How to increase your impact with academic social media
Want to get your ideas out to a wider audience? Get involved in the busy, brilliant world of anonymous academics on Twitter
rise of social media is viewed by many as yet another means of
procrastination. Yet academics are increasingly turning to Twitter, not
just for entertainment and networking, but to engage audiences in a new
One of the best-loved academic accounts is @NeinQuarterly;
a feed that blends aphorisms, jokes and an expert knowledge of German
literature and culture. It was established by Eric Jarosinski, a
former US professor of German literature, writing under the nom de
plume. His work now appears in German and Dutch newspapers and has been
turned into a book, Nein: A Manifesto, which was released last year.
I had less grand ambitions when I started my own anonymous account, @TheLitCritGuy.
I had finished my master’s degree and had a Twitter account that I
didn’t really use, so decided to dedicate it to talking about the ideas
that had intrigued me during my studies. I was pleased when it picked up
a number of engaged and curious followers.
I had to decide what to talk about, develop a posting schedule and
realise the limits of my own knowledge – with a vocal group of followers
I had to be honest about my own inexperience (I actually found it
liberating to tell them when I didn’t know the answer to something).
Anonymity comes with certain benefits. The persona means that I don’t
have to run my opinions by my institution or worry whether my managers
might deem something acceptable. I can express my anger about the
conditions of higher education, and I get to mix jokes with theory
without worrying that my colleagues will take me less seriously.
For others who wish to do something similar, there is no sure-fire approach, but here are the things that worked for me:
Have a distinctive voiceAnonymous accounts do not have to have a name or a face, but must offer an original perspective. The pseudonymous accounts @EthicistForHire and @CrankyEthicist offer potential followers a clear guide of what to expect.
Have a purposeOne of the most successful anonymous academic accounts, @AcademicsSay,
posts jokes that academics connect with – about coffee, being
overworked and the ever-present catchphrase “you should be writing”.
These highly shareable posts keep the account focused and identifiable,
and have drawn a huge following.
Find your audienceRather than just posting into the void, the best academic accounts
use the tools of social media to find an audience. There are hashtags
such as #twitterstorians, for example, where historians post their thoughts. I use #TheoryTime, so my followers can catch up on topics they may have missed.
Try new formatsI quickly realised the limitations of Twitter and decided to expand
my account into a research blog, as well as using the platform I had
built on Twitter to write on new websites, bringing my work to a much
Create connectionsSocial media allows for academics to become relatable – Twitter is a
space for conversation and mutual education. I try to keep the important
details of my life private, but a few personal details, as well as
opinions and replies to followers, make the account more interesting and
fun for those following.
Away from the structures and rules of university networking,
anonymous accounts can enable direct, non-hierarchical connections.
Impact becomes something more than a metric as people are able to
communicate with academics and see both the good and bad sides of
university life. Anonymity has enabled me to share the struggles of
being an early career researcherand the sheer joy of teaching, as well
as talking about my intellectual passions.
Anonymity does mean that my account won’t necessarily benefit my
career within the university system. However, as more academics take to
social media anonymously, such accounts are allowing a new kind of
creative, flexible academic voice to emerge, more closely linked with
the public than the ivory towers of the university system.
I’ve received countless tweets, Facebook messages and emails from
people across the world, who, for various reasons, couldn’t pursue their
own passion for literary theory. It’s a genuine privilege to answer
their questions and learn from them, whether I’m emailing economists
about Foucault or discussing phenomenology with a nursing student.
Social media has shown me that people are curious and searching for
new ways to be engaged and to learn. It can change the way we teach and
spread knowledge beyond the limits of the university, allowing us to
connect with the public like never before.
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How to increase your impact with academic social media | Higher Education Network | The Guardian