I was recently asked by the great folks at Open Access Academy to speak on the topic of “Building your online reputation”. A recording of the talk is above, and–in the spirit of what I shared that day–I’m also repurposing the content of that talk here, in blog post format. Enjoy!
In this post, we’re going to run through some must-know tactics for building your reputation online. We’ll cover issues like self-promotion, fostering community engagement, and dealing with critiques and critics. In a follow-up post (which we’ll publish next week), we’ll also talk about measuring and understanding your outreach success and discuss some “must have” tools for saving time and effort in doing outreach.
Let’s get started!
You’re likely reading this post because you want to learn how to advance yourself professionally using online tools, whether for the purposes of:
- getting grants,
- finding new collaborators, or
- because you simply want to be more cited!
Open access and social media can help with all of these things.
In this post and the following, I’m going to lay out an actionable plan to reaching any and all of these professional goals, using just a handful of tactics that will require no more than a bit of up front work and a few minutes each week of maintenance. Once you put these tactics into practice, you’re going to feel like this guy here: a superhero!
Online outreach = more eyeballs on your research
You might be wondering: why spend any time on this?
You’ve already got too much on your plate: too much reading to do, too many grant proposals and papers to think about, too much to stay on top of already.
Here’s why this should matter to you: your professional reputation depends upon it.
Here are two examples.
Scientist Cameron Webb experimented with understanding how social media exposure impacted the overall exposure of a paper he published. He tweeted about his paper, emailed a link to his colleagues, and wrote a blogpost about the paper, which he also tweeted about.
The result was impressive. Relative to other papers published on the same day, Cameron’s papers vastly outperformed in terms of page views, downloads, and social media shares. (The downloads are particularly significant, because they’ve been shown to correlate with later citations.) So, Cameron got a lot of overall exposure out of < 1 hour’s worth of work.
In the humanities, we’ve seen similar trends. Melissa Terras did a similar experiment, where she tweeted and blogged about papers she uploaded to her Open Access institutional repository. As you can see from this diagram (left), Melissa’s actions resulted in lots more downloads for her work–on average, her promoted papers got 11x the downloads than did the ones she chose not to promote.
So, there’s an obvious advantage to promoting yourself and your work using social media. But you have to do it right.
And that’s my job in this post: to help you improve your game, or, if you are new to some aspects of online outreach, to get you started.
Here’s what you need to do things right:
- A headshot that will make you appealing and approachable online
- A bio to help explain what you do to non-experts and experts alike
- A handful of social media tools
- A strategy–you want to only be engaging in efforts that help you reach your personal goals!
- An “open research” plan–open access has a significant positive effect upon citations rates and—as we’re learning—the overall volume of attention that research receives online (we’ll cover how to create such a plan in our next post)
- A few analytics tools that can help you measure whether or not your outreach efforts are working (we’ll also cover these in our next post)
Let’s start with strategy.
Creating an outreach strategy
The first—and most important—aspect of building a strategy is to define your goal. What do you want, professionally speaking?
- Is it to get more readers and more citations for your articles?
- Is it to find collaborators—by way of making yourself more well-known, or engaging leading researchers in your field?
- Maybe it’s to find your first academic gig—or a non-academic job–after you finish your PhD?
Think long and hard about what really matters to you, in terms of professional advancement.
Once you’ve sorted that out, then you’ve got to plan for the appropriate tactics that will help you reach that goal. We’ll cover a bunch of tactics shortly that can be applied in many contexts to help achieve goals. But a common thread for nearly all tactics is openness and open access.
The final piece of the puzzle is to find ways to help you measure success. Are your tactics working to help you achieve your goals, or are you wasting your time? Later in this post, I’ll share some of my favorite tools for tracking whether your efforts are paying off.
Online reputation basics: a headshot and a bio
“Action Shot” profile photos, courtesy of users on LinkedIn and Twitter
One of the first things you need to build any sort of online profile—whether Twitter, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, or anything else—is a solid headshot.
