Year for Productivity Session 19: Which Social Media Tool is Right for You?

year_productivity_graphic_19As an academic librarian, the number one thing I keep in mind in dealing with faculty and students is that they are Very Busy People.  So what I have to offer them should be solutions that save them time, or at best, contain a good reason as to why they should invest time in that solution.

Social media tools include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and, these days, a cast of thousands of other tools, with new ones popping up every day.    Collectively they are vast time sinks in which one can resolve to take a quick look only to come up for air hours later having accomplished nothing one intended to do.  Used well, however, they can be an essential part of a researcher’s academic workflow, both as it is now and as it is evolving.

Exactly what are we talking about when we discuss social media or social networking?  “Social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.” (Wikipedia)

What do academic researchers do?  They research, they teach, and they write and publish.  Social media tools can help in all of these.  What are the needs of researchers that can be met with social networking tools?  The most important would be communication, whether it is one-to-one (email, for example), one-to-many (blog posts as an example), or many-to-many (conversations on listservs or Twitter).  In this way, researchers can find out what others are doing in related subjects and sometimes collaborate with them.  It is now easier than ever to discover that the person doing research most similar to one’s own lives in Cork, Ireland, while the researcher lives in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.  It is also easier to work on a project and/or publication with that person.

I don’t use Twitter myself, but many researchers find it a key tool to keep up with conversations about research.  Since the communciations are brief, they can be scanned quickly, the number of researchers and hashtags one follows can constantly be refined, and they often point to useful published research on a topic.   Researchers can also pose questions and get quick answers from their trusted network in the twitterverse.

Some of those in one’s Twitter network might write blogs, and the researcher might then add that person’s blog to their RSS news feed reader and follow the blog that way.  Or a tweet might point to a research center in a university, and one can like that center on Facebook in order to follow news out of that organization, or can follow their posts on LinkedIn.  The researcher might then turn to a social media aggregation tool such as HootSuite or Rebel Mouse so that all of these streams of information are available on a single page, rather like an electronic newspaper.  Such a workflow is seen, for example, in a recent GradHacker post from Ashley Sanders called Keeping Up with Trends.

Those are just a few examples of how an academic might use social media for research.  More information and case studies can be found in Social Media: A Guide for Rsearcherse from the Research Education Network (RIN).

So how might professors use social media in teaching?  Some social media tools such as blogs and forums are built into many Learning Managment Systems (LMS), so that professors and students have ways of communication about a class.  One current hot topic in teaching is the flipped classroom, in which students view a lecture video by their professor for the class session before coming into class, so that the class time is devoted to discussion or working through problems.  Some classes might create a YouTube channel and upload videos that they create as part of their assignments for the class.

Once a researcher has published, she might then disseminate information about the publication on LinkedIn, to her Twitter and Facebook networks, and so on.  Since tenure promotions are based in large part on how well a researcher’s publications have fared, measured in numbers of times cited and in the prestige of the journals in which the research is published, a researcher must pay as much attention to managing her reputation as any corporate manager on the rise.  Academic reputation may increasingly cover the impact of writing a well-regarded blog, or being an active part in a Twitter community around a particular topic.

So now that we have discussed why an academic researcher might want to use social media, how does one choose which tool?  The ones mentioned in this post so far are only the most common and well known tools.  If one includes apps as well as software programs for desktops/laptops, there are literally thousands with new ones added everyday.

Of course, one source is to listen to trusted colleagues, whether on one’s campus or at another.  One’s social media network will mention the tools they use most along with their recommendations.  Other trusted sources will hopefully include a librarian, and the knowledge network he takes part in.  For example, at our university we have a Teaching and Learning Resources research guide which has a page of Educational Technology resources.  The page includes links to useful sites/blogs, feeds from some blogs such as the Wired Campus blog, a slideshow of Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools for Learning, and a link to Bamboo DiRT, an extensive and unique directory of research tools for academics, organized into categories.  The readings below will also mention some useful social media tools and their uses.

So blog about us, like us on Facebook, and tweet about us (#academicpkm).  We double dare you.  ;-).

Selected Readings:

Scholarly Articles:
Gruzd, A., Staves, K., & Wilk, A. (2012). Connected scholars: Examining the role of social media in research practices of faculty using the UTAUT model. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(6), 2340-2350. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2012.07.004

Gu, F. F., & Widén-Wulff, G. G. (2011). Scholarly communication and possible changes in the context of social media: A Finnish case study. Electronic Library, 29(6), 762-776. doi:10.1108/02640471111187999

Rowlands, I.; Nicholas, D.; Russell, B.; Canty, N.; Watkinson, A..”Social media use in the research workflowLearned Publishing, July 2011, 24(3):183-195 DOI: 10.1087/2011030

Tenopir, C., Volentine, R., and King D., (2013) “Social media and scholarly reading”, Online Information Review, Vol. 37 Iss: 2, pp.193 – 216. DOI: 10.1108/OIR-04-2012-0062.


Social Media: A Guide for Researchers (2011). From the Research Information Network (RIN). Includes some lists of tools, but also case studies of how researchers are using them.

Blog posts and Web sites:

Alampi, A. (7/24/2012) “Social Media is More Than Simply a Marketing Tool for Academic Research“. Higher Education Network. Accessed 9/16/2013.

Cheok, A. D. (8/27/2012). Using Social Media Tools for Academic Research. Elsevier Biggerbrains. Accessed 9/16/2013.

Gill J. (1/2/2013). “Six Ways to Use Google+ Hangouts for Academic Productivity“. The Contemplative Mammoth. Accessed 9/16/2013.

Johnson, A (1/18/2013). “Using Twitter for Curated Academic Content”. Impact of the Social Sciences. Accessed 9/16/2013.

Jones, J. (11/23/2011). “Social Media for Research: Open Resource“. “What I can do, instead, is offer up the entire workshop as a resource and hope that perhaps others might find it more useful. Below are slides, links to resources and readings and some reflection about teaching social media for research”. Jennifer M. Jones. Accessed 9/16/2013.

Priego, E. (9/12/2011). “How Twitter will Revolutionize Academic Research and Teaching“. Higher Education Network. Accessed 9/16/2013.

Platt, J. (2/8/2013). “Being a Good Colleague with Social Media“. GradHacker. Accessed 9/16/2013.

For Further Exploration and Insight:

(1) If you are a librarian, what would you advise incoming grad students about using social media? Write down an outline of what you will say.
(2) If you are an academic researcher, what would you advise a new colleague about using social media? Write down an outline of what you will say.

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