build your professional brand via social media – part I

November 1, 2022

closed laptop with a keyboard and an orange book labeled "brand identity"
this is part I of a two part series on building your brand via social media. part II can be viewed here

one way to establish your expertise as a public scholar is to develop and maintain a public scholarly/professional brand. a professional profile represents you, your research, and what you want the world to know about you and your work. it’s what the marketing kids call branding.

social media is a popular and easy way to build your professional profile aka your brand as it can help you build awareness of your research and work. in this day and age, social media may be the first point of contact for many. more importantly, some journalists rely on social media to source information, making it a valuable asset in your public scholarship journey.

i recognize there is something icky about self-promoting, building a brand, etc etc. the commercialization of academia and the capitalistic nature of social media adds an additional icky layer to this endeavor. but this is your career. your profile. your research. your legacy. your decision.

and social media for professional branding is NOT the end all, be all. scholars were making a name for themselves long before the internet became a Mark Zuckerberg production. at minimum, scholars can have some sort of accessible professional online profile somewhere…university website, LinkedIn, Google Scholar, Padlet, Academia.edu, etc. that displays their expertise in a more accessible way.

what is your professional brand?

your professional brand is you in relation to the work you do. it’s what you want the world to know about your research and its impact. it’s how you want to be perceived. we know quality brands from the poorly executed brands when we see them. we trust the good brands. we use their products with little trepidation. we know what to expect. we associate quality (or lack there of) based on brand experience and perception. a good brand stands out in a heavily saturated market.

you are in the knowledge creation business and your brand should represent who you are, what your research stands for, its impact, its value. you have to do your part in establishing yourself externally beyond your academic community if you want to be known in the public as the authority for a specific research topic.

your research agenda is your brand

if you think about it on a meta level, your research agenda is your brand and your brand is your research agenda. you’ve dedicated your career to examining a topic (or topics). you spend time cultivating this agenda, sharing your knowledge and expertise (through books, publications, presentations, etc). when academics in your field see your name, they associate it with a specific research topic. this is brand awareness!

now, as a public scholar, it’s time to shift this outward beyond your academic community. social media is an outlet for developing a professional brand due to the very nature of the platforms as social networks where sharing and engaging is encouraged.

why do you need to develop your professional scholarly brand?

awareness.

your professional online profile is a first impression. what do you want it to say about you? how do you want to be perceived? and if we know anything about big brands, it’s all about perception.

think about airlines – why do we associate quality with certain brands? as someone who has traveled internationally via spirit airlines, this topic sits deep in my soul. at the end of the day, each airline is in the business of moving people from one location to another, so what makes a consumer prefer one airline over another? in part, it is the way each company builds and manages its brand and brand perception, and how we and the people we know experience the airline. brand messaging, awareness, and perception.

how do you intend the public to discover your research if they don’t know who you are? sure, you have a university-hosted page. it probably has your photo, a short bio, and your CV. what about this tells us any story about you, your research, or the impact you want to make? this is a one dimensional version of you and your work that seldom promotes engagement beyond an email.

to take it to another meta level, research is all about proving (selling) your thesis and position as plausible, supporting it with facts, data, position points, and counterpoints. so it shouldn’t be too much out of the realm of possibilities to embrace selling yourself and your research ideas both to your academic community and to the public.

benefits & risks

(academic) twitter is often described as an extension of a conference, a space for scholars to create open and ongoing conversations about research. i’ve heard enough stories (and been witness to) networking and the creation of research collaborations on twitter that might not have come to fruition without the social platform, and the democratization of networking and established systemic hierarchies. beyond this, professional online branding can also help you with career trajectory. and don’t forget sharing your research on twitter can positively impact your citation counts!

of course, risks are rampant on social media, especially for women. trolls. colleagues disguised as trolls. miscommunications. unstructured boundaries. etc. the thing is…the haters will be there regardless, so try not to let them hold you back from doing the work you intend to do. here are a few resources (1 2 3) for dealing with online harassment.

ultimately, brand development is about perception. public scholars can either let others dictate how they perceive you and your research, or you can take an active role in creating the narrative.

who is your scholar/professional identity?

perception.

determining who your professional brand is requires self awareness, self reflection, and external feedback. your brand should build on your professional core values. this will guide your decisions as you enter this space. how much time you spend online building your brand, what you say, how you say it, and who you say it to.

how are you currently utilizing your social media platform(s)? what does your bio say about you? what about your posts? say a stranger stumbled upon your social media profile, what would they think within the first posts? and if you are starting anew, then you have a clean slate to build up from. perception is a key component to consider as you build your online profile. what you post represents you and your brand. think about how those tweets complaining to and about airlines (or politics, etc.) looks from that strangers POV when you are attempting to build a brand based on knowledge and expertise. that is all i will say about that. 

managing our many identities

in theory, your research agenda should guide your professional brand development. but it is human nature to maintain multiple identities – teacher, mentor, cyclist, partner, mets fan, parent, scholar, athlete, voter, ravenclaw, vegan, etc.

Stewart (2016) offered a few points for consideration of our many identities in the public online space: what do your posts convey about your scholarly role and your personal identity? are you comfortable with the blurring the line between personal and professional?

i follow loads of people who maintain their personal and professional selves in their social media feeds. it’s a delicate rope to balance on, especially if you have a built-in personal/friendly audience separate from the professional scholarly audience you want to develop. but if melding your personal and professional self on social media makes you feel like your full self, go for it! this is my never ending battle, and is the reason why i maintain a twitter burner account. it does limit my professional account a bit but it’s a choice i’ve made to maintain a safe little corner of the internet where i can just be me.

ultimately, who do you want to be seen as? public scholars should strive to present a professional and consistent brand, while also showing person elements that humanizes them.

with what time?

whichever platform(s) you opt to use should feel like a natural fit, not forced or uncomfortable. for many academics, twitter makes sense. for others, its LinkedIn, Facebook, Academia.edu, or ResearchGate. there is a learning curve with each platform, so give yourself some grace as you adopt and adapt.

and social media usage can get out of hand. we may find ourself scrolling and doom scrolling for no reason. checking our phones for notifications. these are all the things the platform engineers want from us – to keep us engaged on their sites. these platforms are literally designed for endless use. remember – you are in control! a few ways you can combat the urge to check social media constantly:

  • enable notifications so you aren’t checking the platform to see if and when others are engaging with your commentary.
  • use a time monitoring app on your phone and computer that will limit/restrict social media usage after you hit a time frame.
  • utilize an application like hootsuite to help manage your output (e.g., sending pre-written scheduled posts, etc.) so you can feel less pull to the platform(s).

it takes time to build your professional brand, and social media is one option to aid in this venture. it can be as simple as using social media platforms to curate content. it’s not the only option, but may be the easiest route depending on your professional goals.

tl;dr

brand development can aid in establishing your expertise in your academic community and in public. public scholars should look at their research agenda as their brand, and utilize social media as an outlet to build a professional online profile.

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach

hi there. welcome! here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. have an idea for a topic for us to cover? shoot us a note
 

Alicia Cintron

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