Academic social media platforms

When to use them and what to watch out for

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Whenever I hear the term “social media” I think about the platform I personally use most frequently: Facebook. Like most people, I utilize it primarily for entertainment. Rather than high-value intellectual content, my feed is comprised of funny videos, vacation pictures from my friends, or information about events in my city.

My habits don’t seem to be unique to me. Although 95% of academics stated that they used social media and 50% said they used Facebook in a survey conducted by Nature in 2017, 75% of those users said it was limited to personal use. This still leaves 25% who used the platform for academic networking, and the many company pages and professional profiles on Facebook show that social media is used professionally as well. Of all the commonly used platforms, Twitter is especially popular among academics for discussions with colleagues or promotion of new projects or publications. We looked at whether or not it’s okay to ever cite social media in this past blog post.

In addition to the major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, in which personal and professional content is mixed, there are also platforms that focus on professional promotion and networking and some that are even designed specifically for academics.

Below we take a look at the types of academic social media platforms that are available, when they can be useful, and what you should potentially watch out for.

Which academic social media platforms are available?

The term social media refers to online services with which people can create a profile and share content. In addition to social networks, social media also encompasses blogs, wikis, and many other formats.

A number of platforms let academics set up a profile under which they can share their publications. However, not all academic services offer the chance to network with colleagues. For this reason, we’ve divided the different academic platforms up into two types: profile platforms and social networks

Profile platforms

These platforms let users create a profile to which a unique researcher ID is assigned. This ID makes it easier to identify specific authors. They’re particularly beneficial for researchers with common names or whose names have changed (for example, due to marriage). The researcher’s profile page lets others access the researcher’s publications, view open peer review activities, etc. In addition, some of these sites offer features that can help with measuring the impact of a researcher’s work. Listed below are some of the better-known examples of these profile platforms:

  • ORCID
    ORCID seems to be the most well-known of all ID platforms. Unlike the rest of the ID platforms in this list, it is offered by an independent non-profit organization.
  • Scopus Author Identifier (Elsevier)
    This identifier is created automatically when an author is published in an Elsevier journal. Later publications with Elsevier are then also linked.
  • Publons (Clarivate Analytics)
    Similar to Elsevier, the identifier from Clarivate Analytics connects authors and their published articles. It uses ResearcherID, which was originally developed for Web of Science.
  • Google Scholar Citations
    Using this profile authors can view how often their works listed on Google Scholar were cited. A public profile can be displayed as a GoogleScholar search result.
  • Kudos
    With Kudos you can share your work and add additional context and search terms to it. The goal is to make it easier for others to find your publications.
  • Impact Story
    This non-profit platform offers a personal profile where you not only can display your publications but also social media activity. This can help others assess the impact of your work.

Social networks

Academic social networks go a step beyond the researcher profile platforms. In addition to the online presentation of one’s work they also offer direct communication with colleagues. Due to this additional functionality, they’re also more popular. According to Katy Jordan from the Open University, even though you might think of them as being an alternative to Facebook or other generalist sites, they tend to end up competing more with scholarly publishing companies as an alternative publishing model instead.

The two most widely used networks are ResearchGate and Academia.edu, but there are many others as well.

  • ResearchGate
    ResearchGate has over 16 million members worldwide and is most widespread in the Natural Sciences. In addition to a profile, researchers can upload articles and conference papers. In addition, the platform offers a score for assessing activity in the network, such as whether a user asked or answered questions.
  • Academia.edu
    Academia.edu has over 117 million members and is primarily used in the Humanities and Social Sciences. The platform can also be helpful when searching for grants, scholarships or jobs.
  • Mendeley / Zotero
    Mendeley and Zotero are primarily programs for reference management but also offer a social network aspect for collaboration. Mendeley analyzes articles shared by networks and uses this analysis to recommend further articles.
  • LinkedIn / Xing
    LinkedIn and Xing are professional networks not specifically for academics but still used by them. Both sites are primarily utilized for job searching and for being found by recruiting institutions.

Benefits of using an academic social media platform

The main reason to consider using academic profile and social platforms is as supplement to the networking and sharing of research you do with colleagues offline. These sites can help you discover new colleagues working in the same area and can help foster cooperation and the exchange of ideas. It’s similar to the way you would work with colleagues at your own institution – but in this case the office doors of the world open up to you. In addition, these sites can help you stay up to date with current trends and discussion topics in your discipline without much effort. Many platforms also point you to potentially interesting articles based on the interest areas you define, which can help you find literature you might otherwise have missed.

Academic platforms also increase your visibility and the visibility of your work. Creating a personal profile is a bit like publishing your CV online. Others can see where you studied and worked, which conferences you presented papers at, and your publication history. If the platforms you use are connected with a journal article database, you profile can be searched in these databases, and your colleagues can stay informed about your latest work more easily. What’s more, commenting on or creating posts can help others become aware of you.

Academic profile and social platforms also facilitate collaboration. If other researchers working on similar topics want to contact you, it’s easy for them to do so. You can reach out to many colleagues at once and plan future projects together. And, just as others can more easily become aware of you, you might also discover potential collaboration partners online.

