This year, I've joined the AHRC Peer Review College and for the first time, it is publishing a column by members within its newsletter. Mine was the first to be published and here it is...

To Tweet, or Not to Tweet?

By Professor Andy Miah Creative Futures Institute University of the West of Scotland

For AHRC Peer Review College

In December, the LSE held an event about the future of academic impact. One chunk of the discussion was dedicated to social media and it made me wonder what A&H researchers should be doing today, to prepare for tomorrow. While a lot of the conversation was about how social media can promote the reach of research impact, I also want to claim that it is fast becoming a primary vehicle of research development.

I receive more invitations to speak and collaborate via Facebook & LinkedIn today than I do by email. I find more resources through Pinterest and Google Scholar than I do via my library. I meet more people with whom I share common research interests through Twitter than I ever did at academic conferences. I co-author and edit university documents in Google Drive saving hours of time spent sharing versions of drafts, sometimes working in real time on one document with over 10 people. I am also one of those people who has switched from Endnote to Mendeley, preferring the convenience of a multi-platform software, which I can install onto my home machines as well, without having to go through university IT. By the way, did you see the BBC article recently about bringing your own device to work? ‘It may be coming to a university near you, as more people want personalized, not institutionalized devices.

What about journals or conferences, I hear you ask? Are these not still primary vehicles of research development? Certainly, they remain important, but the point is that they are each increasingly being delivered by social media as well. Furthermore, I can digest a lot more because of these platforms. I no longer visit journal websites or receive email alerts about new editions. Instead, the RSS feed of the journal goes straight into my social media environments, as soon as it is published.

So what is next? The first thing to figure out is that there is no single way of doing this well. We each have to figure out how to use social media in a way that enriches our working life, but also provides some added value. That said, there are some smart principles worth adopting. Setting up an ongoing ‘future media’ working group will help you keep abreast of what’s hot and what’s not. Understanding where your peer community and audience operate is also crucial. However, perhaps the most important thing is just getting more people using it. Experience shows that social media is one of those things that requires practice to really understand why it matters.

This doesn’t mean that all academics need to tweet or use Facebook, but it does mean understanding that publishers, research, and our peer community now occupy social media in the way that we 1990s digital newbies occupied email. As the dull uniformity of email dies a slow death, there’s now the possibility of getting more done by figuring out social media and it is the variety, creativity and spontaneity of these environments that makes them appealing.

If this all sounds like too much trouble, then stop using email for a month or two and you’ll get a feeling of what life will be like very soon for the average academic who chooses to opt out of social media. If you’re ‘too busy to blog’, then you’re not doing it right.