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Unleash Your Brand! Using Social Media as a Marketing Tool in Academia

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This article presents a guiding framework on how to use social media as a marketing tool for academic researchers. We present fundamentals of a modern communication strategy, which is tailored to the needs of scholars and highlights the importance of personal brands, especially in academia. We offer concrete recommendations regarding target audiences and discuss various social media channels, including researcher-specific platforms such as SSRN, Mendeley, or ResearchGate. We then present an organizational approach to managing social media activities on a daily basis. In particular, we outline a workflow that can be used to efficiently manage social media activities. Because various social media sites differ fundamentally not only in their architecture but also in regard to their optimal use, we finally point out operational recommendations to increase effectivity throughout a researcher’s portfolio of social media channels.
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The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-39910-2_42
Published in: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 2016, Vol. 9742, pp. 449-460
DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-39910-2_42
Unleash your Brand! Using Social Media
as a Marketing Tool in Academia
Timm F. Trefzger a & Domenique Dünfelder b
a timm.trefzger@fau.de, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), Nürnberg, Germany
b d.duenfelder@stilbezirk.de, stilbezirk, Nürnberg, Germany
Abstract:
This article presents a guiding framework on how to use social media as a marketing tool for academic
researchers. We present fundamentals of a modern communication strategy, which is tailored to the needs of
scholars and highlights the importance of personal brands, especially in academia. We offer concrete
recommendations regarding target audiences and discuss various social media channels, including researcher-
specific platforms such as SSRN, Mendeley, or ResearchGate. We then present an organizational approach to
managing social media activities on a daily basis. In particular, we outline a workflow that can be used to efficiently
manage social media activities. Because various social media sites differ fundamentally not only in their architecture
but also in regard to their optimal use, we finally point out operational recommendations to increase effectivity
throughout a researcher’s portfolio of social media channels.
Keywords: Social media · Social networking sites · Academia · Personal branding · Self-marketing · Content marketing · Social
network analysis
1 Personal Branding and Social Media in
Academia
Academic researchers who use Twitter to inform
their followers about a recently published article,
universities that post stories on Facebook about alumni
and corresponding career paths, research institutes that
present their profiles on LinkedIn a growing number
of examples illustrates that different stakeholders in
academia increasingly use social media to
communicate with their audiences. On the one hand,
this development is not surprising, since social media
has already become an established element of the
marketing mix for most companies and offers a wide
range of opportunities [1, 2]. On the other hand, most
academic researchers probably do not fully seize the
manifold opportunities of this new world of online
communication. But why should a researcher engage on
social media sites?
Firstly, the emergence of social media has
fundamentally simplified communication. Especially
for individuals, it is today easier and more cost-
effective than ever before to get in contact with others
around the world. Consequently, researchers’
associated organizations (e.g. the university they work
for) have relinquished control over communication,
reputation and branding to the individuals who are
associated with those organizations. Secondly,
competition between researchers is increasing and a
longterm academic career is hard to achieve. A survey
across 8,216 researchers at 68 UK higher education
institutions has revealed that there is a mismatch
between career expectations and realistic career
possibilities among academics [3]. It is therefore of
utmost importance that researchers face competition
and differentiate themselves from others.
Today, in many cases, high-quality research alone
might not be enough to stand out from other scholars.
In response, we argue that perceptual aspects will play
an increasingly important role as a differentiator. This
T.F. Trefzger, D. Dünfelder / Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2016)
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issue is especially addressed by the concepts of
personal branding and self-marketing, which have been
frequently discussed in comparable contexts [e.g. 4].
Self-marketing includes all “activities undertaken by
individuals to make themselves known in the
marketplace” [5, p.590], and personal branding builds
on the premise “that everyone has a personal brand” [5,
p.590]. Both concepts address the same idea, namely to
transfer marketing and branding principles from a
corporate environment to individuals (hereafter only
referred to as “personal branding”). The aims of
personal branding are both to be known in the
marketplace (for example as a potential employee) and
to differentiate from others.
