Creating an online presence as a DH professional

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!

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One thought on “Creating an online presence as a DH professional

  1. paigedoerner says:

    This is exactly the sort of history that I am trying to do! It’s like, a hybrid child of traditional Public History and digital marketing, and there is so much possibility for this sort of communication, especially in an increasingly digital academic world. In my ‘about me’ section I talk a little bit about my thoughts on how history should be shared and created (http://paigedoerner.wordpress.com/about-paige/) and my blog Imponderabilia explores the ways in which my career as a digital public historian can grow and encourage others to bring traditional history into the digital public-history realm! You can check it out here: http://paigedoerner.wordpress.com/

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