Two years ago I wrote a blog post that examined how academics could use social media to share their research and advance their professional opportunities. Aspects of my argument, however, apply also to researchers and policy professionals more broadly. Nevertheless, these two articles should be read in tandem.
However, given the lack of competent professional training at most Balkan universities before expanding this discussion I must make an important caveat. In order to make the most of social media, in order to share one’s research, expertise, and insights the following needs to be the case:
1. You must actually be an expert and a competent researcher.
2. You must be interested in contributing to contemporary policy debates.
Social media, perhaps even more so than the peer-review system, will reveal fraudulent credentials in short order. Accordingly, make sure to focus your energies on the fields you have mastered or are actively engaged in, rather than “dabbling” in debates in which you lack the expertise to comment on.
Likewise, there is also no substitute for one’s own passion and determination. If the idea of following current events, informing yourself about them, and attempting to inform and educate others about their significance and consequences is exhausting or tedious for you, then this approach is not for you. Indeed, policy and research as a whole is likely not for you. You must understand that the primary purpose of our work is to inform the public’s debate, to assist the efforts of legislators, activists, and policy makers, and to contribute to the “public good” in short.
When you understand this, the necessity of engaging with the public and other professionals in our field should become self-evident. In other words, this is not a for-profit venture, it is, I must stress again, a public good that we provide.
That having been said, there are three key pieces of advice to follow in constructing your social media and broader professional profile. Briefly: you need to specialize, you need to inform, and you need to promote—yourself and others.
I hold three degrees in political science, including a PhD. Despite this, I know very little about the politics of Cambodia. Nor am I an expert on south east Asian politics more broadly. My expertise are in the politics of southeastern Europe. At its widest, my research might be categorized as focusing on the politics of post-conflict and post-authoritarian states—but even here I would stress my particular interest in the role of social movements in the broader process of democratization of such societies.
This specificity is not pedantry. In the world of social media, it is critical that your audience understand—within seconds—what service you provide. And it is indeed a service. Your audience are other researchers, policy experts, and journalists, all those who depend on data and analysis to make sense of complex issues.
Specialization requires a high degree of grooming and patience, choosing which stories to post about and in what fashion. Building an audience will require time and consistent attention. But done properly, the exercise should quickly become its own reward; it will expand your community of peers and your opportunities to share your research.
Aside from large corporate or organizational accounts, good examples of personalized specialist accounts include Jay Ulfelder and Koen Slootmaeckers, from whose profiles and feeds one is able to deduce very quickly what service and insight they offer.
In this respect, your social media feed should also serve to provide “samples” of the wider set of skills and capacities you are able to bring to a project. The purpose of the medium is not to replace your longer publications, peer-reviewed or policy oriented, but rather to supplement them through engagement with and promotion among your peers and associates.
Nevertheless, you must provide content. Posts that exclusively ask things of your audience (e.g. read my book/report/brief) do poorly. Instead it is posts that provide information to your audience that garner the most interaction and response. Consistently providing such content is what transforms you into a trusted content provider and provides you, in turn, with further professional opportunities as other researchers and experts solicit your participation in their projects.
Here’s a good example of a researcher sharing a “curiosity” from her work that garnered wide spread attention. Make this a regular feature of your profile and remember that graphics always help.
My colleagues frequently misunderstand the term “promotion” viz. social media. Rather than arrogant self-promotion or even mere “networking,” I mean here something more akin to “virtual community building.” In the Western Balkans this is of particular importance because the opportunities for young policy professionals to meet and interact are especially limited.
Social media provides an important avenue for self-organization and interaction outside of existing institutional contexts, with all the accompanying problems mentioned earlier. It provides a platform for young professionals to disseminate their research, contra the existing boundaries and barriers of their respective societies. While these initial interactions will be “virtual,” when pursued effectively they will quickly translate to the actually existing world.
Accordingly, it is again important to act with the “public good” in mind. Promote the work of your colleagues; share it with interested audiences, and interact with it in a professional manner. Elevating their work and their profile will likewise have benefits for you, as a wider, more dynamic policy and research community in the region benefits all of us. Rather than viewing it is a matter of competing for finite resources, your social media engagement should be an exercise in creating added value and added opportunities for all of us.
Even taken together though, these general guidelines are no guarantee of success—especially not in a profession as competitive as the contemporary policy research community. Nevertheless, a serious social media presence is an inescapable necessity for any young professional attempting to break into the field. And building the appropriate profile is a skill like any other: one to be learned, mastered, and implemented.