you see it’s getting bad reactions online, you can always hit ‘delete’. I made that decision the other week, when I tweeted what I thought was a harmless joke about one thing and someone thought I was joking about something else, something that was no laughing matter. Even though I was able to clarify what the actual joke had been, it was unsettling to see that someone could misinterpret my intentions so thoroughly. I thought about it for maybe an hour, and then I deleted my original tweet—I wasn’t comfortable with keeping a post whose humour might be misinterpreted as something harmful. But this brings me to perhaps the most important thing you can do when using social media….
Use your judgment. Be thoughtful about what you post. Pick your battles. And remember not everyone out there will agree with you or share your taste.
In the end, the decision of whether or not to use social media is up to you. Personally, I’ve found that social media has enhanced my online presence, made it easy for people to find me and get to know me regardless of where I happen to be working, and brought many research, writing, and speaking opportunities my way. It’s not the only online tool at your disposal (I’ll be sure to post something about the usefulness of having your own website soon), but it certainly is a powerful one.
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