Presented April 23, 2015 at the “Social Media: Finding a Platform” workshop coordinated and sponsored by the Office for the Advancement of Research as part of the Public Scholarship series at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Other presenters: Megan Wacha on CUNY Academic Works, and Michael Branson Smith and Sarah Morgano on the CUNY Academic Commons.
Covered in this talk: Intro, your digital presence, Twitter for academics, Academia.edu, & your faculty profile.
Hello, I’m Robin Camille Davis. I’m the Emerging Technologies & Distance Services Librarian here at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Today, I’m going to talk about your digital presence online as a scholar, focusing on two things in particular. The title of my talk is “Your business card is the internet.” And I really do mean that. Business cards are a way to exchange contact info, remember other people, and make an impression.
Control your digital presence on search
One of the ways your business card is the internet is what people see when they search for you. This happens all the time: when someone reads a paper you just published, when you’re speaking at an event or when someone is thinking of inviting you to present, or when someone’s trying to remember who you are and what you do, or when you’re applying for a job. People are already googling your name.
How many of you have googled yourself recently? I want you to google yourself right now so you can see what I’m talking about. Please note that if you’re signed into Google, it will give you two options for how to display your results: personalized, and “global.” (Although “global” still relies on data like location and time of day.)
The ideal is for all the results on the first page of your search to be under your control. That is, they’re things you created, like profile pages or things you wrote, or things you allowed to be created about you, like interviews, that you like and want to remain online. That way, you have control of your image, of the way others see you. Count up what you control. I’ve done it here:
(Current as of April 2015.) All of the results on the front page of search results for “Robin Camille Davis” are under my control. They’re stuff I’ve made, or stuff I allow to remain online. If I want to, I can change or delete all of these pages. By no means am I famous or necessarily worthy of having a ton of google results about me, but when people Google my name, I pretty much know what they’ll see.
Now it’s your turn. Count up how many of the results are things you made or things about you that you have some control over. Don’t include things like Rate my Professor or Wikipedia pages, if you’re so lucky. Do include writer’s profiles and Amazon pages. If your name’s in a news article, I guess that’s somewhere in the middle, depending on what the article’s about.
Are you 100% in control of that first page of results? 80%? 50%? Are there people with your same name showing up in the results, too? What’s surprising? What do you not want to see?
Personal SEO made easy
I’m going to run over some really easy ways to take control of that first page that don’t involve you doing the work of publishing a book or getting into the local news for something embarrassing. These are all things that you can do today that will take maybe half an hour.
First up: establish a good professional social media presence. This means Twitter, but could also mean Facebook, Academia.edu, and LinkedIn. These social networks have great SEO (search engine optimization). If a website has a good SEO strategy, that means that it’ll show up very high in search results. It means Google trusts them and that the site is popular. And if a website with good SEO has your name on it, that website will show up high in search results.
From scratch, if you make your own website, SEO takes time and a lot of elbow grease and some degree of popularity, but you can piggyback on other sites’ great SEO for your benefit. This means creating profiles on the CUNY Commons, filling out your own profile here at JJ, and making profiles for yourself on networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and elsewhere. You don’t necessarily have to do all those things, or be active on all the networks, but the more time you put into curating your digital presence, the more it will pay off. This is one way that you can exert some control over that first page of results. And sometimes you can fill out your digital presence while having a good time and being academically productive. So let’s talk about one of my favorite things: Twitter.
Twitter for academia
Twitter is one of the most useful academic tools I’ve ever used. It keeps me up-to-date on what colleagues near and far are up to. It points me to links that are relevant to my academic interests. It introduces me to peers doing work that jives with mine. It starts incredibly interesting conversations that I never would have had otherwise. And it gets my name out there and introduces me to other people I may or may not have met in real life.
The best way I can describe Twitter is that it’s like the best parts of an academic conference. On Twitter, you can link to your scholarly papers and other academic outputs, like delivering a paper at a conference and taking questions about it or receiving comments. But it’s also the introductions to other people that happen between papers, and it’s mostly the informal, energized conversation that happens at pubs after the conference. It’s passionate argument, it’s hilarious one-liners, it’s questions and answers.
You may have seen that Nature conducted a survey on 300 academics who use Twitter. The top reasons for using Twitter, according to their results, are following discussions, posting work, and discovering peers and recommended papers.
PHD Comics notes that there are also a few other benefits to using Twitter, too, like “interacting with people you have an intellectual crush on.”
Nuts & bolts
Open up your Twitter profile or look at someone else’s. On Twitter, once you sign up, you have a username (aka “handle”), your real name, a photo, a blurb about yourself, a link, and a profile timeline. Your profile timeline is all the tweets you’ve ever tweeted. Twitter is chronologically organized, so you can scroll backward in time.
The other timeline is the one that shows up on the homepage when you log in. These are all the tweets from people you follow. What’s at the top always refreshes, because people always be tweeting. The concept of following is strong on Twitter. You can follow other people, and they can follow you. It sounds like it’s creepy, but mostly, it’s not.
Your Twitter account can be public or private. Here, because we’re talking about a public digital presence, your professional twitter should probably be public, but it’s your choice.
You may have heard that a tweet is like a tiny comment that’s 140 characters long or less. It’s kind of hard to describe what a tweet could be, so let’s look at some examples. I’ve created a starter kit of a variety of people inside and outside of academia that I enjoy following. Take a look and you’ll see that people are sharing their research, others’ work, fun links, news items, images, conference blurbs, and more.