If done right, headshots make you approachable and recognizable. They also make people willing to take your opinion more seriously. Headshots can help or hinder your online reputation, potentially greasing the wheels for your entrance into new communities online.
There are many places you can use your headshot:
- on your social media profiles,
- on your blog or website,
- when you guest blog, or
- when you speak at a conference.
Let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t for headshots, based on what I’ve outlined previously in the Impactstory “30 Day Impact Challenge”:
Don’t tilt your head. Lots of folks, especially women, do this in photos to look more friendly, but it ends up making you look unassertive instead. Be confident.
Turn your shoulders; the straight-on post yells “mugshot.”
Try posting an action shot, emphasizing for the viewer what you’re good at–for instance:
- A. public speaking,
- B. field work, or
- C. coding
Much like headshots make you approachable online, bios help others understand who you are and why you matter.
As you advance professionally–thanks to the online reputation you build–it’s important to have a bio handy, in several forms, that you can quickly and easily repurpose to meet any need thrown your way:
- a Twitter bio,
- a bio that accompanies a blogpost you write for a disciplinary blog, or
- a bio for when you’re on a panel at a conference
Having a bio ready to go saves you both time and worry and is useful in many different contexts to quickly and clearly establish your expertise and help explain to others what makes you tick.
If you don’t already have a bio, here’s the only tool you need to write your first draft! This is a tool that librarian and technologist named Andromeda Yelton created, and it’s awesome–it makes it super easy to pull out the factoids necessary in any bio.
If you want to craft a bio from scratch, first things first, you should brainstorm on the following areas:
- How you can establish credibility: Why are you an expert in your subject area?
- Explain what you do to others: specialists and non-specialists alike
- Brag a little about your accomplishments: Often, this goes hand in hand with establishing credibility
- Offer a call to action: Do you want people to read your latest article? Follow you on Twitter? Visit your blog? You can say so here.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. In just a bit, I’ll share a great example of these principles put into action.
Once your bio is has been drafted, it’s time to shrink it and customize it for various scenarios. The outreach experts at HubSpot recommend that you have three versions of your bio available: a micro bio, a short bio, and a long bio.
You’ll want a micro bio for things like Twitter and other social media sites. Think of it as your elevator pitch: if you only have 140 characters to grab someone’s attention, use them wisely!
Next level up is having a short bio. Think three to five sentences, max–around 100 words or less. Short bios are good for conference presentations, writing guest blogs, and other places where you’ll be introduced to new audiences.
The long bio adds the “nice to knows” and should sum you up completely, according to Undercover Recruiter. This version can be up to one page in length. You’d park your long bio on your website or blog’s “About me” page.
The most important thing is that your bios should be easily accessible and editable. I’d suggest creating a Google Doc or Github document where you can store these and update each version of your bio as needed. I keep a version of my bios on my website and blog, so I can just copy and paste and then them edit on the fly.
Still not sure how to write a bio? Let’s take a look at what an excellent bio looks like.
This is an example from Paul Groth, who’s worked in both academia and industry at various points during his career.
Though it’s a tad long by some people’s standards–9 sentences instead of three to five–it covers all the bases very nicely. Each of the things that one should include in a bio are color coded above—see how artfully he’s showcased each point? I’d certainly hire Paul (or ask him to speak at my event or to co-author a paper with me) after reading this bio!
Some “quick and dirty” online outreach tactics
There are a number of online outreach tactics that can apply across the board, no matter your goal. I believe that these are the most powerful online tactics you can use–if you’re not doing some of these, you’re not doing outreach to the full extent you could be.
Each of these tactics not only are good for self-promotion—that is, getting others to know your name and read your work–they’re also essential building blocks for creating and engaging in online communities. You’ll notice a recurring theme throughout this section: outreach is often about what you give more so than what you get. Remember that.
In general, I recommend:
- Writing a research blog
- Commenting on other people’s blogs
- Guest blogging
I’ll cover best practices for each of these tools momentarily.