By transferring personal branding to the context of
academic researchers, the question may arise of what
the personal brand of an academic researcher is. We
argue, in fact, that researchers’ personal brands are
fundamentally determined by their activities [6].
Depending on the research environment and personal
preferences, there is a broad variety of activities that
researchers can engage with. It is a common assumption
that peer-reviewed journals and academic conferences
constitute the main research process and output.
However, many researchers are also involved in
teaching activities or sometimes serve as consultants for
companies or even governments. Ultimately, the
individual portfolio of activities determines their
personal brand as a researcher.
Against this background, a key task of aspiring
scholars will be to build their personal brand as
researchers. For this purpose, social media is perfectly
suited to support this process [7]. In response, we
present a guiding framework for academic researchers
that will help to fully embrace the opportunities that
social media sites can offer. Academics will learn (or
deepen their knowledge) on how to utilize social media
sites to communicate their personal brand. Although we
will focus primarily on an individual’s perspective, the
suggestions of this article might also be beneficial for
academic organizations, such as universities or research
institutes, which can use this article to reflect on their
current social media strategies. Our framework is based
on a review of articles from academic journals, the
business press, as well as on discussions with
representatives of social media agencies and social
media managers of large corporations.
2 A Communication Strategy in Academia
2.1 Notice that You Act in a Network
As already discussed, the emergence of social media
has shifted the power of communication in favor of
individuals. Thereby, social media has forced us to
view both organizations and individuals as a network of
players standing on the same field (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Digital network of players in the academic sphere (example)
Institute Z
University X
University Y
T.F. Trefzger, D. Dünfelder / Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2016)
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Before social media, organizations mainly had to take
care of their own brand. Today, however, individuals
associated with an organization have their own digital
identities, represented through an increasing
engagement on social media sites. This leads to a
greater interdependency among organizations and
individuals in terms of their communication activities.
For example, a university today has its official website
and is moreover present on several social media
platforms. Yet, the individuals working for the
university, such as professors or other researchers,
increasingly build their own digital identities on social
media platforms.
Social network analysis [8, 9] suggests that the
members of a network significantly influence each
other. If one player, for example, has a very good
reputation (e.g. a university), this reputation is
automatically passed on to the associated individuals. It
is, however, possible that negative perceptions of
individual network members harm others in the
network. As a foundation of those effects, the concept
of word of mouth (WOM) communication plays a
central role [10], because it emphasizes the power of
communication activities within a network, which can
hardly be controlled by individuals within this entity.
Of course, the effects suggested by social network
analysis and WOM have been valid before the
emergence of social media [11]. Nevertheless, the
effects of WOM become even more powerful in the
online environment, as social media helps to distribute
information faster than in offline networks [9, 12]. By
that, social media has strengthened individual members
of those new networks compared to traditional offline
social networks, and has thus enhanced the dynamics
and complexity within those networks. Because of this
mutual dependency, we argue that it is important that
all players in a network are aware of their great
responsibility to build and communicate their
(personal) brands in a way that the network can benefit.
In the following, we present concrete ideas about how
to organize researchers’ social media activities.
2.2 Identify Your Target Audiences
The foundation of all communication activities is an
understanding of the target audiences [13]. In fact, there
is a broad variety of different stakeholders who could
be interested in a researcher’s activities. However, we
believe that many researchers underestimate the extent
of potential followers on social media. We have thus
developed a simple model (social media follower
continuum; see Fig. 2) that can help to illustrate the
potential (and the challenge) to reach different target
audiences.
The social media follower continuum assumes that
potential social media followers (people who follow
your activities on social media) can be aligned between
opposite ends of a continuum. On the one hand, there
are people with high involvement or interest towards
you. Those people can be described as easy followers
because it might not be hard to win them as followers.
Probably, most stakeholders who know you in person
are easy followers, such as colleagues, close business
partners or even family members and friends. It is also
possible that students become easy followers when, for
example, certain course information is regularly
communicated via a social media platform.
