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Like! – Effective use of social media in academic research

Whether we click to comment on Facebook posts or tweet about an interesting article in 140 characters, social media open up our opinions and the information we share to a larger audience. These media are also having an impact on academic communication. How useful are the different social media forums in international knowledge networks? What do we need to bear in mind when using them?

'Research in Germany''s Facebook page only went online at the end of 2012, but it is already being used very actively, with more than 30,000 likes and over 500 people talking about it (as of 7 October 2013). The page serves as the social media forum for the 'Research in Germany' portal, an online service for researchers, journalists and those interested in academic research. While the online portal provides comprehensive information about the German research landscape, the Facebook page encourages users to post the latest information about research topics, research partnerships and upcoming events. Non-interactive portals do not allow for information to be shared in as timely and immediate a way as Facebook does. As well as the aspect of 'seeing and being seen' and the ability to receive direct feedback, social media also enable users to send invites and add colleagues from around the world, and expand international knowledge networks.

Social media invigorate knowledge networks.

There is a whole range of other Web 2.0 tools besides Facebook and Twitter that are particularly conducive to communicating in knowledge networks. Academia.edu, for example, is a social networking site specially designed for academics and has over three million registered users worldwide. These users can share documents with one another on the site, monitor the impact of these publications, and view the latest research developments for specific topics.

The reference management programme Mendeley is a useful tool for an academic's PC workstation and for exchanging information online. It manages documents and enables users to organise, share and cite academic articles and PDF documents. The integrated web interface allows academics to manage their libraries online, access statistics and discuss common topics with other academics.

Academic cooperation 2.0

Social media offer further benefits to the academic community, such as the provision of information about relevant online training courses and opportunities to take part in projects. 'If social media improve the way we solve problems in daily life, then they are being used effectively,' says Daniel Michelis, Professor of Marketing und Communication at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences and the founder of the university's MA programme in online communication. Michelis specialises in social media and also coordinates some 15 academic partnerships with institutions around the world.

He provided expert input to the interactive event 'The Role of Social Media in International Academic Research and Cooperation’ on the Alumniportal Deutschland at the beginning of May 2013 in a video statement. Based on his own experience with Skype, Facebook and LinkedIn, he has identified four areas in which social media use can be particularly beneficial to international academic partnerships: communication with partner institutions, communication with students who are working temporarily at a host university, communication with alumni, and information-sharing among students themselves.

Social media in the academic community: the right tone for compelling messages

Whether it is those visiting the ‘Research in Germany’ portal or the partner institutions of Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, it soon becomes apparent that, when it comes to using social media in the academic community, there is no uniform target group. Consequently, it is important that those using and editing social media tools in order to contribute to the international academic conversation are clear about certain things. 'Share with care' was the way that Melanie Stilz, ethnologist and computer scientist, summed up her basic points in a video statement for the expert chat in the Alumniportal.

Once a suitable medium for academic communication is found, it is then a case of ensuring that information is shared effectively in knowledge networks. Interacting respectfully with colleagues and maintaining personal privacy are prerequisites for effective information-sharing. Melanie Stilz compiled reports from academics for her study 'Social Media for Academia – Knowledge Networks 2.0'. A frequently cited problem was that live twittering at conferences or symposia can lead to previously unpublished ideas being announced, something which the individual giving the presentation may not wish to happen at all. This can encourage idea theft on the one hand, and on the other hand makes it easy for information to be reported incorrectly. Consequently, the same rules that apply to the academic community in general apply to social media: make it clear when you are citing somebody else and respect people's privacy.

Comment below: Social media within the academic community

What is important to you when it comes to using social media in international academic cooperation? Good tips for your studies, job opportunities at university, research findings with Nobel Prize potential. Share your opinion in the comments below.

Author: Sabine Müller

October 2013


yemi daramola
8 April 2016

I want to use this medium to enhance my knowledge.

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