There are also a number of other tactics you can use to “level up” your outreach skills:
- Using Kudos to promote your work among the general public,
- Creating infographics based upon your research, for maximum digestibility/virality (I recommend PubDraw for those who want to hire those duties out),
- Finding opportunities to speak on society or disciplinary webinars, and
- Repurposing slides and recordings from conference presentations into blog posts, images, or other content to share freely online.
I’m not going to cover these tactics in depth here, but a quick Google search will help you find some great guides that others have authored. I also recommend checking out the Impactstory “30 Day Impact Challenge” ebook that I wrote awhile back and the Altmetric “Tips and tricks for promoting your research” one-page guide for more ideas.
Writing a research blog
Running your own blog is a great way to share your perspective with the world in an in-depth manner. It allows you to get into details in a way that commenting on others’ blogs or writing on Twitter do not.
There are three main flavors of research blogs out there:
- Research oriented blogs—this is where people share and discuss new articles, books, projects, conferences, and so on. Some of my favorite examples are Jonathan Eisen, Rosie Redfield, and Threadbared.
- On the other hand, you can run a commentary-oriented blog like Melissa Terras, Mike Taylor, or April Hathcock, who all not only talk about research, but often about larger issues in academia–open access, scholarly communication, diversity and social justice, and so on.
- Then there are the “tips & tricks” blogs–how to write a good cover letter, how to setup your reference library, how to do a tricky bit of Python coding, and so on. Miriam Posner, Martin Paul Eve, Philip Guo, and Matt Might are good examples of this style of blogging.
When deciding what to blog about, I am a big fan of repurposing content, so I’m not reinventing the wheel: I’ll recap a talk I’ve given at a conference (often using the notes I’ve already written as the body of my post), share links to papers I’ve published, use the conference notes I’ve taken to share with my team as the basis for a recap post, and so on. If you’re in a journal club, maybe write down your thoughts and turn those into a blog post. If you are being emailed a lot and asked the same question over and over, use that as the topic for a blog post.
Here are some other blog post topic ideas:
- Papers you’ve published
- Talks you’ve given
- Other people’s research
- Conference recaps
- Relevant issues in academia
- Interviews with others
- Tips & tricks
According to QuickSprout, “the blog posts that get read and shared are the ones that tap into something emotional, trendy, educational, enjoyable, or surprising (amongst others).” Keep that in mind when writing!
Commenting on others’ blogs
Screenshot via the Scholarly Kitchen blog
Commenting upon other people’s blogs is a good way to contribute to conversations outside of your own personal network. If you comment on a blog that’s got a lot of traffic, an added bonus is that you can use comments to drive traffic to your own website or blog.
Here are some ground rules for commenting on others’ blogs:
- Above all else, ADD VALUE. Don’t just comment to get your name out there–comment only if you’ve really got something important to say that will be useful to the reader.
- Be positive wherever possible–you don’t want some people’s first impression of you to be negative or snarky.
- Link back to your blog or website when you comment, if the blog allows it. This will drive traffic your way.
- If there’s the option to use your Twitter login or Gravatar login when commenting, use it–it will automatically include your photo alongside your comment. And as we will discuss shortly, a good photo can go a long way towards helping you make connections in your community.
Writing guest posts on others’ blogs are another awesome tactic for building recognition and engaging with researchers beyond your network.
They help establish you as an expert and build trust among another blog’s audience. If you can score a guest blog with a blog that’s got a lot of readers, it can also mean a major bump in traffic for your website or research. Most importantly, guest blogging is an opportunity to provide something of value back to the community, which is a nice gesture of goodwill.
There is an art to pitching a blogpost, which I’m not going to get into here. There are plenty of guidelines elsewhere online.
The basic things you need to ask yourself before even deciding to pitch are thus:
- Is the blog’s audience an audience you actually want to reach? Is it other researchers? Policymakers? Members of the public who could use your research?
- How big is their audience? Answering this question and the one above will help you know if writing is even worth your time.
- Next is an obvious one: do they even accept guest posts? Some blogs don’t.
- What do you have to offer? How are you going to add value for that blog’s readers? Guest blogging is about more than giving you a chance to promote yourself.
Remember: you only want to take time on doing outreach activities that yield positive results!