Fig. 2. Social media follower continuum
Probability to follow your
social media activities
People with high
involvement towards you People with complete
indifference towards you
Effort to make someone
follow your activities
Tough nuts
Easy
followers
Persuadable
crowd
T.F. Trefzger, D. Dünfelder / Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2016)
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On the other hand, there might probably exist people
with complete indifference towards you because they
are characterized with no direct or indirect involvement
or interest towards you. We call those people tough
nuts, because it is difficult and probably not necessary
to convince them to follow your activities.
Between easy followers and tough nuts, there is the
persuadable crowd. This group is composed of
different (potentially) interested parties, who do not
follow you automatically, but who might be interested
in your activities (now or in the future). For example,
there are people who are interested in a certain topic and
who want to follow thought leaders in that specific
field. As a result, they continuously decide which
experts to follow on e.g. Twitter depending on their
perception of those experts. The subsequent question is
how to provide relevant content to members of the
persuadable crowd, aiming to persuade them to follow
your social media activities.
Against this background, we suggest identifying
existing but also aspired target audiences. For most
academic researchers, the international research
community in a certain field might be an important
target audience. Students with an interest in offered
teaching activities might be another target audience. In
addition, surrounding firms or institutes could be a
further target audience, which might be interested in
your activities. Overall, the identification and
understanding of different target audiences are
fundamental during the following phase of content
creation. Only if you understand who your target
audiences are, you can adequately communicate with
them [13].
2.3 Embrace the Idea of Content Marketing and
Select Valuable Content for Your Audience
Based on the identification of your target audiences,
it is important to understand their needs and the topics
they are interested in, because this understanding is
fundamental to answer the question of what to
communicate. The idea of sharing content that is
relevant and valuable to your target audiences is
referred to as content marketing [14]. The concept has
increasingly gained importance, especially in the field
of digital marketing [15]. A reason for this is that social
media users are confronted with a growing amount of
content every day. Therefore, the relevance and value
of content from a user’s perspective are increasingly
important when it comes to the question of whether to
engage with a social media post or not. This importance
is further emphasized by the uses and gratifications
(U&G) theory.
U&G theory suggests that individuals strive to
receive gratifications through their media usage [16].
As a result, social media users adjust their online
behavior according to their gratifications. On social
media sites, studies have shown that users search for
entertainment, information and social interactions [e.g.
17, 18]. Content strategies of academics should
therefore consider these findings and provide content
that fulfills the needs of their target audiences, because
communication effectiveness is closely related to it.
Against this background, it can be useful to establish
certain content categories, which are specifically
designed for the already defined target audiences. For
example, a researcher in the field of entrepreneurship
could publish information about (own) research
articles, pictures from academic conferences,
interesting and valuable information about
entrepreneurship in general, tutorial videos about what
is important when founding a company or behind-the-
scenes pictures of his/her work day. As you can
imagine, there are a lot of possibilities to generate
interesting and valuable content for your target
audiences.
Barack Obama can serve as a lively example for the
establishment of a content category. On a regular basis,
Barack Obama has published pictures which have
portrayed him as a nice and accessible person, for
instance, when he went for lunch with his staff at a
public burger restaurant. Another example would be a
picture of him in the Oval Office of the White House,
playing around with a football during a meeting. These
examples show that Barack Obama has obviously
established “behind-the-scenes” content as a central
content category of his communication strategy. One
could also argue that this part of his content strategy has
been successful, because many people, in fact, see him
as a nice and accessible person.
When content categories are established, the goal is
to find and publish valuable content on a regular basis.
However, it might be not entirely clear which online
channels are suitable for the communication purposes
of academic researchers. In the next section, we
therefore outline different types of social media sites.
2.4 Communication Channels: Which Platform
to Use?
