The Networked Academic: Social Media and your Research Identity

This post was contributed by Ceren Yalcin, Nelly Ali and Mayur Suresh, interns at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research.

Twitter, Facebook,, Youtube, Pinterest, Delicious, Foursquare and many more…The list of available digital platforms is long, but what is the value of social media for academics?

Dr Scott Rodgers, lecturer in Media Theory at Birkbeck College, spoke yesterday about what academics can do with and in social media. He suggested that we should think of social media, a networked media, not as just as a form of ‘networking’. Rather than looking at it as an arena in which we make contacts and disseminate our work and view the work of others, he suggested we look at social media as a different sort of academic environment that develops its own intertia and channels the production of knowledge. The structural logic of social media enables different methods and forms of academic knowledge. In his talk Dr Rodgers presented a variety of popular social media platforms and discussed what sort of academic life each one of these seemed to produce.

The speaker pointed out several things that make social media different from ordinary sites of knowledge production. First that social media is persistent, in the sense that there is automatic recording of whatever you post and this stays online for a long time. Second, replicability. Meaning that once something is posted online, people can, almost instantaneously, make copies and further post it. This leads to the third characteristic: scalability. By posting and reposting by multiple users, there is the collective amplification of material that is posted online. And lastly, searchability. The fact that material that is posted online is persistent, allows for it to be searchable.

When the speaker asked the audience to comment on their own use of social media, one participant pointed out that her activities on Twitter resulted in a successful, international research co-operation. Others stated that they found especially useful as it allows users to share papers and to receive feedback on work in progress. However, there were also some mixed feelings towards social media amongst the participants. One participant said that tweeting during a conference might be good publicity for the event but she found that it also made her less concentrated and distracted from the actual conference talks. Another interesting account came from an academic who pointed out how ‘addictive’ social media can be and how it can prevent doing other and more important work. Further, the discussants commented on the conflicts online profiles may cause. Here, a few participants expressed concern that their work and personal personae may meet, potentially causing embarrassment (we’ve all been there!).

Dr Rodgers pointed out some of the concerns and hopes he had for a networked academia. Some of the concerns included the fragmentation of writing (how do you get a theoretical argument to fit into a tweet?), the need to get as much posted as often as possible, and the view that being logged into these new forms was just another form of academic labour – that in addition to publishing and speaking, maintaining an online persona was another things academics, particular early career researchers, needed to do to. On the plus side, he hoped that new media would engender less formalized forms of academic expression, more honest and generous academia, and a (differently) publicly engaged academia.


2 thoughts on “The Networked Academic: Social Media and your Research Identity

  1. Scott Rodgers

    Excellent post on my seminar – captured the event really well. One small correction – where I was referring to what might “make social media different” from other academic environments, I was actually drawing directly on the work of social media researcher danah boyd (2010), on what she calls ‘networked publics’.

  2. Pingback: Good blog post on my BISR seminar

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