The dangers of academic blogging and social media

Blogs are everywhere these days. In the world of academia you almost can’t move for the sheer number of blogs popping up all over the place. From academic departments to research centres, reading groups and individuals, there more blogs out there than any sane person could hope to follow.

So why should you bother writing one? Do you need to write one? Can you get by without one?

To blog or not to blog…

There seems to be a trend in academia at the moment where many people feel compelled to start a blog because it’s the ‘done thing’ without really stopping to think about why they are blogging, or even if they should be blogging at all. Just because other people are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you, or even your department. In some cases, it’s far better not to blog than risk the potential damage a poorly run blog could cause to you and your reputation.

Discursive of Tunbridge Wells blog

One of my favourite academic blogs from Salomons Centre for Applied Psychology. They don’t post as frequently as some others, but what they do post is high quality, and they are great at engaging with members of the public and professionals alike.

Be honest with yourself

Blogging may seem an easy thing to do, but the reality is, it’s anything but. Many a blog starts with good intentions, only to fall into obscurity as content dries up and its authors forget all about it.

While it may seem OK to let a blog die, let us not forget that on the internet, nothing ever quite stays dead. Only the other day I searched one of my friends online (as you do), only to find a series of blogs written for a former employer, and some rather ‘youthful’ photos of her taken in 2010.

Though my friend was somewhat taken aback when I revealed what I had found, I did have to remind her than anything posted online is open to public scrutiny. If I can find articles about her from 2010, then so can employers, so can students, and so can fellow academics.

And it’s not just a problem of people turning up old or controversial content – there’s also the problem of people turning up content that’s been neglected for far too long.

If someone searches you and the first thing they find is a blog that hasn’t been touched in several years, then what do you think that says about you? Does it show you to be a proactive, forward thinking researcher? And what does it say about your institution? What does it say about your department if the last post was made over a year ago? It may sound harsh, but why would anyone want to study or even work with you if you can’t be bothered to keep your blog up to date?

If you genuinely can’t find the time to run your blog any more, then that’s fair enough, but you can’t just forget about it and leave it to die, because it won’t. You will need to delete it, and remove any links to it from online profiles and other documents you may have. Otherwise, every single day the ‘forgotten’ blog exists, it will be damaging your reputation, and doing you far more harm than good.

The dangers of social media

Before I started in academia I used to work in marketing. In one particular job I used to interview candidates for new positions in our team of writers. As part of this process I’d read over CVs, assess them, and call candidates in to interview. I’d also do a quick search for them online – including image search, to see what I could find out about them. You’d be surprised just what’s out there.

I’ve since taken this ‘game’ to various careers lectures I’ve given to students. You simply wouldn’t believe the effect it can have on a packed lecture theatre of undergraduates! You also wouldn’t believe the sorts of things it can dig up…

While this game may serve to remind students of the need to lock down social media profiles from prying employers, the same lesson is just as important for academics. Just because we are a little bit older, and (we hope) a little bit wiser, doesn’t mean that the same rules don’t apply.

Put simply: anything you publish online – be it a blog post, a status update or a comment on social media – can and will be found if someone is willing to search hard enough. And by this I don’t just mean recent comments either, for searches can stretch back years or even, in some cases, decades.

This is why it’s just so important to exercise caution with everything you do (and don’t do) online, both as an academic and as a ‘private’ individual. It’s all too easy to post too much, or post the wrong thing that can come back to haunt you at a later date. You can also fall into the trap of not posting at all, and thus looking unimaginative, and disorganised. Either way, without sufficient care and attention, your online interactions (or lack of) can cause serious damage to your reputation.

Online tips

To help avoid some of the biggest pitfalls associated with academic blogging and social media, here are my ‘top tips’:

  • Anything you post online can be found. Though this doesn’t mean it will be found.
  • There are no secrets. Just because your blog or social media account isn’t associated with your name, doesn’t mean someone won’t find it and know it’s by you.
  • Nothing truly dies online. Search engine caching, the Internet Archive, and the ubiquity of screen capture software means even a short-lived comment can come back to haunt you.  
  • Create a personal social media strategy. Planning can help resolve issues before they arise, and can help you be clear on what is acceptable content, and what it not.
  • Lock down your social media accounts. Check your security settings and review them every so often, as terms and conditions change over time.
  • Take a deep breath. You may be outraged by something you’ve seen online, or you may be feeling cross and/or upset with something that’s happened at work. These are the most dangerous times for you as an academic. Whatever you do, don’t post – especially if you’ve had something to drink! Far better to take a deep breath and come back to it later.

And the most important tip of all:

  • If in doubt, don’t do it.

Share your experiences

Got some thoughts on academic blogging or social media? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. You can also post questions or comments via my academic Facebook page, M.J.Ryder.

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