The landscape of social media sites is continuously
changing in terms of new sites evolving and others
losing relevance [19]. From a researcher’s perspective,
of course, not all social media platforms are reasonable
to engage on. For example, it might not be necessary to
become active on the video messaging application
Snapchat, because up to now it is not at all a suitable
T.F. Trefzger, D. Dünfelder / Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2016)
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channel for researcher-related content and is mostly
used by teenagers. However, there exist platforms
where it is not as easy to decide whether to use them or
not. The mobile photo-sharing and social networking
service Instagram, for example, is hardly suitable to
communicate new research articles, but could be a great
channel to (visually) tell stories about your life as a
researcher (e.g. at academic conferences), with the aim
of adding some shine to this life and thereby sharpen
your personal brand. In general, we suggest to stay open
for new emerging platforms and to continuously reflect
on the landscape of platforms in regard to their potential
for your own portfolio of used social media platforms.
In the following, we elaborate on different types of
social media sites.
First of all, social networking sites, such as
Facebook and Twitter, are generally used both in a
private and business context [20]. With currently more
than 1.5 billion users, Facebook is the most popular
social media platform [21]. Although the site is
primarily used for private purposes, most brands are
present with their own fan pages. Also for researchers,
Facebook offers great potential, because of the high
number of active users. Next to Facebook, Twitter
might also be a suitable channel for your
communication activities, because the micro blog has
continuously evolved to a network, which is especially
used by organizations to publish all sorts of information
[22]. Simultaneously, users follow interesting
organizations, thought leaders, magazines etc. to assess
relevant information.
Social networking sites, which are primarily used in
the business context, are called business networking
sites [2]. Currently, the (by far) most used business
networking site is LinkedIn. Individuals can create
personal profiles and connect with their peers.
Originally, most people on LinkedIn used the platform
mainly to showcase their resume. In recent years,
LinkedIn has moved away from the static platform it
has been in the beginning but has evolved to an
increasingly active network. Today, next to individuals’
profiles, most companies, universities and institutes are
present on LinkedIn and use the platform increasingly
as a communication channel. For academic researchers,
LinkedIn is a great platform to stay in touch with other
researchers and to stand out by publishing content,
which is valuable for their network.
Another important piece in the portfolio of useful
social media sites is networking platforms and content
communities that specifically focus on academic
researchers (e.g. SSRN, Google Scholar, Mendeley,
ResearchGate). Those platforms are greatly suitable to
showcase your research and to also connect with other
researchers. Although there are already several of those
platforms, it has been recently noticeable that various
sites continuously emerge into a combination of
networking platform and content community. The
Social Science Research Network (SSRN,
www.ssrn.com), for example, is devoted to the
dissemination of scientific research but has recently
announced that they will further expand the possibilities
of creating personal profiles. Another example is
Mendeley (www.mendeley.com), which has been
primarily used as a program to manage research
articles. Yet, the possibility to also showcase research
papers and to get in contact with other researchers has
changed the way Mendeley is used today. A third
example is ResearchGate (www.researchgate.net). It is
also a social networking site, aiming to connect
researchers worldwide and offering the possibility to
present research papers. Finally, Google Scholar
(www.scholar.google.com) has already evolved into an
important platform for most researchers, due to the
presentation of popular citation indices (e.g. h-index),
which are increasingly important in academia. In
contrast to established platforms, relatively new
websites such as ACADEMIA (www.academia.edu)
are emerging, having a similar value proposition to
ResearchGate.
Regardless of your decision on which sites to be
present, it is important that your profile is always
updated on all sites you are active on. For this, you can
use, for example, an Excel sheet with each row
containing a published paper. The columns are then
used for all the platforms on which you want to publish
your research papers (either just the reference or the
actual file). Thereby, it is relatively simple to keep the
overview, although you have profiles on several sites.
A further and important cornerstone within a social
media strategy is a non-social-media-website, on which
you can publish information about your activities in
detail. This could be your affiliated organization’s
official website or another website that you control
yourself. As we will describe below, the optimal
publication of content on social media sites requires one
to present content in a very short way, because a short
message length is more effective or even obligatory
(e.g. Tweets on Twitter cannot have more than 140
characters). Therefore, it is necessary on social media
sites to publish posts that include a link to your non-
social-media-website, where the content is presented in
more detail for those who want to further engage with
this content.
