Social Media Network Analysis workshop with Marc Smith, January 19-20th at Syracuse University

This week, Marc Smith, Chief Social Scientist at Connected Action and a social media researcher at the Social Media Research Foundation will teach a two-day Social Media Network Analysis workshop with NodeXL at Syracuse University. I received support from several departments at the Maxwell School, iSchool, Engineering school and our NSF Advance Institutional Transformation grant to organize this event and am very grateful that Marc is willing to travel to Syracuse during this time of year! So far 25 academics have signed up, among them faculty, postdocs and PhD students from the participating schools on campus.

Here is Marc’s announcement from the SMRF blog:

I will speak and lead a workshop on social media network analysis at Syracuse University on the 19th and 20th of January, 2012.

Ines Mergel is my host.  Prof. Mergel is Assistant Professor of Public Administration, Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, and a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Technology and Information Policy at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY.

I will speak about the patterns we are finding in the data collected and analyzed by NodeXL.


My personal research interest in this workshop is to analyze observable social media tactics of government organizations and triangulate the data with qualitative data I collected from interviews with social media professionals in government. Social media network analysis can help to gain insights into the reuse of information published by government agencies, the structure of their followers and the pathways messages take through a Twitter or Facebook network. My idea is to trace impact and effectiveness of government engagement on social media applications beyond quantitative numbers of followers or messages.


Marc has recently analyzed the #MyResearch Twitter hashtag I started to follow that was initiated by Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega @raulpacheco, at UBC. Academics started to use the hashtag a few days ago and messages indicate that by connecting through a common hashtag people started to talk about joint research interests and may start collaborations:



Using social media for non-traditional forms of scholarship

During the last year I was a frequent guest speaker at different University-wide lecture series to talk about my research findings but also my personal use of social media applications as a scholar. I reported about the diverse social media applications I have tested (and abandoned) in the classroom, but also provided insights into how academics can and are currently using social media applications to communicate their work and tap into relevant networks. As a result of this increased visibility, I was also asked my many research centers at the Maxwell School to help out as an in-house consultant to get them started on their social media activities. Many of them have started with baby steps and most of them are still evaluating the usefulness of social media for their work. I can’t make the business case for each academic here, but I decided to compile my insights here in case other scholars are thinking about applying social media applications in their work as well.

1. Think about the incentives and motivation you have as an academic.

Most of us are trying to get tenure by publishing in academic outlets. Some of us might also want to gain (national and international) recognition as experts, which might in turn lead to increased opportunities on the job market or at our home institutions. The research outputs have to adhere to the standards of a discipline and academic field to advance the existing knowledge.

We might also consider the possibility of increasing our knowledge expert status to gain broader influence by spreading the insights and knowledge we have gained of our (publicly) funded research activities. This can happen of course through citations of our academic publications, but they are most of the time not read by anyone outside of our field, or – worst case – hidden in the library sheltered from access to anyone outside of academia. We might therefore want to think about ways on how to translate our academic findings into short pieces that are accessible to practitioners or the broader public, so that we can start or even be part of ongoing dialogue or can react to upcoming events.

Lastly, given all of these activities we want to avoid any unintended consequences, such as overexerting influence on our subjects by avoiding forceful recommendations. Instead, we might want to be part of the network of researchers, practitioners and the public to be part of the conversation.

2. Define your audience.

In order to understand how to communicate, we need to make an assessment of who our audience is. In a recent research meeting we discussed that the audience is much broader than just our direct peers in our sub-disciplines. Instead, we need to understand who the academic gatekeepers and important journal editors are. Moreover, we might want to understand who the journalists are that are writing about topics that are related to our research. Who are policy makers and practitioners that might want to read (an executive summary of) our findings? And who are important funders and donors that need to know about us and might invite us to participate in RFPs.

3. Selecting the right tools.

Many of these activities need to be accomplished through direct face-to-face interactions at conferences, job talks, speaking engagements, etc. Other ways of knowledge sharing are traditional channels, such as hard (or electronic) copies, or policy briefs that are picked up by the media.

