When was the last time you audited your digital footprint? Do you know what people see when they google your name and affiliation? How coherent or confusing is the image of you that people see?
The number of digital platforms that profile researchers’ work is proliferating rapidly, leading to an increasingly fractured picture of their work. For some researchers, this problem is compounded by the fact that they work on multiple, very different issues, with different communities of researchers and stakeholders. Some researchers are experiencing unintended digital sprawl. Others have chosen to cultivate different identities across different platforms and accounts to engage with specific communities. Either way, the proliferation of online identities can be confusing for people who just want to know who we are and what we do.
Going solo: which platform should I focus on?
As a result, many researchers ask me what one, single platform they should be on. This is an attractive option in theory, as you only have one place to update. If you have to choose one place, then your employer will probably tell you that you should choose to focus on the profile on your institution’s website. That is good enough for many researchers, but many want their work to be more visible or want to have more control over the way they organise and present their work than their institutional profile allows.
If you want to keep digital sprawl under control and are looking for just one other place to feature your research (other than your institutional profile), then your choice will need to reflect what you want your digital profile to do for you. If you want to reach out to other academics and primarily showcase your academic work, then Google Scholar and ResearchGate are popular platforms which make your work highly visible with minimal time input (they identify your publications for you, so you don’t have to manually input them). If you want to face a broader audience, or aren’t sure if you’ll be hanging around in academia for long, then LinkedIn enables you to showcase publications, projects, presentations and more to a broad professional audience, but requires manual entry.
To help you to decide which platform to focus on, check and see which ones already get ranked highly in a Google search for your name and employer. That way, you guarantee that people looking for you find something relevant and up to date, and you can sign-post them from there to a small number of less highly ranked sites. By channelling traffic in this way, you can very quickly bring coherence to a fractured digital footprint.
Being in more than one place at a time without confusing your audience
You don’t have to settle for one or two platforms; indeed there are compelling reasons for engaging across multiple platforms, for example, to engage with different audiences via specific social media accounts that enable you to engage with specific groups of people. However, the more different profiles you have, the more confusing the picture may become for those looking in. If your digital profile is spread across multiple websites, platforms and accounts, then you need to find a way of bringing together these fragments to create a more coherent image of your work.
Your first challenge is to find a unifying phrase, concept or strapline that summarises the full range of your work effectively. As a researcher who studies people’s interactions with the natural environment and knowledge exchange for impact, I came up with “knowing people knowing nature” to summarise my work. I am often surprised at how quickly and e ectively researchers manage to succinctly summarise what they do in plain English when I ask them to do so in a tweet (140 characters) when I’m doing social media training. Give it a try...
Now you can copy the same phrase across multiple platforms, making it clear that you are the same person and not a different researcher. You can also start linking accounts, providing hyperlinks to the places you feel best represent your work, which you keep up to date most regularly. This can be a nice way of avoiding spending too much time on sites where you have to manually enter your information (like your institutional profile), instead providing summary information and signposting to sites that are easier to keep up to date.
You can do the same with social media accounts (for example in the biography for @fasttrackimpact on Twitter, it says that “tweets are by @profmarkreed” and in the biography for @profmarkreed, it says that I do “research impact training @fasttrackimpact”).
Your final option, which is the most powerful (but also the most challenging to pull off effectively) is to create your own personal website which all other platforms point to as the main source of information about your work. On your personal website you can configure your material in any design you want, and have full control over updates. You can create your own narrative that links your various identities as a researcher, pointing people to specific platforms if they want to engage with you about those issues in greater depth. If you link to your personal website from your university profile, Google should fairly quickly start to rank your website at a similar place in search results to your institutional profile.
Fast Track Impact designed a personal website for Christopher Raymond
that is a good example of how you can bring together multiple research strands into a coherent whole. The front page links to other platforms he is active on. At the top of the publications page, he has featured papers that he wants to get read and cited. He also has a page that brings together the different strands of his work in a hyperlinked diagram that clicks through to detail on each research area.
You can contain (or at least make sense of) the digital sprawl, and if you do, you may find that you spend less time updating the “digital you” and more time benefiting from the collaborations that arise from a coherent digital profile.