T.F. Trefzger, D. Dünfelder / Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2016)
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3 Organizing Your Social Media
Management
3.1 Polish Your Profiles across all Platforms
Before you engage in the daily work of social media
management, it is important to review your profiles on
all platforms you are present on. It is not only important
that all profiles look and feel professional, but it is also
necessary that all profiles are aligned to your overall
(personal) brand strategy. Decide which pictures and
copy texts (e.g. your biography) you want to use, and
distribute these elements across your platforms. If it is
necessary, adjust the elements according to the needs of
individual sites. By that approach, a consistent look and
feel across platforms is ensured, although there might
be reasonable adjustments because of varying platform
architectures or mechanisms.
3.2 Establish a Workflow
Since most academic researchers do not employ
social media managers who are responsible for their
social media activities, it is of great importance to
establish a workflow that minimizes the overall social
media effort, but yet ensures professional social media
communication. We consider the social media
workflow as a process that includes more people than
the individual researcher because researchers often
work in a team. As a consequence, our process can be
used by individuals and by teams, as the overall
mechanisms remain the same.
We suggest a continuously running, three-step
process that organizes the workflow according to
content creation, preparation and communication (see
Fig. 3). The basic idea is to avoid that people think too
much towards single channels (“What can I do on
Facebook today?”), because it can be considered as not
efficient to think about channels separately. Instead, the
content should be in the center of all considerations.
After you have decided what content is worth sharing,
you have to select suitable channels and prepare the
content for publication. In the following, we elaborate
on these three phases of social media management.
In the content creation phase, possible content has to
be collected. It is important that everyone who
participates in this task is open for topics that are
possibly interesting for the already defined target
audiences. Stanford University, for example, has
implemented a series for their social media channels, in
which they introduce members of the staff. One episode
was a story on an employee who has been preparing
sandwiches on the Stanford campus for 40 years. The
story was presented in an emotional way and received
a high amount of positive user interaction. This
example illustrates that the openness for relevant and
interesting stories is an important element during the
content creation phase. It is furthermore crucial that
content creation does not only involve the detection of
relevant content, but also the generation of shareable
media such as (good) pictures or videos (a photo taken
with your smartphone is better than no photo!).
Fig. 3. Social media management workflow
T.F. Trefzger, D. Dünfelder / Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2016)
7
The content has then to be sent to a central position,
which is controlled by the person responsible for
content preparation. For example, the content could be
centrally saved on a shared network drive or by using a
web service such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
In the second phase, the person who is responsible
for content preparation (referred to as social media
manager) has to select and prepare the content for
publication. Because of the platform differences, it is of
particular importance to optimize the content according
to the individual requirements of the selected channels.
The social media manager is moreover responsible that
the content is aligned to the overall content strategy.
When researchers work alone, they have to fulfill both
the role of content creators, as well as the role of the
social media manager. When researchers are working
in a team, it might be beneficial that the social media
manager is a person with a great affinity for social
media and communication.
In the content communication phase, the social
media manager publishes the content on various
platforms. Since it might not always be reasonable to
publish every kind of content on all platforms, the
social media manager has to decide on which platforms
a certain story should be published. For example, a
photo showing you at a conference dinner in Venice
might be worth sharing on Facebook, but not applicable
for LinkedIn, because LinkedIn up to now is
typically used for more “serious” content. Since it can
be quite confusing to maintain the overview about
different posts on various social media platforms, we
recommend using an editorial plan (see Fig. 4). In the
simplest form, an Excel spreadsheet can be used to plan
the posts and to note on which platforms a post should
be published. Thereby, it is easy to maintain control
over the communication activities across platforms at
all times.
