Communicating academic research – does social media have a role?

24 May 2011 By Northern Lights

Communicating academic research – does social media have a role? image

communicateThere is no doubt that most academic research has little value if it cannot be applied in the real world. With greater scrutiny of the public purse and increasing tuition fees, it is more important than ever that academics and universities demonstrate the value of their research to wider society and the business community. This was the subject of a recent Guardian live debate – conducted using social media.

In order to communicate with the wider world, academics need to use the same communications channels and language that the wider world does. However, in my experience of working with academics to disseminate their research outside of ‘academic circles’, I have come up against three barriers

1.       Academics are afraid of ‘dumbing down’ their research by ‘watering it down’ for a wider audience

2.       What academic journals find interesting about research and what the wider world finds interesting about research are usually completely at odds with one another

3.       The language of academic research doesn’t naturally lend itself to being summarised for a mass audience – and doing this can lead to misunderstandings and change in meaning

On top of all this, academics are very busy people and changing their way of thinking for the purposes of disseminating their research can take a lot of coaching and time. Of course, some find it much easier than others but for most, it is a big cultural shift.

Professor Chris Gale, Head of the Law School at Bradford University School of Management, tells his story how he got into blogging in our ebook, Why you can’t ignore social media in business. He said: “When Northern Lights proposed setting up a blog for Bradford University School of Management and asked me to be one of a team of founder bloggers, I confess I was twitchy. But I could see the point in terms of building my own professional profile and in turn help the School to raise its profile, particularly with young people. The first blogs I wrote were tentative and it was all a bit half-hearted.

“But then I was invited to an event at Leeds United, where FrontRow Legal was hosting a debate on ‘Integrity in sport’ and I thought it might make an interesting blog – which it did. This led to FrontRow Legal asking if they could use this as a guest blog on their website and several senior people in sport have commented on the blog.”

In order to embrace the power of social media like blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to disseminate academic research to an international, relevant audience at very little or no cost, academics and the communications professionals working with them need to

1.       Identify key words in your research topic and findings that are commonly searched for and use these to base blogs and tweets on

2.       Find relevant people online and tailor your story about your research to them. If your research is on organisational change, HR people are going to be interested. Find the media and blogs they read and influencers they follow on Twitter and engage with them

3.       Finally, remember – it may feel like old news to you, but the simplest elements of your research might be of the most interest to a mass audience. Don’t be afraid of ‘dumbing down’ – those that want to can delve deeper into your research but the tweets and headlines are likely to tell the very basic story

Using social media to disseminate academic research doesn’t necessarily mean ‘watering it down’. Social media is about sharing insights and although tweets are short and blogs need to be punchy, the good ones have more detail in the background for those who have the time and inclination to find it.

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