I Follow You on Twitter! Social Media and Networking

Hello blogreaders! After a long absence, a cross-country move, a summer course, and everything that goes along with being an advanced graduate student, I’m back! Read on for my take on social media and networking.

Really? Twitter?

In my last post on graduate students and conference networking, I mentioned that I “met” two historians on Twitter – Megan Kate Nelson and Theresa Kaminski (Theresa has a new book out – “Angels of the Underground.” Go get it), but I wanted to devote a separate blog post to how to use social media for networking.

I joined Twitter in 2009 for one purpose – to follow celebrities and celebrity gossip in real time. I thought for a long time that that was all Twitter – and most other social media – was good for. I bought into the idea that somehow “social media” was a bad word (well, two bad words) and that nothing serious could ever take place there. Over the last seven years, however, I’ve discovered – as has most of academia – that social media, and Twitter in particular, is a great place to go for networking. More and more universities and even university departments have official Twitter accounts, scholars of all disciplines “meet” on Twitter to discuss their work, and it can be a useful tool for networking-building. As I mentioned in my last post, all graduate students are encouraged to network, and using social media to do so is another way graduate students (and more senior scholars) can expand their network and their comfort zone.

My Social Network

I started using Twitter to build an academic social network a little over a year ago. One of my graduate professors is on Twitter, and we follow each other. One day, she tweeted about Megan Kate Nelson, whose book Ruin Nation I had read in a graduate seminar. I piggy-backed off of the original tweet, replying that Ruin Nation is my favorite Civil War book, and boom – academic social network started. Following Megan (and her generous decision to follow me back) helped me to build an academic social network quite quickly.

Okay, but now what?

Filling your Twitter feed with university departments, scholars, and academic publications is easy enough, but what do you do once you’ve developed an academic social network? Like networking at a conference, you need to be a bit more proactive than we, as academics, are sometimes comfortable with. The good news is that we can still hide behind our computer screens to a certain extent! So here are six ways to use social media to build your network.

  1. Promote yourself. Have a new publication? Get mentioned on your department website? Find something exciting in the archive? Tweet it! Promoting yourself – or even just congratulating yourself on very real accomplishments – can feel icky. But, as we’re all often told, the only way to get yourself out there is to put yourself out there. You’ll be amazed by how much support you get!
  2. Use hashtags. There are TONS of academic hashtags out there. There are hashtags that can connect you with other scholars in your field and with other graduate students. Some of my favorites are #PhDchat and #PhDlife (this one is usually pretty hilarious). If you have other favorites, leave them in the comments!
  3. Interact with other scholars. I have used Twitter to chat with other scholars about their work, my work, the Olympics, the election, running socks, and a lot of other things. Building a network shouldn’t just be about having somewhere to discuss your project or the job market (although it’s great for these things – I just had a chat with a PhD candidate in English about the job market today!). It should also be about building support, in many forms.
  4. Get help! I contacted one of my former students – Amanda Sterling, now the Social Media Coordinator at the Corning Museum of Glass – for any input she might have on this post, and she made the excellent suggestion of using Twitter for help with research. As Amanda says, “Whether you need to pull contemporary material directly or you need help tracking something down, social media can help you with your work.” If we’re all willing to travel to archives to track stuff down, why not use the networks of lots of other academics to help?
  5. Establish yourself. Amanda also suggested that using Twitter to promote yourself and your work, and to engage in discussions with other scholars, helps to establish yourself as an expert in your field. This is particularly useful when you consider how long publication can take. Let everyone know you’ve already arrived!
  6. Follow conferences. Finally, Amanda points out that given that most conferences now actively cultivate hashtags associated with the conference and sometimes panels, you can “attend” conferences that you might not be able to afford to see in person. This is another way to keep yourself current on new scholarship and find people who are interested in the same things you are.

Creating a social academic network gives you access to much more than in person networking does (although that type of networking is useful in its own ways). You can use it to get a heads up on new scholarship, job postings (I highly recommend following the American Historical Association’s Career Center – @Historyjobs), and gives us a way in to networking in real life. So think of social media networking not just as an end, but a means to an end. It can be a good first step if you’re nervous about putting yourself out there in other scenarios where there might be pressure (like conferences). And most importantly, social academic networking gets your name out there – the best networking goal of all!

Wait, a Social Media Coordinator?

Before I sign off on this post, I wanted to say a word about Amanda’s position at Corning. If you ever needed evidence of the increasing importance of social media (and let’s be real, we historians love evidence), the fact that Social Media Coordinator is a position at a museum like the Corning Museum of Glass should do the trick. Amanda graduated with an MA in Museum Studies from Syracuse University and was almost immediately hired by Corning. If you’re into museums, glass, and an #emergingmuseumbadass, follow Amanda at @amsterli.

Have more to add about social media and academia? Leave me a comment!!