Growing Your Digital Footprint in Graduate School: To Blog or Not to Blog?

Today, I spoke with a group of 15 doctoral candidates from the Media Technology and Society (MTS) program, here at Northwestern School of Communications about building your digital identity as a digital doctoral candidate (i.e., To Blog or Not to Blog!). My advice: listen and converse, but be strategic – about what, with whom, where and in what way, you grow your social capital through the .

As a doctoral student you often have many questions that arise throughout your research studies. These include questions about the seminal papers you are required to critique, the methodological constraints during data collection and analysis, what contribution are you really making, right down to what is expected of when you go on the market. However for doctoral students researching the digital and social web, new questions are arising, questions around ‘should I’ or ‘how could I’ use digital and social web resources – professionally to build my academic research identity?

If you talk with me, you will note that I support a situated or participatory approach to digital media learning, and thus encourage individuals interested in  researching about digital media to not just read or talk about it, but also to use it for deep rich learning. We discussed briefly not just the functional technical aspects of one or two technologies (e.g., tweetdeck for twitter), but also the more strategic questions of ‘why’ and ‘what approach’ to take.

I’ve summarised some of my advice and thoughts I gave the students today in the remainder of this blog post.

Step 1. Devise a professional brand strategy
Building a professional online identity is about building ‘meaning’ about who you are and your research interests. This will evolve over time, should start small, but to ensure there is consistency in your digital footprint consider devising a strategy for the development of your professional brand. Consider the following:

  1. What do you want ‘people’ in your professional networks and wider professional community to associate with you in a digital social space.
  2. Compile a list of keywords from your research interests and/or focus to guide this.
  3. Use or, search your name (and/or username) to see your current digital identity as ‘others see you’. Consider also a twitter search for your name (and/or username).
  4. Write a 100 word bio inclusive of a) research keywords; b) location of graduate; and c) link to web page on your schools website. This should be used on all social web channels/platforms within which you decide to participate.

Step 2. Devise a professional network strategy
Building a professional online identity is also importantly about the networks within which you reside and co-evolve. You have the means to control and influence this coevolution based on who you add, follow, friend or tag in your social web space and thus: connect with, listen to and engage with through the digital social web. It is wihtin this social network that you will coevolve your professional identity with. Consider the following:

  1. With whom do you want to connect with, listen to and share your digital social web space with. Consider organisations, academics and/or industry representatives who ‘fit’ with your professional brand strategy.
  2. What is their digital social web profile like? In what digital social spaces are they? These are the spaces you want to be participating in.
  3. Devise your personal ‘network’ policy for who your will connect with, won’t connect with, and in what spaces. Consider strong-tie and/or weak-tie, and social-bonds (trust). Much of what you will do professionally will be a public space, but what about your private spaces – who will you ‘let’ in to your inner circle of ‘personal friends’ and ‘personal digital spaces’. See my blog post about Friends, Friendship and Friendliness’ on Facebook, they are not the same.This is very important when considering professional spaces.

Step 3. Devise a digital social web channel strategy
So now we consider channels and/or platforms – or as some say, specific media through which to converse, listen and engage. As noted here, the technology/channel decisions are not the first decision, it’s first important to think about a) what do you want to converse/listen about (step 1); and b) with whom do you want to converse/listen to/with (step 2), before select the space to converse in (Step 3).

Be selective and strategic in your choices to be effective (not fragmented, and sustainable) and efficient in your adoption and usage. Consider the following:

  1. In what digital social web spaces do you want to (or should be) in. You don’t have to be in every space, it’s about ‘being effective and efficient in learning, sharing and conversing’. Too many digital spaces can result in fragmented digital identity if you don’t have the resources (i.e., time) to manage the spaces.
  2. Think about what would ‘compliment’ what you currently do, as opposed to ‘add more’ work. A blog for example, doesn’t have to be public (can be private), and can be used as a ‘diary’ to help you reflect on class readings, or your doctoral journey as you build confidence in the field, it also gets/keeps you in the habit or ‘wtiting (albeit in a journalist style/tone). Or your twitter feed can be updated from your ‘professional’ facebook updates automatically and thus won’t add additional burden to you time.
  3. Consider how the discourse around these channels for the networks you want to participate in when selecting them (e.g., LinkedIn = professional network; FB = personal networks; However for an artist Flickr = professional network, but for others it’s for personal photos).
  4. Select the channels/platforms and learn about how to use them relative to both their technical functionality and the social expectations of participation within them.

