Jekyll, Hyde and Seek? The promises and pitfalls of establishing a work persona on social media

Setting the stage: a packed room in the Austria Center Vienna, venue of the International Convention of Psychological Science from 23-25 March 2017. Six speakers from various research areas, some in the audience already tweeting about the session before it even started. The session focused on the use of Social Media to Promote Professional Development, Networking, Scientific Dissemination, and Public Awareness.

If there was a general consensus it must have been about the fact that researchers can no longer afford not to establish, in one way or another, a work persona on social media. A presence on social media, as Antonella Serace remarked, is—especially for young researchers—no longer a choice but an integral part of one’s scientific profile.

The time of playing hide and seek when it comes to social media is over: for example, in the UK, it is already customary at some universities to use social media presence as one of various performance indicators. But how does one go about and do this: how can one use social media for work purposes? And what are its promises and pitfalls?

The main message from Gabriella Vigliocco’s talk—with which all panelists agreed—was that it is absolutely necessary to think beforehand about what your specific goals are: for example, do you want to use social media predominantly for personal branding? Maybe Twitter is the best option. Or, do you want to use social media as a means of disseminating your work? Then maybe blogging about your papers is your best option.

Lorenza Colzato from Leiden University talked about blogging and vlogging as a means to disseminate one’s work and as a tool for teaching. With respect to blogging, Colzato presented a strong case for writing scientific blogs as a means to disseminate one’s work. Benefits are, among others, the potential of a blog to synthesize the main message of a paper in a crisp and short manner; and to reach a far broader audience (e.g., one of Colzato’s blogs reached more than 20000 unique viewings) than what one typically expects when fellow researchers can only read your published paper (behind a paywall). With respect to using blogging and vlogging as a tool for teaching, Colzato shared her positive experiences with engaging students in course materials by means of setting up a blog competition: all students are asked to write a blog on a specific topic, and the best blog wins a prize. Daniel Lakens was as enthusiastic as Colzato with respect to blogging. Lakens mentioned an additional benefit of writing blogs: using blog posts as a means of test-driving novel ideas. That is, instead of writing a paper on a new research question or method, Lakens enthusiastically advocated for writing a blog post about it first; sharing this post on Twitter so that fellow researchers can comment; and adapt the novel idea based on these comments.

Twitter was another social media outlet that was heavily discussed, predominantly by Daniel Lakens, Stephan Lewandowsky and Angélique Cramer. Twitter has obvious benefits: 1) potential to connect and even publish with researchers one does not know offline (Daniel Lakens); 2) fast route to spread the word about one’s work (including vacancies, projects, etc.); and 3) picking up on interesting work of others (Stephan Lewandowsky). However, it turned out that for some of these panelists, Lewandowsky and Cramer in particular, Twitter also has a dark, Dr. Hyde side.

Without actually looking a person in the eye, it is apparently easy for some to unleash personal attacks on you and not on your work. Especially politically sensitive topics such as bilingualism (yes, bilingualism), as Antonella Sorace argued, may invite extreme responses, regardless of how careful you phrased your tweet or wrote your blog post. The consequence of the sometimes overly personal and/or aggressive nature of people’s online responses makes some people refrain from participating in online discussions.

As Cramer confessed, she shies away from such discussions even though she has valuable expertise on the topic. Interestingly, as it turned out during the general discussion with the audience, shying away from online participation when the tone is perceived as personal and/or hostile seems to be something that more women than men do. Related to this was a question from the audience—because the event was organized by Women in Cognitive Science—about the extent to which online harassment may be more directed towards women. The panel generally agreed that this was the case: Lewandowsky reported that women are more frequently harassed online whereas Cramer had not experienced outright harassment herself, but did note that sometimes, fellow researchers may take women and their competencies and qualifications less seriously.

So. What to conclude from all this? First, it is worthwhile to create a work persona on social media, there are just too many benefits. Your increased visibility, among other benefits, may be a huge boost to your career (Lakens).

Second, that said, all panelists agreed that you are vulnerable on the internet: there is no Internet eraser so anything you say—and what others say about you (over which you do not have control)—is there to stay. As such, a default mode of operation on social media may include careful consideration of content as well as tone. As Lewandowsky noted, careless tweets may damage careers.

Third, Twitter, Facebook discussion groups and blogging appeared the most preferred methods of creating an online work identity with a specific focus on: disseminating one’s own work and that of others, sharing project updates and vacancies, but also crowdsourcing and answering lay people’s questions about a research subject during live Twitter sessions.

In concluding, all panelists agreed that it does cost quite some time to develop and maintain an online work persona: using social media may feel like a new responsibility in addition to all the other things we have to do as academics (Antonella Sorace). So be smart about navigating social media: tailor use and time spent to your specific goals, we academics are busy enough as it is!

(This blog post is a synthesis of a panel discussion on using social media for work purposes, at the International Convention of Psychological Science, Vienna, March 2017. The panel session was made possible by Women in Cognitive Science (WICS). The following speakers were invited: Lorenza S. Colzato, Daniel Lakens, Stephan Lewandowsky, Gabriella Vigliocco, Angélique Cramer, and Antonella Sorace.)

You may also like