Digital Networking for Academics


I’ve given a short workshop at a couple of conferences recently, and recently some folks asked if I might share it online. So here it is, with the caveat that it’s just my biased view.

First, I think it’s important to abandon the naive idea of Romantic Genius: if you write it they will come. Great research stands on its own and is sullied by craven attempts at promotion. NO. The truth is, the Romantic poets were just a craven and self-promoting as the rest of us. So let’s kill this Romantic idea that advertising work pollutes the system.

I generally assume ta 50/50 proposition when it comes to what gets read and why. 50% is the overall quality of the book or article, and 50% networking and leveraging of social capital.

BUT: and here is the BIG caveat: digital networking is not about promoting you and your work — it’s about promoting good work and good people, period. This means, on the one hand, celebrating work that is powerful, effective, ground breaking in various ways. But it also means paying attention to what Sarah Ahmed calls the politics of citation — paying attention to patterns in who you tend to celebrate and working to make sure that this does not simply reflect the institutions where you were trained, or the idiosyncrasies and norms of your biography.

My overall argument is that the best reason we should all be using digital networks is because they help get your stuff read and help you to find and promote other work. If someone doesn’t find your book because they didn’t know it was relevant, that’s on you.

Think of this in terms of search efficiency. Facebook, Twitter, listserves, sites like HASTAC — all are places where you can find out, from other really smart people, what good work is out there and what’s coming down the line. They are also places where you can ask questions and gather collective wisdom.
I am convinced that, in the end, it makes all the work better — makes sure that people have a better idea of where to find great work appropriate to their research and their teaching.

This means GIVE WHAT YOU WANT TO GET BACK. Give generous support, smart discussion, broadcast good work you’ve found, celebrate successes, make principled arguments, etc. I took about a year off of both Facebook and Twitter when I was revising my book. When I dove back in I noticed that it has made be HAPPIER as an academic. It promotes a wider sense of collaboration and the exciting work that is out there. It IS a collaboration.

You want networks that are both wide and deep (like your research, right?).

AND HAVE FUN!!!! Figure Out how to reach a world.

Some other guidelines:

Spend some time thinking about the relation between public and private in your digital life. It’s important to have some kind of policy. And this can look lots of different ways. I, for instance, almost never post about my daughter, even though she’s the LOVE of my life and I do a little more of the caregiving (my partner’s job makes mine look easy). There are a couple of reasons for this; (1) I like to keep some things private, (2) I’m wary of interpolating her into what is, for me, a largely professional environment, (3) I’m sensitive to the strongly hetero dimension of that dad who’s always celebrating his little girl, and (4) I honestly think my personal life is pretty great but I don’t want to make it look either too ideal or engage in humble bragging. But at the same time, I’m devoted to the posts I read from people like Stephanie Hernishow, or Claire Jarvis, or Jesse Oak Taylor, or Grace Lavery celebrating the way they’re living their lives. So to each their own.

You should also think a little about what your basic identity or thing is. E.g., do you want to promote stuff that has to do with science, science photography, etc. That’s stuff I identify with, can evaluate, and people will sort of check out if they know me. For me, it’s more sciency and environmentally focused. What are the channels beyond your academic circle that you can help others plug in to?

And just remember: it’s all public, and it will be on your permanent record. Doesn’t mean you can’t be political, etc., but keep it in mind or use it.

The Platforms:

There are important differences between what they are good for. I’ll run through some of those differences now, focusing on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Facebook: this is more collegial. This is a network of people who are connected to you usually institutionally or socially. Family, etc., too.
People good at this: Deanna; Elaine Freedgood, Caroline Levine.

ALSO: it is easy to hide older posts rather than crawling through them for the job market. See the post here.
Give two examples: Deanna Kreisel and Caroline Levine.

Twitter: to me is more stylish, tends to be funner, and the people who are good at it are good connectors.  Note that it is about a more expansive network of thinkers, and it includes what we might call fans. Figure out where the channels are. Claire Jarvis, Manu Chander, and the V21 have been really successful in creating communities through Twitter. It also is kind of a time drain. Because it’s more ephemeral — you dip in or dip out — you kind of need to keep diving in to keep it going. But its value is that it’s a bridge to the wider world. Most of the people in the UK that I have connected to digitally have come through Twitter.

Examples: V21, Claire JarvisStephanie Hernishow.

Some other good tips for using Twitter:

LinkedIn: We don’t take this seriously enough, for students and wider community. But it’s hugely important as a professional channel. As we think about making the case for the humanities degree to our students, we need to have confidence that our former students are going off and doing things that support them, that ideally, they like. LinkedIn can help with that. We might think of this in two ways: (1) as one of the ways that we can network and link what we do on campus to what happens off campus; but (2) that we should meet students at the level of their concerns (about careers, student debt, etc.) at the same time that we are cultivating the concerns of our own scholarship, and its literatures.

Blogs. Meh. Need to park stuff somewhere. But not part of the current as much. Only real exception is if you’re doing DH.

Websites. Are a PITA. But useful to house stuff if the architecture of your institution doesn’t support. Don’t need to get fancy.

Examples: Anna Kornbluh. Andrew Piper., Roger Whitson.

Online Publications — Public Books, LARB, Valve, etc.: High prestige, big part of the new public humanities push. Who’s good at this? Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Nathan Hensley, Anna Kornbluh, Daniel Hack, etc.

Listserves — great for farming out queries to groups of experts in a field and staying on top of publications and conferences., etc.: places to share work have come under increasing scrutiny because they are for-profit and partly pay to play. There are lots of nonprofit alternatives, including Humanities Commons and Zenodo. The only problem is that they are less frequented, so people are less likely to find your stuff. There are some pretty thick ethical and practical considerations to dive in to here, but I’m not going to get in to. You can read more here: link.

Hope this helps!