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12.1 General considerations 

As with corporate use, the starting point is really to establish what you are trying to achieve. What is your purpose in having a social media presence and what is your target audience? In this Toolkit we are giving the term professional user to people who might have a variety of reasons for engaging in social media. These might include:

  • managing an information channel on behalf of your department;
  • providing a service to a particular group of users;
  • promoting, and gaining contributions to, a research project;
  • use in learning and teaching; 
  • enhancing your own professional practice or profile.
You may indeed be carrying out any mixture of these or indeed all of the above functions so the distinction is really between these types of use and purely social use. If you are managing a departmental account or running an account for a project or service it is likely that you will operate under that identity. Otherwise, the distinction between enhancing professional practice and simply keeping in touch with family and friends is a fairly obvious one but questions of identity may be less clear cut in practice. A common pattern is that people begin to use social media socially and then start to realise how it could be useful in their working lives. At this point it is necessary to think about whether to try to set up and maintain separate digital identities. This may appear to make sense (e.g. if you are a tutor and do not want students having access to personal information or if you do not want to bore colleagues with your leisure interests) but it can be an overhead and you should not assume it is impossible for others to make connections between your various identities.

These questions come to the fore particularly in relation to academic blogging – an academic is clearly an individual with an interest in a particular subject and likely to be part of a community of practice around their interests and it is also likely, regardless of what platform they choose to blog on, that it will be widely known which institution employs them to research and teach in that area. It is something of a conundrum: social media is social and the blogs and Twitter accounts that get the best engagement and following are generally those where the authors put some of their personality into the posts so the question is really, how much of your own opinions and views is too much?[1]


[1] This needs to be viewed very much in context: an example that received some bad publicity is that a Vice Chancellor's innocuous comments on institutional sporting events were deemed to reflect an inappropriate set of priorities at a time when staff in the institution were at threat of redundancy.

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