To like, or not to like? Maybe that is, or has been the question for many of you. Today we’re going to look into using Facebook to your advantage. It is the social network that needs no introduction: it’s got 1.3 billion users, and chances are most people you know use it. But if you think about your colleagues locally and globally, how do they use it and for what reasons? Researcher surveys report a distinct hesitancy toward Facebook use in a professional context.
On the surface, Facebook doesn’t seem good for academia because it doesn’t make sense to promote your work to your friends and family, or to blur the boundaries between your personal and professional lives.
But Facebook networks are as good as you make them, and Facebook allows you to make more personal connections to colleagues than academic social networking sites do. You have the opportunity to promote and share what you do and that’s never a bad thing when we’re thinking about research impact. And for those who research topics that are the subject of public discussion – teacher training, body image or digital music exports – Facebook can be a good way to share your research with audiences outside academia.
Let’s take a “pros and cons” approach to exploring how Facebook might be useful to you as a researcher.
Reasons to use Facebook professionally
Many of us are on Facebook, and plenty of us do “friend” our colleagues on the site, even if we’re not on Facebook primarily for professional reasons.
Researchers who do use Facebook for professional reasons tend to use it to promote their work, and as an informal way to network with peers as well as other individuals and groups outside of universities.
Facebook gives you reach but it’s also offers a visual dimension to promote what you do. This could well be the impact you’re after. It’s also a great way to direct your readers to what’s important right now for you. So consider sharing a link to one of your articles, a bit of news, or an award announcement the next time you log on to Facebook. One advantage to sharing articles in particular is that Facebook-based sharing and discussion has been linked to increased readership.
In a recent Nature survey, 15% of researchers that are regular Facebook users promote their recent publications on the site, and over 20% use it to post work-related content. And in a separate study, one researcher opined, “‘I find that blogging/Facebook can be a very good way to make one’s research more widely known to other scientists, the public and, very importantly, students (both to inform them and to recruit!).”
Here are some tips for sharing your research on Facebook:
- Ideal times to post are reportedly after the workday is over (5 pm – 1 am), when your friends have more time to click on the links you post.
- Include a photo, figure, or video – visual content gets more “likes” and shares on Facebook than plaintext and links alone do. And more shares means more potential readers for your article or patrons at your event.
- If you didn’t publish in an Open Access journal, link to an Open Access version of your article hosted on an Open Access repository like NOVA so others without access to the journal you’ve published in can read it.
- Keep your post’s introductory text to 40 characters or less –more people will “like” and comment upon your post, and that means your post will appear more often in others’ timelines, increasing your potential readers.
- If you’re sharing research that might be of public interest, set your post to “Public” (more information on how to do so in today’s Homework, below) and use hashtags related to the subject of your study, so people browsing news on the subject can more easily find your post. Here’s an example of news articles and updates discovered by the “#Anzac” hashtag.
Using Facebook to expand your network
Perhaps you’d be a little surprised to find that some researchers use Facebook to network. One academic has spoken about the positives of doing just this:
“Facebook is also a networking tool, particularly for taking advantage of “weak ties.” Recently, I wanted to meet the author of a successful book to ask her some questions about publishing. I looked her up on Facebook and discovered that we had two friends in common. I emailed one of them and asked for an introduction. Two days later, we were in direct email contact. As another example, in the past year, I have several received lecture invitations from Facebook friends. My constant virtual presence in their lives likely increased the likelihood they would invite me to speak.”
The informal, passive route to networking worked in Golash-Boza’s favor, but note that she didn’t “friend” or message someone she didn’t know in order to make a connection – she leveraged shared ties instead (something you would have practiced if you undertook our LinkedIn challenge). Some researchers are very against using Facebook in a professional manner, so tread carefully.
Reasons not to use Facebook professionally
Facebook censors your newsfeed
As we saw from Facebook’s recent suppression of Ferguson-related news in the US, Facebook’s algorithms might decide that your updates aren’t worth sharing with your network. So, why share your research or your views on a platform that might hit the mute button on you?
Facebook has privacy problems
Facebook is a for-profit corporation. They make money by selling your personal data to advertisers (in addition to putting advertisements onto your Facebook profile and allowing brands to use your “likes” in their advertisements). They also have run afoul of privacy advocates by constantly changing the default privacy settings for profiles, opening up new and established users alike to unwanted public exposure. If you do choose to use Facebook in a professional manner, be aware of the privacy issues and the steps you can take to mitigate them.
Your network is only as “professional” as you make it
You might use Facebook only for personal updates, sharing photos of your children or what you made for dinner last night. Sure, you can change your Facebook privacy settings to hide unprofessional content from colleagues. But doing that for each new friend you add can be a bothersome process. Some prefer to not friend colleagues at all, for that very reason.
Yes or No?
Is Facebook right for you, professionally speaking? Take some time to think on the arguments presented above and decide for yourself whether you want to use Facebook to network with other researchers, share your publications, or to facilitate your research.
If you decide you want to use Facebook in a professional context, here’s how to make sure it’s up to snuff:
- Create a “list” for everyone you’d consider a professional contact, and remember to add future professional contacts to that list, as you become Facebook friends.
- Edit your privacy settings so you’re discoverable (click the privacy settings padlock in the upper-right of your profile, click “Who can contact me?” and select “Everyone” under “Who can send me friend requests?”).
- Further edit your privacy settings so new updates are not shared with your professional contacts by default – this can keep you from accidentally sharing something inappropriate with the wrong audience. (Privacy settings > “Who can see my stuff?” > “Who can see my future posts?” select the group(s) you want to share all of your posts with).
- Whenever you share something that’s of professional interest, be sure to share it with both your work colleagues and your other “friends” on the site. Consider even making it visible to the public. (On the status update box, click the audience button to the left of the “Post” button and choose the lists you want to share that update with.)
Facebook may work for you or it may not. One thing is certain: it’s there for you to use and it can be used to promote your research.
Let us know your thoughts and experiences of using Facebook in a professional context!