Using social media to turbo-charge your research!

Recently I helped organise a social media training event at my university. The idea was to expose academics to different social media platforms, highlight the advantages of social media for academic work, and also teach them the basics of blogging and Twitter. Afterwards I was interviewed about how and why I use social media in my climate change research. Having been seduced by the attractions of social media some years ago, I’m now very much a social media advocate. Anyway, here’s my response to some of the interview questions re my own social media use:

What do you do at the University of Sydney?

I am a Professor of Organisational Studies and Leader of the Balanced Enterprise Research Network (BERN) at the University of Sydney Business School.

My research focuses on management knowledge and organisational change. Over the last 6 years I have been leading a major research project into business responses to climate change. With my co-researcher Professor Daniel Nyberg, we have explored how large corporations frame climate change as risk, lobby and shape climate politics, use different justifications and compromises in relation to the environment, and how managers as individuals respond to climate change in terms of their identities and emotions. This research has appeared in a range of international journals and is the subject of our forthcoming book Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations: Processes of Creative Self-Destruction (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

When and why did you start utilising social media for your research?

I started using social media in early 2013 after enrolling in an online social media training course for scientific researchers. The course introduced me to Twitter and encouraged me to set up my own blog Climate, People & Organisations as a way to profile my research and engage with a broader public audience.

What social media platforms do you use? And why?

I am a heavy Twitter user, averaging around 5 tweets a day (13,000 tweets since I started in early 2013) – in fact I am something of a Twitter addict! My enthusiasm for Twitter as a source of news aggregation and interaction means I’ve developed a good range of followers (4,600) and also follow a diverse range of other Twitter users (although my focus is primarily on climate change, climate politics and social science issues).

Blogging is another key social media platform I use, and this is aimed more at promoting research I have conducted or highlighting publications in a more user-friendly format. Many of these blog posts have gone on to become opinion pieces in mainstream media and by linking my blog to Twitter this ensures my research reaches a broader readership than is typical for conventional academic research (for instance my blog has attracted over 16,000 views since it started in 2013).

More recently, I have also started using Facebook. Although this is a personal and social medium, I still find this a good source for daily news items I may have missed on Twitter by ‘liking’ news outlets like The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, The Conversation and following relevant user groups.

How has social media benefited your research?

I’ve found social media to be invaluable in building a larger public profile for my research. Social media platforms such as Twitter and blogging allow you to reach out to a much wider readership than you encounter via traditional academic publication.

I strongly believe social media is an essential supplement to academic journal and book publication. Having slaved over multiple revisions of a paper for several years and have it finally accepted in a top international journal, you really need to try and ensure as many people know about your research. This is particularly important in an era in which academic performance is increasingly measured by citations and research impact.

More generally, it also assists in bringing your research to a broader readership, which might be cross-disciplinary or in the media or general public. By writing a short 600-800 word blog post about your research (with links to the full research) you can broaden the readership and potential impact of your publications. This can be further developed in reworking your blog posts into media articles and op-eds (which can then be further promoted via Twitter and Facebook posts!).

Beyond promoting research, social media has also meant I have interacted with a much wider range of people in academia, media, industry, NGOs and other civil society organisations than would normally be the case. These have included some of the world’s leading climate scientists, environmental activists, politicians and journalists. These contacts provide not only a source of information, but have in some cases gone on to become research collaborators and good friends.

Social media then provides an invaluable source of information, contacts and learning that no academic should be without.

Top highlight from using social media?

Meeting and interviewing some of my climate heroes like environmental activists Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein, climate scientists Michael Mann and Kevin Anderson and being able to contribute to the campaign to act on climate change.

Is the time you spend on your social media well spent?

Well I do spend an awful lot of time on social media – so of course I would say it is time well spent! But in seriousness, social media has reinvented the way I work as an academic and I think I’m now far more effective in linking my research to critical real world developments.

Top 5 Tips for social media novices?

  1. Get on Twitter and tailor those you follow based on your research interests
  2. The more information you share the more you get back
  3. Don’t be bashful about promoting your research on social media
  4. Use every publication and speaking engagement as a social media opportunity (Tweets, blog posts etc)
  5. Engage in debate about issues that are important to you – become active in public debate

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