Screenshot via Twitter
Twitter is the tool that I recommend the most to early career researchers and anyone else looking to make connections with influencers in their discipline and beyond.
The power in Twitter lies in the fact that it is so open. I can make connections with researchers in India or Brazil who are interested in my area of research: building relationships by promoting their work, asking their opinions, answering their questions, and so on. Twitter is the equivalent of chatting someone up over a conference coffee break, with the added benefit of being asynchronous and international!
Many of you reading this blog surely tweet already, and that’s awesome. But there are some larger strategies to tweeting successfully that not a lot of people know about.
First is that you should actively manage your personal “brand”: you want to be known as a purveyor of high-quality information in your subject area. Make sure that you’re adding value to others’ days when you use Twitter, and that it’s in the service of your larger goal. The experts at QuickSprout recommend that you “Ask and answer questions…Give advice [when solicited]… Become a hub of interesting content.”
To that end, the 5-3-2 rule is a useful one to follow when deciding what to share on Twitter. Of every ten tweets you send, five should share others’ work, three should share your own work, and two should be personal things (pictures of your pet chihuahuas, perhaps?) It keeps you from doing too much (or not enough!) self promotion.
Another rule to remember is to make “BE NICE” your Twitter mantra. Try not to be snarky, pick arguments, or be needlessly critical of others. Whenever you use Twitter to debate and engage others, ask yourself, “How will my words make this person feel?” before hitting the “Send” button. One way to clarify your intent, silly though it may sound, is by using emoji like smiley faces. That’s why I tend to use them liberally in my informal writing online. 🙂
Another important thing to ask yourself when tweeting is, “Am I adding value to this conversation, or am I just tweeting because I want to be heard?” This is an issue that women on the internet encounter often, where we share an opinion and others take that to mean that we want to be corrected or to have a debate. Don’t do it! Think before you tweet!
Finally, consider having separate personal and professional accounts. It is a nice safeguard that keeps you from accidentally sharing inappropriate things with a professional network.
A quick note on putting yourself out there…
If you’re spending a lot of time blogging or on Twitter, it’s possible that you may encounter rudeness, vocal critics, or in some cases, even bullies. This is especially troublesome in academia, where some mistake nitpicking and argumentativeness for engaging in constructive criticism or debate.
In general, my tactics for dealing with aggressive or offensive behavior online are:
- Try to assume the best. Unless the person is using obviously abusive language, it’s possible that they may not mean anything, but that they’re just not good at using their words. Many people tend to respond before carefully considering if their words can be interpreted in a hurtful way. Take this into consideration when responding, which brings me to point #2.
- Always be professional. Don’t respond to inflammatory language with more inflammatory language. It never ends well.
- Don’t be afraid to stand your ground. If you know someone is wrong, you can say it. But try to be polite about it. It’s possible to have an impassioned debate that doesn’t resort to calling others’ opinions “idiotic” or “delusional”. Always backup your claims with facts—that’s the quickest way to shut a critic down.
- Don’t feel bad about stopping a conversation, but try to use your words first. If you’re having a dialogue with someone and things turn ugly, politely point out that they’re being hurtful, and remind them that you’re only there to engage in constructive debate. Sometimes, that alone is enough to get people to realize that they’ve been a jerk and to return to Planet Human. Otherwise, feel free to say, “I’m ending the conversation now, because you’re obviously not here to listen.”
- If you encounter abusive or harassing behavior, deal with it immediately. Twitter’s got mechanisms for dealing with harassment on their platform, and most blogs have the ability to ban nasty commenters. Don’t be afraid to use either if someone’s moved beyond being unreasonable into the territory of harassment or abuse.
In our next post
The above tactics can be tackled today in order to get you started on building your online reputation. What are you waiting for? Get started!
In our next post, we’re going to cover how to create an “open research” plan (so you can get your research into the hands of the people who want to read it!) and how to use some essential analytics and automation tools (tools that will help you a) measure whether or not your outreach efforts are working and b) save a lot of time and effort throughout your week). Stay tuned!