Friday, June 14, 2013

Digital Identity for Researchers

Social media - A guide for researchers Today I am contributing to a workshop session on digital identity for researchers. Although I don't think I'm a typical social media user, I am a case study. As is my usual practice, I decided to use this blog to collect and structure my reflection on what I'm likely to say at the session. My colleague Terese Bird is leading the session, and as we've done similar things to this before, I know she'll do a good job introducing the key ideas such as active online profile management, so I'll limit my introductory remarks to this:

The commonest reason (still) given for not using social media professionally is "I don't have time". Leaving aside the obvious response that you should find the time by wasting less time in meetings, etc (!), it is true to social media can be a huge time sink. If your only interest is purely professional, it is important to set some goals and targets by which to measure your performance. But what to measure? Probably not hits/pageviews or followers - which give static and misleading information - how are you going to measure active engagement with your content which can justify your time expenditure? What analytical tools can you use to measure and record this information?

Your Personal Network
The art of using social media professionally is in building and curating a diverse personal network of contacts who can help you in various ways (jargon: Personal Learning Network). Read this, and avoid the social media echo chamber. Why is a personal network important? Because as long as you feed it (with your time and knowledge by answering questions), it will serve you. If I search Google to ask How do I do this? it will give me the answer. If I ask my PLN How do I do this?, it is likely to say "Ooh, you don't want to do that, we did that and it was a disaster. Why don't you do this?
Your PLN will keep you up to date professionally, invite to to speak at conferences, to write papers and chapters for books, and offer opportunities for research collaboration. Neil provided the analytical and software expertise we needed to carry out this research. Neil is in Australia - we've never met.

My online presence
Google me, and you'll find out (after you've done the disambiguation).

What pleases me is that my blogs (I'm currently maintaining six blogs, designed to serve a variety of purposes, although they're not all publicly visible) come at the top of the list. Why is this good? Because running a blog gives me a longer term online presence, much more control, and more ownership of my online identity. This blog in particular is both a megaphone I use to shout about my achievements (recent example) and a handy online scrapbook I use to work out ideas and try them out on my network, who I trust to tell me if I've got it wrong. I've never kept a paper diary or a notebook, but even if I had, the convenience of being able to find half-forgotten content by tags or via search would outweigh the usability of paper. (I have a regular secure backup strategy for my blogs, I can't afford to lose this valuable content.)

If my blog(s) are home territory, I also have active social media presences on Twitter and Google+. I'm also currently rediscovering the value of YouTube, and I'd recommend that you seriously consider YouTube as a way of representing yourself online.

Why multiple services rather than concentrating on just one? Because although my networks on these services overlap, they are distinctive and have different affordances. There is some content I would share via Twitter and content I would choose to share via YouTube (and then publicize via Twitter). If it's worth saying, it's worth shouting about.

Where I'm not
I don't find much value in artificially constructed all-purpose "Facebook-for-X" sites such as and ResearchGate. Cut out the middleman, assume control of your online presence.

Social media: A guide for researchers (Research Information Network, 2011)
This is getting a little dated now in terms of tools, but the principles are worth reading.

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