This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Social media for political scientists

This week I taught a short course at the American Political Science Association meetings on Social Media for Political Scientists. While political scientists can learn from the good advice now available online on social media in academia, they are in a special situation because their field of research is also one of the most-discussed topics on the Internet. That makes their online presence more likely to be of interest to non-political scientists (and particularly to policymakers) but may also make it harder to break through the noise of online political discussion.

The session looked at four areas in which political scientists can use social media:

  • Monitoring: keep up on the latest research, find publishing opportunities, get inspiration for your own blogging/writing
  • Storytelling: raise awareness of your research, engage students, and reach journalists and policymakers
  • Connecting: build relationships with colleagues, students, influencers and the public
  • Managing: work and collaborate more effectively

Overview: a social media strategy for political scientists

Like anyone else engaging with social media, political scientists need to start by answering three questions:

  1. What are your goals? Whether you want to increase your students’ level of engagement with the course you are teaching, ensure your research findings reach relevant policymakers or get that book published so you get tenure, social media can help.
  2. What are your audiences? Depending on what you hope to accomplish with your social media strategy, you will need to reach very different audiences — and thus, take very different approaches. Whichever audience(s) you are trying to reach or influence, you’ll need to solve a problem for them or offer something of real value (yes, entertainment counts!) so make sure you know who you care most about reaching, and think carefully about their needs and priorities.
  3. What are your assets? Academics have one enormous advantage in social media: they are tremendous content generators. Figure out how to make the most of what you already are good at, or the resources that are already at your disposal. Workshop participants came up with a great list, including access to students (as helpers and as potential spreaders of your content), good communication skills and extensive data sets.

Once you have answered these three questions you can build a social media presence that serves your goals and reaches your key audiences by making the most of your assets. My next post will share the resources that can help you do it.

Series NavigationSocial media for political scientists: monitoring with iGoogle, Google Reader and Hootsuite >>