Developing your digital academic profile

The use of social media can expand your reach, help you promote your research and build rich networks. You can use these networks within your teaching and learning to communicate your interests, expose students to new ideas, and direct followers to relevant reading and ‘real time’ events.

In this post we look at the benefits of embracing the digital world and how engaging in social media can be good for your teaching, your research, and your students.

Digital doubts

Not all academics want to engage in social media. From the outside, it can seem time-consuming and trivial, something that demands a high level of personal involvement. And, where to start? There are many social networks. Risk management plays a factor too; say something silly in your office and only those nearby will hear you, but broadcast something regrettable on social media and the world will hear you. Social media doesn’t always get a good press either. Is Twitter all trivia? No, but celebrity-mania, reports of selfie culture and inane updates can conceal the academic advantages of using social networks.

Why should an academic use social media?

We turned to the VITAE Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors for the benefits that engaging with social media can have for academics. There were many positives, including;

  • mass collaboration
  • participating in groups discussion
  • public engagement
  • longevity beyond the PhD
  • establishing yourself as an expert in your field
  • demonstrating digital fluency
  • enhancing your personal brand
  • combating researcher loneliness
  • bridging the gap between part time PG researchers
  • bringing dispersed researchers together
  • keeping informed about conferences, developments, funding calls, mailing lists

Looking closer to home, we asked Dr Denise Turner, Lecturer in Social Work and Social Care here at the University of Sussex, why it is important to have an online presence. Here’s what Denise had to say:

Denise‘As social work academics we speak often of the importance of reflective practice, of networking and learning from others, of keeping our knowledge up-to-date, and of diversity. Additionally we are asked to create knowledge exchange and impact from our work in ways that positively influence the public sphere. However, the constraints of work, time and trying to achieve some form of work/life balance may often make these seem like impossible goals to maintain. My involvement with social networking as an academic has helped me to achieve and maintain all of this by inviting a world of knowledge and social networks into my home. My timeline keeps me abreast of current developments often as they happen, whilst showcasing my own work and leading to exciting new opportunities, including publications and conference speaking.’

The connected educator

Social media clearly has the capacity to facilitate connections, support collaborations and the exchange of ideas as part of a wider ecosystem of academic activities. The nature of your engagement with social media and the tools you choose to use though are individually defined and personal. The breadth and depth of that engagement however will be determined by the value that you derive and the extent to which you are willing to invest in developing your professional learning network. Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth), a leading author and speaker in the field of digital learning, argues that the value of academics engaging with social media is without question:

‘…connected educators are in a more powerful position than those who are isolated. They have a greater ability to check their facts, call on support and find out new things when connected to their personal learning networks than they do isolated’


Managing your digital reputation

Irrespective of the tools you use it is essential at all times (whether you are an academic or student) to be conscious of your digital reputation. Be mindful of your professional presence and that it’s not just what you put online but where and when. University of Sussex staff can join our workshop on March 3rd, 2.30pm-3.30pm, and find out how to manage your Digital Footprint. Book here.

You may also find this recording from a recent Google Hangout helpful: How to be a Successful Digital Academic to Boost Your Career.


Establishing your online profile – start with US

Establishing a web presence is an essential first step to raising your online profile. The University of Sussex publishes staff profiles by default. You can edit this information and even your photograph. To upload a photo of your choosing, first log into your Sussex Direct site and then follow these simple steps:

  1. Click the Personal tab and choose Personal Details
  2. Click Upload photo then click Choose File
  3. Browse your files and select your chosen photo

You can limit your photo to just internal users and even turn your photo off here, but it’s always nice for colleagues and students to have the opportunity to identify you via a smiley thumbnail.

To make more significant changes, go to Sussex Direct, choose Personal and then select Web Profile.

Now you can edit your full profile. Alternate between the tabs for role, biography, community and business, research interests, publications list and social media.



The Web Team provide excellent tips on how to improve your web presence.


Embedding social media in teaching & learning

Dr George MacKerron (@jawj) uses Twitter for Behavioural Economics under the Twitter handle @BehaviouralEcon. Before each lecture, George tweets the lecture theme and gets students thinking before they enter the lecture theatre.


Contact your School Learning Technologist for advice and ideas on how you might similarly incorporate social media tools into your teaching practice.


Resources is a platform for academics to share research papers.

I’m an academic and desperately need an online presence, where do I start?,  Salma Patel, LSE Impact Blog, 10/8/2012.

Sussex guide to your online profile 

Vitae Innovate Handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors, Open University 2012

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One comment on “Developing your digital academic profile
  1. Tony Hudson says:

    Very informative post Sally. May I also suggest to academics the use of Splash to help build on a web presence. Splash is quite highly ranked with Goggle so with the right keywords and links in a post it will improve the search engine rankings of a research based website or academic profile.

    For example the post below by Dave Goulson has received more than 6,000 hits:

    By adding a link to:

    Dave Goulson’s research lab website

    it will improve links through to Dave’s research site and improve search engine optimisation.

    Splash is also accessed quite a lot by University staff and students so adding posts will help disseminate an academic’s research across the University community.

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