Advice for Grads on Social Media (and Blogging): English Faculty Talk

Last week I gave a talk in the English Faculty about Academic Blogging and Social Media for graduate students. I gave a similar talk on blogging a couple of years ago and wrote up my advice in this post.

In this post, I’ll give my advice on Social Media and link to other useful online resources. As ever, a huge thank you to everyone on twitter who offered helpful advice and guidance!

Firstly, I’d like to highlight two brilliant resources: Liesbeth Corens’ Twitter for Students post and Paula Curtis’ Best Practice guide. Both are excellent and well worth reading.

I’ll be talking mostly about Twitter here as that’s where I do most of my academic outreach and social media work. I do have an Instagram (@drlauravarnam) and I use that account differently to my Twitter. I think I have a different audience on Instragram, in part because of the lovely folks that I interact with: many of whom are part of the #bookstagram community, reviewing and talking about books. Over there I share what I’m currently reading (for pleasure and for teaching, if I think there are books that readers would enjoy) and I also share photographs of my Daphne du Maurier books and ephemera.

I am also followed by a number of teachers and I tweet about Oxford and my teaching as a way of dispelling myths about the university and studying English here (#englishatoxford). I have run online ‘readalongs‘ on Instagram (including one on Rebecca, for which you can access the resources here on my blog). For those events, I have posted photographs with prompts for readers to discuss a particular novel over the course of a week. My Instagram is also a little more personal in that I share photographs of my hobbies (there’s many a photograph of a crocheted ripple blanket! See below!).

I think the key here is to think about the identity of your audience, whichever social media you are using. (Many of my younger medieval Twitter colleagues have recommended Tiktok as excellent for public engagement. I’m way too old to know what Tiktok really is but do explore alternative modes of getting your work out there on social media!)

A snapshot of my Instagram account

One thing that I didn’t mention when giving my talk was to consider your bio when you’re setting up your account. This is my Twitter bio:

My Twitter bio

Because I tend to use my Twitter for more strictly academic purposes, I have my institutional affiliation in my bio plus a link to the Society that I run, and my web address is my personal website. Because you can’t link websites in the same way on Instagram, my link tends to change depending on what I’m talking about. (In the screenshot above, I have a link to my latest poetry publication, for example, but that will no doubt change soon!) So have your audience in mind when writing your bio and think about the affiliations you want to highlight and how you want to present yourself and your research in snapshot.

Top Tips for Twitter

I started my talk by outlining some of the benefits of Twitter and the ways in which you can participate positively and productively in the conversation (with many thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts on this!):

  • Use twitter to build networks: remember the ‘social’ in social media. Retweet, promote, and engage in conversation to build your community.
  • Find your people! For me, this starts with hashtags: #medievaltwitter, #TeamMargery, #twitterstorians (grads might want to check out #phdchat, #academicchatter)
  • Twitter is great for finding out about opportunities: conferences, Zoom events, public engagement opportunities, podcasts etc
  • Use Twitter to ask questions and crowdsource! For research, teaching, advice- most tweeps are very generous in offering their experience and ideas. Many of my advice blogposts are crowdsourced!
  • Use Twitter to share your knowledge and link to useful resources (I often do threads when I’ve taught a class with a large online component so that others can see the kinds of material I’ve used)
  • A really positive thing that you can do is to tweet about great books and articles that you’ve read. That can start useful conferences and build networks too.
  • Twitter is a great way to get to know people in your field, especially before conferences! (I was so glad that I had networked online before the big Chaucer conference in my field- it gave me a great ‘in’ for talking to people, especially academics more senior than me: ‘oh hello, I follow you on Twitter, it’s nice to meet you in person’
  • Livetweeting at conferences is a great way to participate- or to follow along if you’re unable to attend. (But do make sure that you check the social media policy for the conference and only tweet the content of a paper if the presenter is happy for audience members to do so. This is a great post by Sjoerd Levelt on Twitter at conferences)
  • I have often used Twitter for personal accountability when I’ve been struggling to focus or complete a difficult task- I’ll tweet my plans for the morning and once I’ve said it publicly, I feel bound to honour my tweet!! My pal Alicia Spencer-Hall and I completed our monographs in the summer of 2016 by tweeting at each other every day in this way!
  • A really great hashtag for working collectively on twitter is #remoteretreat which was set up by the lovely Lucy Hinnie. Remote retreat provides a timetable for a working day- and in between sessions, you tweet your progress and check in with fellow participants. It’s brilliant and very motivating! Find out more on Lucy’s website here. I’ve done many a tricky bit of writing ‘alongside’ remote retreat pals.

Practical Tips for using Twitter

Here are some of the practical tips that I shared (again with thanks to my lovely followers for their suggestions):

  • Scheduling tools such as Tweetdeck of Hootsuite are useful if you’re running a society or event account or if you want to send out some regular tweets at particular times.
  • Make sure you reference sources and images- this is one way in which we as academics can fight against fake news on the internet!
  • Twitter can be overwhelming and distracting, try not to let it take over! It’s okay to ‘lurk’ or to ‘sign out‘ (I often do this when I know I’m procrastinating by scrolling and I need to sign out for a week or so- I just tweet that I’m signing out and I’ll see people later. This is useful if you’re a very ‘online’ person, so that people don’t worry!). You don’t have to reply to everything or take a position on every current issue. A good piece advice that I received from a friend was to treat a social media comment as like a knock at the front door– you are not obliged to open that door to everyone!
  • Do think about the value you’re adding to a conversation and the tweeters whose voices and material you want to amplify and promote. And do be aware of your privilege– you bring that onto Twitter as into the real world.
  • Social media is public: it’s potentially out there for good! So think about what you’re tweeting- would you want your supervisor / your grandmother / your prospective employer to read your tweets?
  • On a related note, be kind and respectful. Particularly of those who have less privilege than you and come from marginalised communities. Don’t punch down.
  • You could consider having a private account and a public account if you want to differentiate between your tweets and your different identities.
  • One of the questions at the talk was about whether I tweet about personal interests and follow non-academic accounts. I do but then I have a privileged position, given my job etc. I don’t mind my followers knowing that I watch Strictly Come Dancing and I think medieval memes are funny! But you could think about curating your profile (to use a buzzword that I don’t particularly like!!) To build an identity online, you might want to coin a hashtag or tweet about particular kinds of things on certain days to demonstrate your expertise (I often tweet from my collection on #DuMaurierMonday on Instagram for example). It’s worth thinking about these questions before you start mindlessly tweeting!!
  • Know how to lock your account and block/report where necessary. Twitter can be a horrid and angry place (as was raised in the questions at my talk) but I try not to engage where it will add fuel to the fire (ie if I’m being mansplained- they are looking for oxygen and will keep replying!!)

I hope the points in this post are useful. If you have any additional advice or thoughts, please comment below or tweet me! Thanks for reading and do check out my other posts of Advice for Grads and ECRs here on my blog.

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1 Response to Advice for Grads on Social Media (and Blogging): English Faculty Talk

  1. Pingback: Twitter for Students – Liesbeth Corens

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