Social media opens up new forms of communication and dissemination, provides a powerful means for researchers to improve visibility and offers new opportunities to conduct research.
However, engaging with social media also carries risks and presents challenges, such as online harassment, misrepresentation and public embarrassment. One of the most difficult things to judge in the online world is how to balance your personal and professional use of social media. It is important to consider how your activity reflects on both your professional integrity and the reputation of the University of York. Remember what is posted online can be used by others.
It is up to you how you approach social media and what you aim to get out of it, but the guidelines below will help you maximise its potential while limiting the risks.
Social media platforms work best when you ask questions, answer questions, join in with conversations that are already happening, and generally engage in a wider dialogue. However, you don’t have to engage in a debate if you don’t feel comfortable.
Be thoughtful about the type of content you publish. Don’t just share your own content, share other people’s too. If you see something pertinent your audience, direct them towards it even if it’s not by or from you directly. Build the right networks and communities for you. In order for social media to work, you need to be following the right people who talk about the things that interest you. Make it easy for people to follow you by including easy-to-find links to your social media pages and keywords associated with your research.
Content on a social media site can encourage comments or discussion of opposing ideas. It is important to express your views and not to feel censored. However, do consider all comments and responses carefully in the light of how they would reflect on you, the University and other individuals. Be aware that any reported misuse of social media might attract complaints from others, which would result in an investigation by the University and possibly disciplinary action.
Constructive feedback can be good but always think about whether a public statement is the best means of achieving your aims. No one likes being criticised, so don’t forget that there are other less public channels (eg email or private messaging) for feedback and discussion with people you encounter online. Avoid inappropriate or inaccurate comments which are damaging to a person’s or company's reputation. Apologising for mistakes is good and a powerful way of gaining respect.
While your posting may be restricted to certain people when you put it online, for example if it is in a closed group, it may become available to others in future. Only post information on social media that you would be happy to see made public.
There are many complexities governing the legality of what we publish on the internet, such as laws of privacy, defamation, intellectual property rights, marketing, official secrets. This is made more complicated still by the fact we are publishing our thoughts globally, meaning we are subject to the laws across more than 200 jurisdictions. Don’t let this put you off going online but do seek guidance from your supervisor or line manager if you are unsure.
Ensure you do not disclose proprietary information about your research or that of a third party without their permission. Take advice from the IP and Legal Team or the Chair of your Departmental Research Committee if you are unclear about how to, or even whether you should, discuss commercially sensitive information or contracts.
The rigour and integrity expected when publishing research via traditional means also apply when communicating online. Failure to follow good practice (eg misappropriation of authorship credit, publishing data without authorisation) may make you liable to allegations of research misconduct. Social media is also an inappropriate route for raising concerns about research conduct or misconduct by others. If you do have concerns, it is usually best to contact the individual or their institution directly.
Things can snowball quickly, and you can find yourself spending a lot of time online, managing several parts of an online presence. Every so often it’s worth taking a step back and asking, is this working for me? If a platform is no longer working for you, or the community has moved on, it can be better to just get rid of the profile entirely than to leave it neglected but still online and no longer reflecting you or your views. Finally, remember it isn’t necessary to have a social media profile to be a successful researcher.
Social media training for researchers
The Research Excellence Training Team offer training on the use of social media for researchers which can be booked via SkillsForge. Corporate and Information Services also provides online training for using social media for research.
- University of York MOOC on Becoming a Digital Citizen
- Carrigan, M. (2016) Social Media for Academics. SAGE.
- A. Mollett, C. Brumley, C. Gilson, S. Williams. (2017) Communicating your research with social media. SAGE.