By Sarah Dolezal, American University School of Communication
The APPAM 2018 DC Regional Student Conference took place on April 6th – 7th at American University in Washington, DC. The conference featured over 20 panel sessions, a poster and networking reception, and a luncheon workshop: Use of Social Media to Promote Your Policy Research.
Panelists included communications and academic experts Jennifer Doleac, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Economics, University of Virginia; Dan Kaplan, Director of Communications, IMPAQ International; and Liza Morris, TEDx American University and Principal, +Alkemi. The workshop was moderated by Jake Ford, MPP Student, McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.
The expert panelists explored general tips on how to overcome fears of having a social media presence, as well as the skills and strategies needed to extrapolate scholarly research for networking and professional opportunities. Audience questions included how a digital presence can influence journal acceptance or job interviews, whether you should maintain separate personal and professional accounts, and if young scholars should share papers by other researchers.
How to get started
Before the workshop, Doleac (@jenniferdoleac) tweeted a strategic blueprint on how to execute an effective Twitter plan for scholars who are new to the social media platform, or who want to expand its usefulness to advance their career.
She advised the attendees to begin their online presence with these tips:
Use your real name for your Twitter profile and handle;
Use a professional headshot so that people know you’re a real person and not a bot;
Offer a brief biography about yourself, your role in academia, and your research interests;
Follow people you admire, such as scholars or other professionals; and
Get a sense of what the norms are on Twitter.
Kaplan (@impaqint) also included tips on how to network on Twitter. "First, yes to putting your own research out there. Second, listen to what others in the conversation are saying, and add defendable opinions. Become known as a thoughtful person. Third, befriend and help influencers,” he said. “Build a relationship with people from whom you don’t have any expectations to get anything in return.”
For the scholars who want extra feedback when setting up a new online profile, the panelists encouraged going a to their program’s communications department for assistance.
“You’ll have someone sitting with you the whole time who will help you navigate through the process,” Morris (@liza_m) said. “Promoting your work online puts you in control of your social media presence.”
Using social media to share your work
Doleac dismissed the notion that good research will eventually rise to the top. Decision-makers for “academic journals want good work, and work that gets cited,” she said. “If they see you’re already getting online traction, that will help you.” (Be sure to check on journal guidelines, though – some may be more strict about research that has gone public in other forums).
Morris encouraged scholars to use social media to gain press coverage for your research. "Twitter is really one of the best ways of reaching and engaging with journalists today," Morris said. "Note here: please do not use Twitter to pitch journalists directly; use it to engage and get your research in front of them."
So how should you talk about your work online? "When you're trying to disseminate your research through social media, have a goal and know the audiences you are trying to reach," Kaplan said. "As you grow your network, it is very important to listen. Find the people who are having an influence, and build connections with them.”
He emphasized the importance of short, concise language on social media platforms. "Something we do a lot at IMPAQ International is break our research findings into very simple nuggets or points, then link back to the larger study or infographic," he said.
Doleac agreed. When asked about the potential to lose publication opportunities by prematurely putting out research prior to a conference or journal issue, she advised posting small nuggets of findings, such as a graph, or making a general statement about a current research focus. However, especially when collaborating with other researchers who are apprehensive about social media, ask your academic advisors for insights on how to navigate this.
How can an online presence play out in hiring situations? “If you have a well-curated feed that makes you look like a respectable scholar, that's only going to help you," added Doleac, who has served on hiring committees.
While it isn’t possible to control the narrative online, Morris encouraged scholars to offer research contributions to the conversation. "You can't just join Twitter and expect something to happen. You have to have a strategy."
Doleac also addressed this narrative concern, saying "If you're a researcher, your priority should be building your reputation as a scholar. I find it useful to be able to release my research in a way that I can craft the language and tweets myself."
Finally, all the panelists – and practitioners in the audience – agreed that utilizing social media, and especially Twitter, can have an overall positive impact on your work and knowledge as a scholar.
"You'll be surprised how great a community this can be,” Doleac said. “It can seem big and overwhelming, but I've made so many great connections through Twitter."