Academic social networks are not only a place to share opinions and experience, but also to share preprints or research data. One advantage is that it’s much faster than via the traditional peer-review publication process for a journal. In real-time you can share your ideas and results with colleagues in your field. In doing so, you're following one of the premises of open science that greater visibility can lead to a higher number of citations. In addition, you’re able to create an archive of your research, publications, and any course materials you've shared.

Marketing yourself is sometimes equated with bragging, but it doesn’t have to be thought of in that way. It’s in your best interest to communicate your work to people who might have an interest in it or benefit from it. Especially at the beginning of your academic career, maintaining an online profile is a good idea, especially if your institution does not provide you with your own website for listing your publications. Potentially it could give you a leg up in your career, for example through new job offers or grants. In addition, some networks offer metrics for measuring the impact of your work in a less traditional way: likes and shares, number of downloads, number of citations, or other criteria. These metrics can end up being helpful when applying for jobs or tenure.

So, if you’re convinced that academic platforms could be helpful for you, how can you pick the best one for you? Just like when selecting a reference management program, you have a lot of choice when selecting which professional social media platforms to use. A good starting point can be to look at what tools your colleagues use and begin with them. Always keep in mind, though, that not all of the colleagues in your discipline will use these platforms. Try to come up with some alternative communication options and contact possibilities and don’t just stay within the bubble of your preferred platform.

Potential pitfalls of academic social media platforms

So far, we’ve only looked at the positive aspects of academic profile and social media sites, but there are a number of potential downsides you should be aware of, too. First, the most important concern on these types of websites is to be careful about copyright. You’ll want to make sure that you’re allowed to share any publications you plan on uploading to academic social media platforms. Not all researchers do this, unfortunately, and in 2013 Elsevier went so far as to issue notices to its authors to remove their Elsevier publications from Academia.edu. So, it’s very important to check whether a publisher allows for your final publication or even the initial manuscript to be shared. The page SHERPA RoMEO can help: it lets you search for the name of the publisher and then see what rights you have. One benefit of open access publications is that you usually won’t have the same kind of restrictions you might with a commercial publisher.

Another point to consider is whether you feel comfortable using a for-profit academic platform. If you don't, you may want to check for alternatives offered by your own institution. While a university usually won’t offer a networking platform, it may very well offer an institutional repository where you can publish and archive your work. The advantage here is that your university isn’t benefiting financially from your data as is the case when you use a commercial platform, such as Academia.edu or ResearchGate, and it's likely to still be around far into the future, unlike some commercial services. We recommend doing your research on any platform you’ll be using to find out what companies are behind the platform and how the company uses your information. You might be surprised what you find. In fact, these kinds of considerations led to a wave of academics deleting their Academia.edu accounts in 2017.

One third concern is that curating many different platforms takes a lot of time, which could be better put towards your research. To avoid this issue, it can make sense to have one central profile that you keep updated and have other platforms simply link to it, since many of the services let you link profiles to other sites or import your information from them. You can also use your different accounts to link to your institutional repository publications or a university webpage if you have one. The advantage here is that your data will not disappear if a platform is suddenly discontinued.

Academic profile and social platforms can be helpful for your career as long as you are aware of some of the potential pitfalls. As you would with any other social media platforms, make sure to use these sites just as critically as you do in your non-academic life.

Do you use any researcher profile or research network sites? Were there other reasons that influenced your decision other than those listed here? Do you have other tips for what others should look for or avoid? Your comments on Facebook can help your colleagues!

For Further Reading

Adhikari, S. D., van Teijlingen, E. R., Regmi, P. R., Mahato, P., Simkhada, B., & Simkhada, P. P. (2020). The Presentation of Academic Self in The Digital Age: The Role of Electronic Databases. International Journal of Social Sciences and Management, 7 (1), 38–41. https://doi.org/10.3126/ijssm.v7i1.27405

Aldahdouh, T. Z., Nokelainen, P., & Korhonen, V. (2020). Technology and Social Media Usage in Higher Education: The Influence of Individual Innovativeness. SAGE Open, 10 (1), 215824401989944. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244019899441

Gruzd, A., Staves, K., & Wilk, A. (2011). Tenure and promotion in the age of online social media. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 48 (1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1002/meet.2011.14504801154

López-Hermoso, C., Gil-Navarro, M. V., Abdel-Kader-Martín, L., & Santos-Ramos, B. (2020). Plataformas online y redes sociales para la creación de perfiles de investigación [Online platforms and social networks for the creation of research profiles]. Farmacia Hospitalaria : Organo Oficial De Expresion Cientifica De La Sociedad Espanola De Farmacia Hospitalaria, 44 (1), 20–25. https://doi.org/10.7399/fh.11304

University of Oklahoma Libraries. (n.d.). Understanding Academia.edu and ResearchGate. Retrieved March 10, 2020, from https://libraries.ou.edu/content/understanding-academiaedu-and-researchgate

Created by: Jana Votteler – Published on: 3/10/2020
Tags: Graduate students Teamwork Good to know


About Jana Votteler

Jana Behrendt, a librarian by training, is deeply interested in everything related to personal information management. However, she does not read as much as you would expect from a librarian. She loves hiking in the Swiss Alps – as long as she doesn’t have to look down.

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