Having looked at the potential value of Social Media for you, and for your career, we can start to look at what platforms, sites and tools are available.
Before we begin, a few provisos:
First, to make this section as useful as possible, it focuses on sites with active communities engaging with academic material and issues. Guides to ‘all’ social media are available, but it’s not useful to reproduce them unnecessarily. Where we refer to them, we’ll point you to where you can find them for yourself.
Second, the focus of this section will be generally sites for ‘academic audiences’. If your objective is to engage with specific audiences (particularly specific non-academic audiences) then they are likely to be active on many of the sites we look at, but may also have their own specialist communities. A conversation with people in these networks, either online or face-to-face will help you discover these.
Third, Social media changes and develops constantly, and this guide will only be updated periodically, so this shouldn’t be considered a definitive list. Happily, Professor Andy Miah from Salford University maintains a list of the social media resources used by academics which is updated regularly (the last update was Oct 2019). This gives a sense of the variety of sites available, and contains a brief description of each site, with some examples of researcher-led pages.
Fourth, because Social Media sites are user-driven, their content, culture, and usefulness often reflects their user-base. This can initially be a bit frustrating – particularly if you’re unfamiliar with them – as you’re never quite sure where to start. In time, that frustration can give way to creativity, as you get to know them, and find ways to harness their flexibility as multi-purpose communication tools. A good rule of thumb is to watch before you engage, and to start with sites that have a clear academic focus and offer features which map against the common activities and needs of researchers across the board. These features develop and evolve, but a comparison of some academic focused sites from 2015 attempted to compare a number of them with a view to the future of academic Social Media use. As with many of the resources referred to in this guide, the associated comments and reactions are as informative as the article itself.
Finally, although most sites won’t mention this up front, they all have to find ways to pay for themselves. How they do this, and what impact that has on the kind of audience, functionality, use of data, etc. is important to consider, therefore. None of the sites and platforms we will mention charge for access or reasonable use, but it is useful to be aware of their business models and how they maintain viability. Most sites will use your personal data as a business asset and generate income through advertising which will appear in your stream. Some operate in partnership with other organisations – something that may not always be explicit and obvious. Some charge for ‘additional’ functionality. We mention this not to put you off, but to ensure that you stop for a moment and think about the fact that a “free” service needs to generate an income stream and that you should be aware that the data and information you provide may be the source of this. If you are interested in the different funding and income generating models for social media, this article on the different approaches to financial sustainability taken by three research-focused sites, may be of interest.
So, with those reminders in place, on… to the various sites: