Public engagement and social media, part two: Twitter threads, chats and LinkedIn articles
In the previous post, I looked at setting objectives for your use of social media in a professional context, developing your online presence, and how you can collaborate with marketing-communications colleagues to promote your research.
In this post, I’m going to look in-depth at thought leadership on Twitter and LinkedIn, and highlight some ways you can start to engage in wider debates and raise your profile as a thought leader.
Being human vs being professional
Something that always comes up in discussions with academics is the line between the personal and professional. There’s a perceived risk in putting too much of ourselves into our online persona: what if we say the wrong thing? Someone might be offended, and we risk bringing our institution into disrepute.
But what’s the real risk?
Unless your political views are extreme, or you have outdated social values, your opinions are probably fine to share.
The bottom line is: use common sense. If you were in an open plan office, would you say the same thing? Treat online discussions the same as verbal discussions, and you’ll be fine.
In fact, there’s a risk in ‘always saying the right thing’. If we filter too much of ourselves out of our social media presence, constantly making sure that our updates and replies are corporately acceptable, our accounts can become bland and boring, and people might unfollow us.
Some people are comfortable separating themselves into two accounts: one professional, one personal. If you’re really concerned about saying the wrong thing, this may be the solution for you.
The no right answer that works for everyone. This is about your own values, your preferences and the culture of the people and organisations you work with. My own take on it is that the divide between the personal and professional are diminishing. The way people communicate online is changing, and people are much more comfortable expressing themselves openly.
So, if your activity on social media is a genuine reflection of who you are, your timeline will be more interesting, and people will be more likely to interact with you.
Akwugo Emejulu’s Twitter account is a great example of an engaging academic profile. Her cover and profile images, for starters. She looks approachable and friendly, yet academic and knowledgeable.
Her username is her actual name, so she’s easy to find, and it’s clear that this is really her.
Names and faces will always be more interesting than logos and acronyms.
Akwugo’s biography tells us everything we need to know about her professional identity and research specialism, and we get a bit of flavour about who she is as a person. We can also see that Akwugo follows people, and she likes their tweets.
She doesn’t just broadcast: she replies and interacts, and this is a key part of thought leadership.
Telling stories in the real world
People and stories. When it comes down to it, that’s what social media is for. It shapes our approach to the marketing content we publish.
And, as experts, your storytelling starts with the people at the heart of day’s biggest stories.
Peter Neumann’s Twitter thread on the radicalisation of the Finsbury Park attacker is a very good example of expert analysis combined with storytelling. Peter starts with an analysis of the attacker, before exploring bigger themes around the process of radicalisation, current perceptions of radicalisation, and the spread of misinformation.
When the news is so bad, it’s important that there are rational, measured and academically-informed voices leading discussion and debate. Twitter is a great platform for doing that in real time, in response to current events.
Challenging current thinking, leading the debate
Twitter chats are a goo way to expand your network and learn from others, but they can also be a way to raise your profile by leading a discussion on a thought-provoking subject.
We’ve held a couple of Twitter chats recently. They were led by Hallam academics, in collaboration with the social media team here. The most recent one was led by Professor Laura Serrant, an expert on the nursing profession.
You can see how it played out in this Twitter Moment, but essentially we engaged a large group of nursing professionals and academics in an hour-long debate about whether nurses should have more of a political voice.
From a Hallam point of view, we showcased one of our academics, and built on our reputation for being a real-world university. This kind of Twitter chat benefits from lots of planning, and genuine collaboration between communications professionals and academics.
LinkedIn has moved on, so should you
A lot of academics I speak to don’t realise how much LinkedIn has changed over the last couple of years. LinkedIn’s mission is to be the social platform for education and professional development. There’s a huge opportunity for universities here.
First, you can write articles on LinkedIn. If you publish regularly on LinkedIn, you have the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of readers (many of whom are 30-49 years old and, according to LinkedIn’s data, earn good salaries).
If you’re not familiar with LinkedIn articles, go and explore. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. They’re picked up by search engines, they’re easily shared (you can tweet your LinkedIn articles), and people can like and comment, which gives you another opportunity to interact with followers.
Lastly, how people use LinkedIn is changing. Have a read of this incredible article by Guy Kawasaki for some evidence of that.
Ride the wave, not the board
Surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku was asked how he always stays on the board when he’s surfing. He reportedly said: “Ride the wave, not the board.”
This same thinking applies to social media and communication. I’ve outlined some ways you can use Twitter and LinkedIn to do public engagement and thought leadership, but there will be other tools and technologies that enable you to do the same thing.
There are bound to be things I’ve missed here. It’s such a big subject. I’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in developing your profile for public engagement. Let me know if there’s something I can help with.
Joe Field, social media manager