Social Media and Promoting Academic Work

Generally these days I keep my academic work and hobbies separate on most social media. There is an overlap for my WordPress site. But on Facebook, I have a Facebook page for my academic-related things and my normal account for the usual social Facebook posts. On Twitter, I have one account for my academic-related things, and another account for my hobbies. I used to have them together under one account, but it became unmanageable and although only about 10% of Twitter posts are ever read, it was getting hard for other users to filter to the posts they wanted to see. As I said, the WordPress account has overlaps, as does my Instagram account.

But after a post I did recently about including my hobbies in my writing and a tweet that I posted from my ‘hobbies account’, I’ve realised just what a world of difference there can be between posts related to work and posts related to hobbies. And that got me thinking about the way social media works.

First, let me set some context by telling you a bit about the typical engagement of my academic-related posts.

On 7 January 2020 I posted the following Tweet (note that my profile picture is of 12 March 2020 rather than at the time of the Tweet) about an article which I’ve been working on for the past couple of years finally getting published…

As you can see, it has got 7 Likes and 2 Retweets. Sounds quite good… until you take into account that I have nearly 1,400 followers on my Twitter account. Now, while these days you will sometimes get to see on your timeline when someone you follow has liked another tweet, it is a far less effective system of letting people know about what you have actually liked than giving the same Tweet a Retweet. As you can see from the above image, there is also an option to see the Tweet Activity. As of 12 March 2020 that tweet has been seen 1,506 times, so clearly the likes and retweets (as well as the hashtags used in the Tweet) have helped it reach more than my own followers. Sadly out of those 1,506 only 28 people have interacted with the Tweet. Interaction, are those who like it, retweet it, or follow the link to the website included in the Tweet, or click on one of the hashtags. 28 out of 1,506 sounds less impressive and while many of my followers may not be interested in this particular topic, part of the problem is the ‘1,506’ rather than the ’28’ – it takes a lot of likes and retweets (and using the right hashtags) to get Tweets to people who might actually be interested. I’ll return to this issue later on.

Let’s look at Facebook now and look at what happened with the equivalent post on my Facebook page.

My Facebook page has around 300 followers (or are they ‘Likers’?). Of these, 3 people liked the post and one shared it (from memory this was probably me sharing it to my personal account, which I do from time to time for reasons that become clear later on in this post). As you can see the post was seen 187 times. What Facebook won’t tell me is how many people then looked at the website itself… but Facebook does give me the (paid) option to Boost the post! Thanks. If more people liked, commented on or shared the post, there would be no need for Boosting as it would appear on more people’s timelines. The formula isn’t precise – another post had 9 likes and 3 shares, but reached less people (133), but another which had no likes or shares reached just 48 people. So, unsurprisingly, the more you like or share posts, the greater chance there is likely to be for people to see it.

Before saying a bit about why the sharing side of things is important, let me just put this all into perspective by discussing a Tweet from my ‘hobby account’.

On 7 March 2020 I went to Beautiful Down Town Bramall Lane to watch Sheffield United win a match in the Premier League. It was a great day out. As I don’t get to go to that many games these days, I decided to video the singing of the club’s famous anthem, the Greasy Chip Butty song. It struck me that it seemed particularly loud that day (yes, there were nearly 32,000 people there, much higher than in the seasons we were in lower leagues, but I’ve been to derby games, high attendance games at the lane before and several (disappointing) play-off finals, but there seemed to be a higher energy this time). So, I posted the video on Twitter with the following Tweet

Now keep in mind I have far few followers on this Twitter account (just over 200) than my academic account. But as you can see it was Retweeted 30 times and liked over 200 times and the video itself has been watched about 4,500 times as of 12 March 2020. No doubt the hashtags also helped it reach people who don’t normally follow me. But, if I click on the Tweet activity, I find that it has had 16,011 impressions (that is the number of people who saw the Tweet)… of which 4,500 have watched the video and 2,238 have engaged with the Tweet in some form. Puts the data on my academic-related tweets into perspective, doesn’t it.

So, what can we (academics) do to get our work seen more? Short of putting it to song and sung at football matches, the answer seems relatively simple and obvious – like, comment, retweet and share more colleagues’s tweets. But also (non-academic) friends can help but promoting posts on social media. As we all know, at least on Twitter, retweets don’t mean that you agree with the post, just that you think people who follow you may be interested in seeing it. Don’t assume you have the same followers as the person you’re retweeting, and even if there is overlap, so what? Remember only 10% of Tweets are ever seen, so the chances are still that your followers won’t see either the retweet or original Tweet.

But the bigger question is here, why do it? For academic tweets you may think that they aren’t always going to be relevant to your followers/friends. They may not be. You may need to be selective about which ones you share. But they may be relevant. And the person seeing it may share it also & it may get to someone who really is interested. Even with established publishers and journals, the methods of promoting articles and books tends to be quite limited in their impact. Your help on social media could be far more effective, so, after we’ve often spent up to 5 years working on the research, writing and revising an article (the timescale is likely to be longer for a book) before it gets published, we really would like people to be aware of it, and your help in getting the word spread would be much appreciated.

So far this article has primarily been talking about academic writing and social media, but I would like to finish off with a further extension of the above conclusions. As you may know, I also write novels. To date I have published two – Hijacking Japan and Tokyo 20/20 Vision. The process of getting these books known is no different to the academic articles that I have been discussing. How often do you see adverts for books? Which authors are they for? I suspect they tend to be the same sort of people again and again, published by one of the big publishers. But there are many more books out there. Given that one of my academic books, which had a limited print run due to its specialist nature, is ranked at about 12,000,000 in the Amazon charts gives you an idea of just how many books there must be out there. Trying to let people know that you’ve published a book is a uphill challenge – but one you can help with by sharing posts when you can. Please help independent authors by sharing information about their books and also, if you do buy a copy (at the popular price of 99p/99c used by many independent authors for ebooks – much cheaper than a cup of coffee), please make sure you leave a review (not just stars, but a few words too) as this will further help the way the book gets listed and promoted by many book retailers. Thank you!

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