Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

At a recent seminar series “Career Beyond Academia”, held at my university for PhD students, who are increasingly invited to think about their future career in non-academic terms, we were encouraged to consider the use of social media in our professional development. This encouragement is mimicked also in our everyday tasks as academics – public outreach is increasingly viewed as essential academic task. But different social media are not equal when it comes to their usefulness and type. In this blog post I would like to consider different types of “so-me”, and categorize them in connection to. what they can help us achieve. As the third topic is oriented towards “Personal Learning Networks” (PLNs), I plan to consider them specifically in regards to the networking possibilities that they offer.

Researcher-oriented social media

These platforms, such as Academia or Research Gate, are specifically adapted to the needs of academics – they offer space to post research and teaching qualifications, allow for convenient sharing of papers and provide tools of giving feedback on drafts and data. They allow you to follow people, and therefore are excellent for maintaining and developing research networks, for learning, research and other types of academic cooperation. They, therefore, offer excellent tools for maintaining “Personal Learning Networks”. They might not be the best places to grow your network though – their character is rather focused on following and commenting on other people’s work in structured ways, then connecting or freely messaging. They also often have information on job announcements and calls for papers.

Personal social media

Personal social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, allow for reaching to much wider audiences. Facebook is especially effective at maintaining personal networks and therefore can be one of the most tools for developing highly diversified PLNs – pages, groups and messages can allow for differentiation of levels of contact, and therefore allow for collaboration on multiple levels. Twitter is much less effective for keeping in touch with networks. Its main strength is outreach – with a high number of followers it allows for the fastest spread of information among the social media platforms.

Professional social media

Unlike Facebook, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter, LinkedIn is primarily focused on professional relations, and is especially adapted towards growing and maintaining a wide network of contacts, especially in some parts of private sector, such as finance, tech, medicine and pharmaceutics, management or marketing. Because of that it is an important tool whenever there is a need for collaboration with non-academic partners, or transition to non-academic jobs. It is also an effective tool for development of typically business skills – it is possible to build a learning network by following “LinkedIn Influencers”, there are multiple video trainings, and there is a possibility of reaching out for career advice in a special pairing system. The biggest downside to LinkedIn is its corporate character – it is primarily focused on private sector, and while highly effective in specific areas, it may be much harder to find people concern with other areas, such as administration, art or some kinds of non-profits.

Content-oriented social media

These platforms, such as YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest, are primarily concerned with content – they allow for an easy exchange of specific types of platform-specific content: video, image or blog-post. They are structured through the system of “following”. They are therefore efficient tools for learning, exchanging ideas and getting inspired, but are less concerned with maintaining strong networks.

Question-oriented social media

Question-oriented social media, such as Quora or, are excellent tools for finding answers to specific questions, and the system of “up-“ and “downvoting” helps with the choice of most adequate answer to the question. They also provide a possibility of establishing expertise and gaining recognition.

Aggregate social media

Platforms like Reddit are a “hit” and “miss” places – they work by rating the user generated content organized around “subreddits” and graded by likes and dislikes. They may be the best place to procrastinate, but used well, may also provide a source of inspiration and help spread information in a viral way.

Event-oriented social media

Finally, there are social media primarily oriented on events. MeetUp or InterNations provide means for organization of events, gathering audience, but also finding events and networking. They are therefore good for creation of new PLNs.

Social Media, Academia and PLNs