By Tyler Shores, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

I recently did some live-blogging with The Sociological Review as part of a great workshop at the University of Nottingham: “Social Media and Doing a PhD, What Do You Need to Know – A Postgraduate Workshop”. 

For #academictwitter followers, the lineup was quite the who’s-who of academic social media experts: Mark Carrigan, Inger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer) and Pat Thomson (patter).

This is the second part of the series — you can see our previous post here.

Inger Mewburn, author of the popular Thesis Whisperer blog, shared some excellent insights from her own experience with academic blogging:

Echoing Mark Carrigan’s previous point, it’s ok to take a less-than-straightforward path to finding a blog approach that works for you personally. In fact, perhaps the key to a successful academic blog includes half-starts and do-overs? After all, different approaches and blog experiments can give you valuable information about what works, and what does not. For Inger, this meant experimenting with seven different blog iterations before settling on The Thesis Whisperer.

The Thesis Whisperer shares her 3 Basic Rules of Blogging: 

  1. Write something that you want to read (and that other people will want to read).
  2. Write something that instructs, informs, and entertains: be useful.
  3. Be regular.

To that last point, Inger posts every Wednesday. Of course, everyone will have to determine what kind of blogging schedule might work for them. Inger experimented with posting twice a week, but keep in mind that such a schedule can be hard and time intensive when you’re devoting a good amount of time on each post that you write.

It’s also important to know your audience. Why do some blog posts do better than others? Where do the ebbs and flows in blog traffic come from? Sometimes you might just have a feeling that a post will do well, but the traffic turns out a bit underwhelming. Understanding your audience behavior can be important to discover when and how your readers are engaging with you. For example, Facebook can provide useful, granular data about your blog audiences. Some platforms might work better than others, depending on your content and your audiences — so try multiple channels to see where your audience is coming from.

What motivates blog posts? For Inger, some of the best posts seem to be inspired from times when she might be sad, or angry. And such emotions can be productive and cathartic — a good deal of creative energy can come from a negative place that can in turn be channeled into a positive outcome through blogging. Another powerful motivation can stem from a feeling of wanting to help others through sharing and exploring experiences that we encounter in academia in our day to day lives.

Along similar lines to patter’s previous thoughts on the function of a blog — the Thesis Whisperer blog can function as a scrapbook, as a gateway to other things, and as a shared bookmarks resource for herself and for others.

The Thesis Whisperer is full of wonderfully helpful blog posts and topics. To that end, a blog can also be used as a teaching resource, for current students and classes (see for example the Learn From The Whisperer sidebar on the right).

Another helpful practice for those of us prone to typos — consider running everything through Grammarly before posting. (I just did it on this post and caught two small ones!).

If you are committed to doing your own academic blogging, be sure to put some thought into your content strategy at the outset. Inger, for example, alternates between her own self-authored posts and guests posts (tip: the waitlist to post with Thesis Whisperer can be long!). To post regularly on your blog, be sure to have content, or at least ideas for content, lined up — for example, Inger has about one year of blog post content ready for posting.

Omnifocus, the task management app extraordinaire, can be useful for managing your workflow in many ways — including for blog posts (be sure to check out the great Thesis Whisperer post on this: Super charged academic productivity?).

How much time can be devoted to your blog? The Thesis Whisperer shares the exact data, for those of us that are interested:

77 hours, 32 minutes* on the blog this year as of 11:30am on December 8th, which works out to 1.48 hours per week.

Note: keep in mind that Inger is a very fast writer. But that speed has taken years of practice — whereas a blog post might have taken up to four hours while she was starting out, that same process takes her an hour or less now. Blog writing can be an excellent way for some of us to form a regular writing habit that has a positive effect on the other kinds of writing we find ourselves doing as well.

*For anyone interested in learning about your own amount of how your time is spent on the computer, check out the Mac app, Timing and be sure to check out Thesis Whisperer post: The Academic FitBit 

One of the benefits to using social media as an academic and researcher can be taking part in a larger, shared conversation. Especially when we are first dipping our toes into such a vast ocean of online content, it can be extremely helpful to have some role models and guides to show us the way.

During this session of #SocialMediaPhD, our experts Mark CarriganInger Mewburn (Thesis Whisperer) and Pat Thomson (patter) shared some of the tools and methods that work for them:

One of the collective themes throughout this session was how Mark, Inger, and Pat are mindful of their audiences and use their social media accounts as a means of content curation — both for their own work and interests, as well as what their audiences might be interested in reading and sharing. For the Thesis Whisperer, she likens social media to something akin to a radio broadcast — you’ll reach different listeners/users at different times while they dip in out and of being online, while they are doing different things:

When there are myriad options of tools to use, how do we decide what to be using for our own everyday social media use? Usability, the ability to link across different accounts and services, and overall user-friendliness can be important factors to consider. As with many things online, things can change quickly (for example, one of my favorite 3rd party Twitter apps can stop being useful virtually overnight).

It can be quite a chore to keep abreast of what’s new while also learning about more tried and true methods for content curation. Having a spirit of exploration and experimentation can help:

Flipboard is one example of a great, free, cross-platform app that allows you to cull a variety of online sources of information into a slick, magazine-style reading experience. (And you can follow the Thesis Whisperer on Flipboard)!Sometimes this can also mean using other platforms that we know well, in creative new ways. I think a few of us were intrigued about Pat Thomson’s use of Pinterest as a research tool (you can follow Pat Thomson on Pinterest here)!

Facebook groups, both open and private, can be another helpful resource for scholarly communities. Such groups are particularly useful as online forums, and you’ll frequently find questions and discussion put forth to the hive mind:

Let’s face it: social media can unfortunately be a nasty, unpleasant environment from time to time. There are also communities (just a few examples through hashtags that you can visit: #WIASN, #PhDChat, #ECRChat), which can be powerful sources of inspiration and support for academics and people of all kinds.

And finally, be sure to check out Julia Hayes‘ wonderful live-drawing which captured these topics!

Posted by:fersacambridge

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