Social Media Research


Status update: a little uncomfortable

From THE at: Status update: a little uncomfortable

6 September 2012

Scholar details diffidence in research development staff’s use of social media. Elizabeth Gibney writes

Research development staff are often less comfortable using social media tools than the researchers they support.

That is the view of Paul Spencer, researcher development manager at the University of the West of England, who this week spoke about the issue at the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference 2012 in Manchester.

Speaking to Times Higher Education ahead of the event, he said that there was often a lack of understanding about what researchers were trying to do with social media.

“At the very basic level, researchers aren’t doing anything very different – finding new knowledge and trying to engage people with that.”

Social media tools extend and accelerate this process, he added.

Dr Spencer said that research development staff needed to be able to address academics’ basic concerns about using social media, rather than having technical knowledge of the tools themselves.

For example, one of research users’ main concerns about social media is how to maintain separate professional and private identities, he said.

“Do I create a separate professional identity or do I mix the two? The answer for most people is to use different tools to achieve different aims. I tend to use Facebook for family and friends, Twitter is something of a mix of professional and personal, and things [such as presentation software] Prezi and blogs are entirely professional.”

Other worries when using social media include data management, control of intellectual property, the potential for information overload and the opportunity for social media to become time-consuming and to interrupt other work, he said.

In order to be able to support researchers and share their own experiences more effectively, researcher developers needed help developing their social media skills, Dr Spencer argued.

“We don’t have a choice about whether we do social media anymore, only about how well we do it,” he said.

A handbook of social media for researchers and supervisors, also launched at the conference, identifies similar concerns to those raised by Dr Spencer, based on surveys carried out in 2011-12.

Prepared for Vitae by Shailey Minocha and Marian Petre, researchers at The Open University’s Centre for Research in Computing, the handbook finds that postgraduate and early-career researchers are most likely to take up technologies based on peers’ recommendations.

Researchers often adapt the tools they use to suit different supervisors’ preferences, while supervisors sometimes block the adoption of new technologies, it adds.

Overall, not everyone is equally comfortable using social media, Dr Spencer said. He cited research carried out by Jisc, the higher education technology body, which found that among researchers and development staff, different age groups have different attitudes to social media tools.

“Between 20 to 30 years old and 50-plus, there is quite a lot of confidence in using these tools, but there’s a significant dip in the middle,” he said.


Social Media in Online Higher Education 

Implementing Live Twitter  Chat Discussion Sessions  Laura MilliganMelissa A. Venable, PhD 



Social media: A guide for researchers

Added by Catherine Gray on 07 February 2011

Social media is an important technological trend that has big implications for how researchers (and people in general) communicate and collaborate. Researchers have a huge amount to gain from engaging with social media in various aspects of their work.

This guide has been produced by the International Centre for Guidance Studies, and aims to provide the information needed to make an informed decision about using social media and select from the vast range of tools that are available.

One of the most important things that researchers do is to find, use and disseminate information, and social media offers a range of tools which can facilitate this. The guide discusses the use of social media for research and academic purposes and will not be examining the many other uses that social media is put to across society.

Social media can change the way in which you undertake research, and can also open up new forms of communication and dissemination. It has the power to enable researchers to engage in a wide range of dissemination in a highly efficient way.

Web materials 1: Links and resources

Audio and video tools
Blogging and Microblogging tools
Examples of academic and research blogs
Social networking services
Location based tools
Social bookmarking, news and social citation tools
Research and writing collaboration tools
Presentation sharing tools
Project management, meeting and collaboration tools
Information management tools
Virtual worlds

You can access the full list of the above resources here, or download below.

Web materials 2: Researcher case studies

The guide is rooted in the practical experience of its authors and that of the ten social media users that we interviewed as part of the project.  You can read their individual case studies below:

You can download the guide below, as well as documents listing Web materials 1 and 2.  To request hard copies of the guide, email

This guide follows on from a related RIN project, If you build it, will they come? (published in 2010), which looked at the extent of adoption of different web 2.0 tools in different subject fields and disciplines, and the different types of researchers who are using them.

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