Step 4. Develop your dialogue strategy
This step, comprises thinking about ‘How’ and ‘About What’ will you converse in the selected channels. Everyone one is different and unique in how, where and why they participate and engage. It’s about finding your own professional and personal style with how you do this – no two blogs are the same. Some people just post lists of links in their blogs, others its a picture-blog. Some people send tweets out about ‘anything’ and ‘everything’ all day, others are selective and only tweet and re-tweet occasionally. However in this  consider the following in establishing your dialogue strategy:

  1. Your time is scarce: Blogging, tweeting and connecting with other academics or doctoral candidates through these channels is useful, especially given what a researcher in digital media is researching. However it takes a lot of time. As a doctoral candidate, writing, reading and reflecting is more important! You need to consider when, where, what time, and how often is ‘realistic’ for you ‘converse’ (i.e., write a blog post, tweet, check updates). BUT be ruthless with your time as this is NOT your core job or role. It will become part of it.
  2. Make social media a habit not a chore: Develop habits around your social web activity. For example, occasionally schedule your tweets so you only write them once a day; tweet when on the bus/train; blog at least once a month when you have something to say OR when at a conference, but it is okay NOT to blog everyday. As an academic/student – reading and writing is critical to what we do, so sometimes you may need the space to do this, so consider turning off all ‘social web notifications’ to your email inbox, when you don’t need/want to be distracted. But find your own time stamp for your social web activity.
  3. Mind casting: Use social media to build your social capital relative to your area of professional interest (mindcasting), not about what you had for lunch (lifecasting). That said, invest some of yourself so people get to know you and your personality (i.e., people connect to people) and so it pays to be authentic.
  4. It’s about sharing: Social web is not just about ‘you’, it’s about your social graph, so share with others, about others and for other’s interest. For example, if you are still learning about twitter, just listen and ‘retweet’ what others say if you think it is interesting or of interest to your followers. If you attend a talk, seminar, class or read a paper that is interesting, write a blog post about it, but send the speaker the link when it’s live (it’s polite) and ask someone permission to ‘tweet’ about their talk (especially if it is not ‘expected’ like in the class room).I often get asked, but what if I blog about a paper I’m working on and someone steals it? The thing to remember about blog posts, as they are ‘different’ to academic writing in both length and style and as such, chances are this ‘theft of your ideas’ is minimal.
  5. Think conversation: It’s not about ‘shouting out’ its about having conversations, and engaging with people. So comment on others blog posts, retweet, thank people, comment when people comment on your posts/updates … use the same manners in a digital space as you would if the person was stood in front of you or ALL your friends where in the room.
  6. Start small and slowly: Do what is comfortable for YOU, not what is expected. You don’t have to be all over the social web, but if researching it, it’s important to learn about it first-hand, and develop some profile on it, otherwise it’s consistent to ‘inventing a car but not having a drivers license.’
  7. Raising your profile: Use the keywords devised earlier in your ‘professional brand strategy’ in your tweets, blog posts, tags, profile descriptions, so the keywords are strongly associated with your name (e.g., this will increase your google rankings overtime).
  8. Engage don’t defend: People have opinions and chances are they might be different to yours. If you experience a situation in which a ‘negative’ comment post or response occurs and is linked to your social web profile, engage with … it is better to part of the conversation – in which your participation can influence it’s evolution, than to stand outside it, jumping up and down and disappointed. Most people in a social web space are honest, hardworking and respectful individuals, but yes, some will not agree with what you write or tweet. The core difference is that unlike the blind-review process we are conditioned to in academic publishing, in the social web space, the feedback is immediate, public and often reactionary. Learning the personal skills in how to manage and engage with this type of feedback is also important for aspiring academics.
  9. With meaning: Write, tweet, update your status about what is meaningful to you in your academic work, as chances are it is meaningful to other people, also … if you love something it is easier to write about it, talk about and engage with it. So it won’t be a chore, but part of your everyday academic social activity.

Now that I’ve distilled my thoughts from today’s conversation, I’m going to get back to my academic writing. However, I did come across a paper published in the Harvard Business Review, by Soumitra Dutta, Professor of Business and Technology, INSEAD, France entitled: “Managing Yourself: What is your personal social media strategy?” It is an interesting popular read about ‘professionals’ managing their identity on the social web.



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Heather C. Young (7 years ago)

Excellent strategies! Thanks again for talking with us! It was very helpful.

    drkellypage (7 years ago)

    Heather is my pleasure. We are all learning how to navigate this space, be it in research or online participation. Am glad it was of use. :-)

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