3.3 Understand Your Channels and Strive for
Operational Excellence
If you decide to engage on a certain social media
site, it is of utmost importance to completely understand
the rules and mechanisms of the channel, and to strive
for operational excellence. But why is this so
important? Firstly, on social networking sites, your
posts have to compete with posts of users’ friends or
simply with funny cat videos. In addition, most users
are confronted with a very large amount of information
and decide very fast whether to further engage with a
certain post or to continue scrolling down the almost
endless list of posts in their timeline. It is therefore
important that your post catches users’ attention (see
also U&G theory, which is explained above). Secondly,
the high amount of content has led social networking
sites to filter posts to a certain degree. In this context,
the amount of post interaction is very important,
because it determines the number of people who will
potentially see a post in their news feed. On Facebook,
for example, the initial number of likes, comments and
shares that a post receives indicates the relevance of
the post, assessed by the mysterious and frequently
cited “Facebook algorithm”. This relevance
subsequently determines how many users will see the
post in their timeline. Consequently, the amount of post
interaction in terms of likes, comments, and shares will
significantly affect the number of people who will
potentially engage with its content. It is therefore
essential to design posts the “right” way to maximize
post popularity but what is the “right” way?
Several empirical studies have already focused on
the antecedents of post popularity on social networking
sites [e.g. 23, 24]. Those studies have shown that posts
with attached pictures and videos are significantly more
successful in terms of user interaction compared to
posts including other attachments such as links to
external websites. It was moreover found that a short
amount of text is beneficial because social networking
sites are typically used to access information very fast.
Although prior studies have often focused
specifically on Facebook or Twitter, we assume that
revealed findings can also be transferred to other
platforms. In general, to optimize social media
effectiveness, posts should include an appealing or
interesting picture or video. A short text can serve as an
appetizer for those who want to know more about the
featured message.
Fig. 4. Editorial plan (simplified example)
T.F. Trefzger, D. Dünfelder / Lecture Notes in Computer Science (2016)
8
The text could also include a link, which directs
interested users to a more detailed presentation of the
content on, for example, your university’s official
website. With this approach, the content is presented at
different detail levels, and interested users can decide
how deep they want to engage with your content. To
further reduce the amount of text in a post, we
recommend the use of short links (e.g. bit.ly). We
furthermore want to emphasize that, on social
networking sites, it is important to publish content on a
regular basis [1]. It is hard to say what the best
frequency is, as it also depends on the platform. Three
to five posts per week might be a reasonable frequency
for researchers to publish on their social networking
sites. However, since social media sites are highly
dynamic, it can also be beneficial to publish more, if the
content is valuable to the target audiences.
Finally, it has to be stated that the above-mentioned
ideas on how to reach operational excellence on social
media sites have to be understood as a first step only.
Researchers who want to successfully engage in this
sphere may have to read through a few of those
numerous guidebooks, which can be found on the
Internet, and might also have to consider the following
statement of an unknown author: “Social media is a lot
of fun when it is done right. But when it is done right,
it is even more work.”
4 Conclusion
Studies comparing academics’ career expectations
and realistic career possibilities indicate that academic
researchers already face a high level of competition,
and differentiation becomes increasingly critical.
Although scholars’ most important quality indicator is
their research output, perceptional aspects become
more and more important to differentiate from others.
Therefore, self-marketing and personal branding can be
used to actively shape public perception in a favorable
way. For this purpose, social media sites offer great
potential. Our article has therefore presented a guiding
framework for researchers on how to utilize social
media to effectively build their personal brand. Of
course, this article is not a final answer to all open
questions in the field of social media; nevertheless, it
might have opened your mind in regard to the great
opportunities social media can offer, especially in
academia.
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Acknowledgements. We used icons made by Bogdan Rosu,
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The final publication is available at Springer via
http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-39910-2_42
... However, in order to make best possible use of each individual social media site, it is essential to understand the specific characteristics of each platform (Hutton & Fosdick, 2011). On Facebook, for example, by creating corporate SNS identities in the form of brand fan pages (Lin & Lu, 2011), marketing messages can be spread through posts in order to interact and connect with customers (Lipsman, Mud, Rich, & Bruich, 2012;McCorkindale, 2010;Trefzger & Dünfelder, 2016). Typically, users engage with these marketing messages through liking, sharing or commenting on brand posts (Araujo, Neijens, & Vliegenthart, 2015;Ashley & Tuten, 2015;McAlexander, Schouten, & Koenig, 2002;Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001). ...
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