He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people, people, people!
That's one way of looking at things. Put a cynical twist on it and you come up with that old war horse: 'it's not what you know, but who you know.' Hackneyed as it may be, it applies to success in research as much as any other field of endeavor.
There's nothing new about that. What is new are the tools - social media platforms and other digital technologies - that people are using to grease the wheels of professional life.
But are these tools really as revolutionary as they're cracked up to be?
how social media is nothing new
Conferences, phone calls, letters, team-building exercises, sports and social clubs used to be the way to network and foster collaborations. And people still rely heavily on these 'antiquated' ways of staying in touch with friends and colleagues.
But now a whole new world has opened up with the advent of the social web. Platforms like Twitter, blogs, and Google+ are incredibly powerful technologies of connection.
But the power of these technologies doesn't alter one basic underlying truth - they're still all about human relationships.
And the success (or its lack) of genuine connection depends on the very same factors that have always defined human relationships:
- do we have anything to say to each other?
- are you (and your information/research/data) credible and trustworthy?
- are you going to waste my time or enrich my life?
- do I even like you?
All the connections in the world won't do you any good if they're ticking these boxes in a negative way.
the tools are essential, but they're just the vehicle
More often than not we get caught up what's new and hot in the social media space (Pinterest, anyone?) rather than keeping clear about who we want to connect with and why.
I'll link to some resources about platforms commonly used in academia a bit further down the page, but before we get there, here are some ground rules for social media that will stand you in good stead and make the engagement worth your time.
- Be a good human. Start with the Golden Rule, then listen more than you talk, reply to and promote others more than you promote yourself, and be patient. Worthwhile relationships take time to develop, whether on- or offline, so don't expect instant results.
- Find your people. The biggest downside to social media is the potential for huge time suck, so it's worth some effort to find out where the interesting conversations are before you commit. Do a bit of research, lurk on some of the different channels, and talk to your colleagues to find out where it's worth spending your time. Dr Ruth Page has further thoughts on how to be smart about this.
- Be short and snappy. None of us are inherently interesting, and there's lots of noise to break through on social media channels. Nick Usborne has written a condensed guide on how to encourage people to read your posts and click on your links so that you don't waste your time.
- Be consistent. Don't just turn up when you have something to say. Check in regularly (and what counts as 'regular' will vary by platform) to see what the other people in your network are up to and be ready to contribute to the conversation.
links to resources on social media and research
broad overviews of tools
- Social media: a guide for researchers A good overview of which tools are particularly well-suited to academic researchers, as well as comments from 10 researchers who are active on social media.
- Social media and research workflow The results of a survey of nearly 2,000 researchers on what social media tools they use, what they'd like to see, etc. The 2-page summary of results at the beginning makes for very interesting reading. Social Media Lure Academics Frustrated by Journals is an article summarizing this research by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
- A guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching, and impact activities A real nuts and bolts guide to setting up twitter accounts, basic functions and protocol, a list of noteworthy academic tweeters in different disciplines and additional resources. [addendum 7 June - see 6 tips to avoid making a hash of twitter hashtags for guidance on how to use this important twitter tool]
how social media can enhance research
- As Dr Ruth Page says in the article mentioned above, ‘digital technologies can enhance three core areas of academic practice: accessing, searching and sifting information; communicating with others; and building peer-to-peer networks.’
- Using social media to advance your academic research goals Some very concrete examples of how one young scholar uses social media tools.
- Social media for political scientists More useful tips on how researchers can use social media to their advantage. Written for political scientists, but applies much more broadly.
blogging and peer review
Do blogging and other social media tools threaten the future of academic rigor as we know it? There's quite a debate underway, and this issue isn't going away any time soon. Here's a small sample of the issues being raised.
- Why the academic world needs blogs. Christopher Leo provides a great overview of the potential and perils of academic blogging. His comments are based on the premise that 'if we were to design an academic publication system specifically for the purpose of making it as inaccessible as possible, we could hardly improve on the existing system.'
- The debate on academic blogging. Melonie Fullick provides interesting commentary, and supplies lots of links to further discussions.
- The future of peer review This article also discusses social networks designed specifically for academics such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate.
- Preventing rigour mortis: our migration to social media does not spell the end of academic rigour
- A roundup of social media blogs for 2011 from London School of Economics
how to get publicity in traditional and social media channels
- Going viral: Using social media to publicise academic research Kyle Christie argues that social media is a great way to disseminate research and keep track of the exciting research going on right under our noses.
- Practical tips on how to target Journalists with your research through Twitter
- Where to Stalk Journalists on Twitter
- Create your own research media outlet. Check out The Conversation, coming out of Australia. As a hybrid blog/news outlet designed to popularize research and generate discussion, it's an interesting experiment in taking research to where people are these days - online. Are there similar sites in other parts of the world that people know about?
So there's the tip of the iceberg in answering the question, can social media elevate research? What are your experiences in this area, and what questions do you have that remain unanswered? I look forward to your feedback.