On (Social) Networking in Academia

While I realize it’s an unpopular opinion, I really hate the summertime: humid weather, sunburned skin, stupid clothes that serve only as incomplete counterparts to winter wear, and a general lack of email-checking from just about everyone.

But What Is Summer Good For?

Summer is, admittedly, good for quite a lot. For sanity, travel, research, people who aren’t terrified of the sun, and so on. Just as I love sanity and travel, I love that the summer offers an opportunity to read and write without the interruptions of teaching, meetings, and all of those other interruptions that come with the start of a new school year. But still, no matter how much I think I need the break at the end of spring term, I am always excessively happy to have the summer come to a close.

Outside of dissertation research and the submission/revision of articles and book reviews, I use summer as an opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues, many of whom I know through conferences, Twitter, or other academically-sanctioned social media sites. Sure, I attend conferences regularly where I can chat with/meet fellow scholars, but in between research and teaching I always feel so terribly behind on this particular type of networking throughout the regular academic year.

Academic Networking via Social Media

And it appears I’m not the only one. Anxiety over maintaining academic networks is quite serious, particularly when considering the many articles and blogs devoted to subject of cracking into one of these elite networks (which are so often tied with an ivy education…). The humanities, however, appear to operate a bit differently in terms of the question of whether or not one should use social media as a mode of self-promotion and networking. There is, after all, almost a resounding yes to the question of social media networking for academics.

No longer are we in the days of simply passing out business cards at conferences (although I have some pretty cool ones, if I do say so myself). We’re in a new and exciting era of fast access to information and scholarship across the globe. If you don’t use social media as a networking tool, consider giving it a try. And you don’t have to be a tech genius to figure it out.

There are many resources on starting/maintaing social media sites for academics, such as Diane Rasmussen Neal’s book. It’s possible it’s simply not for you and that the potential problems of maintenance and regular posting serve as more of a detriment to your research than a merit, but that’s for you to decide. There’s no need to force yourself to keep up with something like social media if it’s not serving you.

If you do want to network outside of conferences and you hate social media, consider joining a Listserv in your interested subject areas.

My personal experiences with social media as a mode of academic networking are generally positive, but I am still relatively new to it. There appears to be a heavy culture of “follow for follow” on sites such as Twitter, and it is quite easy to search for relevant hashtags and people on most social media sites. I have the pleasure of many 140-character conversations with friends/scholars I normally only get to see once a year. Even though we email sometimes, we never seem to keep at it.

I also have received book review opportunities and submitted to conference CFPs through Twitter. This is where the networking starts to feel real.

Potential Problems

And while there are very few reasons to avoid social media as a networking tool (even less to just give it a try), it is important to know that the professional persona you cultivate online can follow you. If you post something sexist, racist, classist, etc. chances are your followers–i.e. colleagues–are going to know and really (with good reason) hold it against you. So, quick solution: don’t be sexist, racist, classist, or just generally speaking a bad person.

It is important to know that some types of social media–such as blogs–require strategy and patience. Twitter accounts simply require regular use, although I’m sure some would argue that well-placed hashtags would also constitute strategy.

Many argue that social media networking is ultimately a waste of time. The central idea here being that time on social media is time that you could/should be working. I don’t find this true. First of all, academic work isn’t corporate (despite how much it can feel like it), you have to take regular breaks from your research–even if for just 15 minutes–for your sanity. If you’re concerned about spending too much time on social media just make a schedule; check in every other day or twice a week or whatever.

And not that it’s worth saying, but I don’t let social media run my life. I may have a troubling addiction to television and carbohydrates, but for some reason this does not spill over into social media. As long as you’re comfortable with the amount of time you spend social media-ing, you do you.

Yeah, no…

Final Thoughts 

From this post I hope to hear how fellow academics create/maintain/find networks that are purely born on social media sites. How do these networks survive throughout the academic year? Do these, at any point, feel like an onus rather than a pleasure? Do you have any negative experiences with networking via social media?

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