What is the role of social media in the world of scholars? More and more historians – and scholars in every discipline – are contributing to Twitter feeds and blogs. I’ve used social media to keep in touch with family and friends, but I am having some difficulties in deciding how my online activities translate to my professional life. As someone who is just starting to learn how to become a professional historian, now is the time for me to start crafting a compelling online presence. But how exactly is this done? How is it done well? More specifically, how should I determine the contents of my Twitter feed and my blog(s)?
With professional social media sites like LinkedIn, there’s no room for confusion. I know exactly what the purpose of the site is and what types of people are likely to view my profile. With Twitter and WordPress, there are no rules. I can write anything, and anyone can see it. This is great for purposes of getting my ideas out to a larger audience, and for following the latest developments in any topic I find interesting. The Higher Education Network’s live chat “Academic blogging: the power and the pitfalls” (pointed out to me by Stephanie Johns’ post “Oh the (Digital) HUMANITY!“) offers insight into other advantages of blogging and microblogging: it increases interactivity between academics and non-academics, builds bridges between disciplines, offers a venue for fleshing out ideas, relieves stress, constitutes a warm-up for other writing, and creates more transparency about the processes behind the work of an academic. These are the reasons why I am eager to become a historian who engages her audience via the internet. But there are hurdles as well. With such a broad audience to consider, it’s hard to know how to strike the right tone. The following comment by Mike Higton echoes my concerns exactly:
The core worry is generated by the thought of (say) a potential employer googling your name during a job application process, and the thought that what they find might affect their judgments – particularly if they are not themselves particularly clued up about the possibilities and constraints of blogging.
I strongly believe that the rewards of “being online” outweigh the risks. However, I still want to do what I can to minimize those risks. I have a personal blog, the purpose of which is to chronicle my MA year for people I know and anyone else who might be interested. If a prospective employer were to look at the personal blog rather than this site, they would probably be appalled at the amount of “narcissistic drivel” that I write. This is the reason that both of my blogs are set up “backwards.” Visitors to either one of my blogs are first greeted by a static home page that offers some basic information about the intentions of the blog. I have not yet done something like this with Twitter. I only started using Twitter a month ago, and I currently have one account that is used for both professional and personal purposes. However, now that my Twitter handle has been distributed among my professors and classmates, I find myself feeling guilty about making comments that don’t have to do with history or with coursework. Is this justified, or am I anxious about a problem that doesn’t really exist?
As an upstart professional trying to create an online presence, these are the questions that I have:
- should I keep professional and personal accounts separate, even though it’s clear that these accounts belong to the same person?
- on my personal blog, should I still be concerned about what impression my writings will make on my “professional audience”? Or should I have more faith that people will be able to tell the difference between a professional blog and a blog written by a professional?
These questions aren’t rhetorical. I’d like to know more about how other scholars have used social media. Please feel free to comment and share your perspective!