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Following on from my earlier post, what advice would I give to a PhD student thinking of trying social media?

  • Have a look at the examples first – they may stimulate ideas.
  • Don’t get bogged down into thinking you have to use a particular resource  – initiatives are more likely to be successful if they are led by what you want to do, rather than by technology.
  • Think before you leap in. You may often hear people deriding social media as trivial – but each tool is only as trivial or worthwhile as you make it. Are you confident you can keep your blog interesting?
  • At the same time, don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t worry if it doesn’t work out.
  • Enjoy it! Most social media tools are simple and hugely engaging – we’ve come a long way since you needed to type in reams of complex code and negotiate servers to publish a single, dreary, read-only web page. Even the most enthusiastic of researchers tends to get rather jaded by their work at some stage – perhaps social media can help rejuvenate your research?
  • Finally, it’s good to retain some scepticism: social media has downsides as well as plus points. You need to think about issues such as intellectual property, time commitment (if procrastination is the thief of time, Twitter is its cunning accomplice), the blurring of social and academic life, and the ephemeral nature of social media. However, none of these are insurmountable. Judiciously handled, social media may open up a whole new world for your research – try it!

Lucy Keating

 @nulibarts

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I was invited to the conference to describe an online resource I’ve created which aims to help arts and humanities researchers learn more about how social media can help with their research.

I’m an academic liaison librarian, and have often been surprised when discussing information management with researchers, that while most postgraduates enthusiastically embrace social media such as Facebook or Youtube in their personal lives, very few see a potential use for them in their research. Indeed, some are downright hostile. My experiences seem to be backed up by various research projects in the past few years (for example, by RIN and Education for Change).

I wanted to try and redress the balance. As social media tools are generally characterised by being cheap, fast and flexible – words not often applied to the traditional scholarly communications process – I felt that researchers were missing out. And it’s not just about publishing – social media can play a part at all stages in the research process: finding information; collaborating with others; organising work; disseminating findings and engaging the public.

Nonetheless, being more of a measured enthusiast than a fervent evangelist myself, I certainly understood researchers’ reticence. Therefore, I tried to design the resource to cater for a typical researcher. In other words, an intelligent sceptic who doesn’t have time to read a 30 page ‘how to’ guide. Someone who might be prepared to give me a couple of minutes of their time at best.

So the resource is made up of ‘bite size’ chunks, broken down into categories according to the type of tool (blogging, networking etc). As the focus of the conference was specifically on engagement, I also created a new section looking specifically at that area.

To grab the attention, each section has examples of arts and humanities researchers using these tools. Try explaining Twitter or wikis to someone who has never used them before, and the chances are you’ll be met with a bemused shrug. Show them Pepys Diary on Twitter, a music research group promoting its conference on Facebook, a local history project involving the public with wikis, a literature project displaying data with Google maps, a museum using Flickr to publish rare photos for the first time ever….. and you may well see a spark of enthusiasm.

If your curiosity is stirred, the site has links for you to try the tools out for yourself. If you want to go into things in more depth, you can watch three-minute screencasts, or follow up bookmarks with in-depth advice from elsewhere: for example, the dos and don’ts of academic blogging or podcasting. I’ve tried to keep it concise, objective and practical, and hope to improve and update the resource over the coming months (particularly the screencasts). I always welcome feedback and new examples!

Lucy Keating

@nulibarts

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The arts and humanities liason team at Newcastle University Library have created a brilliant new resource to help academic researchers learn more about using social media in all stages of the research process.

www.netvibes.com/nulibartsweb2

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The Guardian’s Kyle Christie highlights the research stories that went viral and created a storm of publicity for their institutions:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/apr/11/communications-marketing-management-admin-and-services

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