#Academic: 4 ways that social media can benefit academic research

Benjamin Horton

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Much has been written in recent times about the negative sides of social media and the internet more widely. The ‘bubble’ and the ‘echo chamber’ are just two of the sceptical catch-alls that have been used to describe a huge range of platforms that billions of people across the world interact with on a daily basis. The spread of fake news and the challenge this presents to the authority of expertise has been well documented, and is hard to doubt. The answer to this challenge, however, is not to shy away from the likes of Twitter and Facebook, but surely instead to embrace them. It has never been more important for experts to engage with the public, and social media is a vital tool enabling this engagement.

In the course of my work promoting the academic journal International Affairs, I’ve witnessed first-hand the benefits that social media can provide. Read on to discover the four key ways that social media can assist academic work.

1. Sharing your expertise

Social media is increasingly a go-to source of news online, particularly in English-speaking countries. The latest Digital News Report from Oxford’s Reuters’ Institute for the Study of Journalism found that 51% of US respondents used social media to find the latest news, while 41% of UK respondents did so. Facebook and Twitter are the major sites for this news gathering, but other platforms as well as messaging apps are gaining in prominence. For a quick and low-cost means of communicating your latest publication, social media is a powerful channel. Hashtags and lists on Twitter, groups and pages on Facebook and threads on Reddit are organizational functions which allow your posts to be discovered by people who share an interest in your area of research. If your published research breaks new ground or delivers findings that you feel are in the public interest then social media is a great way of accessing readers directly without resorting to more time-consuming marketing activities.

Recent author Christoph Harig sharing his article in our May 2017 issue.

2. Discovering new perspectives

It’s important to remember, however, that social media platforms are not just billboards for advertising new work. They also allow the development of communities where new work can be discovered, and ideas exchanged. One great example is the Twitter hashtag #ScholarSunday, set up by Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega of CIDE in Aguascalientes, in which academics recommend colleagues based on their research as well as their activity on social media. As a two-way street social media allows you to discover scholars working in similar fields while also promoting your own work.

3. Engaging with policy-makers

At International Affairs we pride ourselves in acting as a conduit between academics and the policy-making community. Aside from publishing with a policy-relevant journal however it is becoming easier than ever to engage directly with practitioners online, thanks in no small part to social media. As Constance Duncombe demonstrated in a recent article, governments and politicians are increasingly using Twitter and other platforms to conduct public diplomacy; a tactic that a certain White House occupant is pushing to its limits on a daily basis. Where global leaders go, the political establishment invariably follows, and today it is the norm for government departments, military divisions, think tanks and major corporations to all be interacting online. By maintaining a social media presence academics can keep abreast of these interactions first-hand, while also increasing their potential for access to the practitioners their work might influence.

4. Boosting your Altmetrics

Without erring too far into debates over research assessment (don’t mention the REF!), it is becoming ever more important to demonstrate the ‘impact’ of academic work. Altmetric is a platform which seeks to quantify impact by collating mentions of your research in a variety of spheres; from press hits and appearances in government policy documents, to blogs and social media. Making sure that any institutional or personal social media accounts you’re involved with share a link to your article can really catalyse online discussion about your research, and guarantee a high Altmetric score.


Some may say that the lack of curation on social media means that it has become nigh-on impossible to distinguish between high-quality, authoritative publications and fake news. Tom Nicholls’ recent book The death of expertise is just one of many jeremiads against the digital age, but this challenge must be met by engagement. Nicholls himself has a large following on Twitter which he utilizes to amplify his important concerns about the decline of trust in experts. Publications, think tanks and university departments can all act as influential gate-keepers of research online, but the most powerful advocates are always the authors themselves. So get yourselves a Twitter account, and follow us while you’re at it!


Benjamin Horton is the Digital Marketing Assistant for International Affairs.

Follow International Affairs on Twitter (@IAJournal_CH) to keep up to date with the latest research we publish, and to find more content from our Editor’s Desk blog series.

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