For a great overview of how Twitter works (e.g., what’s @ and # and RT??), see Jessica Hische’s Twitter tutorial. (Side note: I usually hate when people create explanations that condescend to mothers and grandmothers, especially since mine had multiple graduate degrees and could pick up on technical stuff in no time. But in this case the designer really did make the website for her mom, so.)
So what should you tweet?
Jessie Daniels, a professor at Hunter, is one of CUNY’s Twitter rock stars, using the handle @JessieNYC. She put together a wonderful list of 10 things academics should know about Twitter. I think #5 is my favorite:
Figure out what you want to contribute. There are a bunch of metaphors that are useful for explaining Twitter, one of my favorites is ‘DJ.’ Think of yourself as a DJ, and the Tweets you’re putting out into the world as your playlist. What do effect do you want to have on people listening? … I Tweet about race and racism [her primary research interest], and also about: academia, higher ed, digital media, documentary films, and memoir writing.
Conferences near & far
In addition to being a place to read and write stuff, Twitter augments real-life connections. One of its best uses is at academic conferences. You’ve probably heard of hashtags, right? Hashtags are like categories that you’re putting your tweet in. Most conferences have designated hashtags, like #mla15. Big conferences, like MLA, will also have hashtags for each session, like #mla15 #s400. That way, you can keep tabs on what’s happening at the conference and even engage in some backchannel conversation: making comments on what the speaker just said, or asking questions of other Twitter users in the room, or tweeting a very interesting thing the speaker just said (citing them, of course), or tweeting links relevant to the topic. And should your travel budget not allow for you to travel to the conference, you can follow along as other people live-tweet the proceedings.
Following research & news topics
Follow people whose work you like. They probably won’t be tweeting about their work most of the time, but it’s often useful to follow along with their works in progress or things they’re reading. When you sign up for Twitter, it’s kind of a snowball effect, finding people you want to follow. You might see that someone you already follow follows someone whose work you like. Or you might see someone speak who mentions their Twitter handle.
One thing I recommend you not do, at least not at first, is follow mainstream organizations. You don’t want to follow the New York Times or CNN on Twitter. For one, you will get blasted with tweets, too many to read. Like one a minute. For another, it’s not where a lot of the value of Twitter is. The community of real people is what’s special about Twitter.
You can also keep track of topics. Just as conferences use hashtags, there are some hashtags that denote ongoing conversations. Look at #twitterstorians, #blacklivesmatter, #longreads, #critlib (critical library instruction).
Okay, let’s talk about a question some of you have in the backs of your minds. Who’s been keeping tabs on Steven Salaita? That news item is, to me, more an issue of academic freedom than how academics use Twitter. But his wrenching story resonates with people like me who say all kinds of things, political or not, in the public space of Twitter.
Saying stuff on Twitter is saying stuff in real life. Sometimes that has consequences, fair or unfair. You might say something political that someone powerful disagrees with, on Twitter or in person. You might say something mean or offensive, as we all do every now and then, on Twitter and in person. And sometimes the consequences of a bad tweet stick around even after you delete it.
There’s no solution here that I have to offer, aside from remember that—online and off—we should try at all times to be kind and generous. (That’s point #10 from Jessie Daniels’ 10 things… list, and I think it’s spot-on.) Did you write a bad tweet? Delete or keep it, but acknowledge it publicly and apologize.
Tweets as research data
Are you a social scientist? Or linguist? Or political scientist? For people who work with language or public opinion or popular culture, Twitter has another use for you. Research data! Twitter is like a firehose of people making comments all the time, and that information is a goldmine. Use the API, the Tweepy Python library, or apply for a data grant.
Are you all feeling a little Twittered out? Let’s pull back a little and talk about two other ways to take control of your digital presence. One of the primary online academic social networks is Academia.edu. It’s kind of like Facebook for researchers, where you’re not posting photos or status updates, but rather, work you’ve done. You can follow other scholars as well as research interests. Papers can be grouped under these research interests, making it easy for you to find academic work that you’re interested in.
You can fill our your academic profiles with papers, presentations, and even teaching documents in one place, along with your CV. When you put effort into it, it’s a kind of landing page for your digital academic presence. If you’re moderately active on Academia.edu, your profile will be listed very high in search results for your name.
Note that there are numbers next to almost everything indicating how many views there are. If you’re interested in alt metrics, which are alternative ways of measuring scholarly productivity, these are important!
The very last thing I want to point out is another landing page for your academic output. And that’s at your institutional faculty profile. One of the great things about the new John Jay website is how much flexibility we have in tweaking our profiles. These show up when you search for someone’s name in the directory or when you’re looking at the faculty listing for a department. You’ll notice that there is a lot of room to build out your digital presence: you can write a bio, list out research interests, plunk in all your publications, with links even, and post your CV too. This links you with your department, as well. A robust profile makes you look good, it makes your department look good, and it makes your institution look good, too. And bonus, these also get boosted in search results for your name. (John Jay faculty, start editing your profile by logging in.)
So, to conclude: you can take control of your digital presence. You can shape how other people find you and see you and your work online. One easy way to do this is to establish profiles at places like Twitter, Academia.edu, and John Jay. These will show up high in search results. But more interestingly, Twitter, and to a smaller extent Academia.edu, are true social networks that are places to share your work, discuss scholarly topics with your peers, discover new scholarship, and keep in touch with people you connect with in real life.