Moreover, we also share knowledge by teaching or participating in conversations on listservers or other platforms.

Social media can help with both processes: I have started to use this WordPress blog back in 2006, when it became clear that I won’t have access to a stable URL for a while. Many of us are moving from one position to another and we need to set up our digital selves over and over again. I decided to link my institutional faculty page to this blog for frequent updates.

Twitter allows you to quickly disseminate research findings by linking to papers, Op-Eds, blog posts, or your homepage. It also helps to connect to other researchers or practitioners who are interested in my research topic. I was lucky enough to follow public conversations on Twitter around the #gov20 hashtag and used insights out of these conversations in the classroom. It also helped me to understand what the network of practitioners I should pay attention to looks like. Moreover, I like to use Twitter as part of my own reflection process and repost my blog posts and interesting articles in my news feed.

Facebook is great for joining academic groups and staying in touch with other academics. Otherwise, I mostly use it to connect to my peers and friends – very infrequently to “brag” about my publications. AND: never to connect to my current or former students. I do invite them to connect to me on LinkedIn and posted a social media policy on my faculty page.

4. Social media strategy

So what would I suggest as your social media strategy? First of all, I feel it’s important to say that you don’t have to be part of the bandwagon if you don’t believe in social media or it is simply not your form of knowledge sharing. Everyone of us usually has a formal faculty page. Make the best out if it and frequently update your CV and publication list.

I felt that an institutional site is limiting – either access is limited to a faculty assistant or it doesn’t allow for infrequent and informal updates such as a blog does. Therefore, I decided to use WordPress. It has very clean and professional looking templates (very different than Blogger from Google, for example). I connected my WordPress blog directly to Facebook. The application “Networked Blogs” automatically posts blog posts to my Facebook feed. I also use the blog link on my Twitter profile as a more accurate description of myself and publish those articles that might contribute to the #gov20 community on Twitter.

A blog is a great way to present short snippets of your ongoing research – and not necessarily the final output, that usually won’t be published until 2-3 years later (given the long review and publication cycles of academic journals). Blogs therefore help to abandon the time and distance constraints that we have based on the limitations of journal publications or yearly conference schedules.

A communication professional recently gave me the tip to use the “Link – Quote – Comment” rule: Blog posts of academics don’t need to be as lengthy as the one you are currently reading. Instead, it is absolutely acceptable to link to an ongoing event, quote how your own research might contribute to it and comment on how you might solve it or how your research might confirm it.

A blog is also a great tool to reduce search costs for journalists who are looking for an expert in a specific academic disciplines and might lead to press coverage or Op-Eds. The comment function allows for ongoing dialogue – although I can promise you that most people read and absorb online content but hardly ever make the effort to comment.

OpenGovRD: Towards an “Open Public Administration Commons”

Day 2 of the OpenGovRD workshop started with a session to collect open-ended research questions that the academics in the room can tackle. We reviewed our initial wish-list of what research on Open Government should look like. Some of the keywords people in the room used to describe OG research included: interdisciplinary, rigorous, robust, actionable, fundable and most of all FUN (that was my favorite keyword). I believe fun will be a result of a research agenda that will include researchers from different disciplines, but also includes a constant feedback cycle between academics and practitioners.

I would like to push even further – not just showcasing research findings, but constantly including practitioners into the research process and not only as subjects (i.e., interview partners), but as equal partners who guide the research, evaluate its feasibility and to keep the research grounded and unbiased. The findings need to be actionable right away and not after a 2-3 year publishing cycle in academic journals that are “hiding” the results for exclusive access in University libraries.

Obviously, an OG research agenda needs to be fundable. The group highlighted that there is no digital government program at NSF anymore, so that new funding sources need to be discovered and we probably need to work closely with directorates or programs at NSF to identify the right venues for proposal submissions.

The practitioners and academics in the room mentioned one gap over and over again: We don’t know what we know! There are several platforms out there that are collecting, harvesting and displaying some of the research and reports that are available on specific subtopics, but there is not one place that helps to compile everything we already know. I suggested to create an “Open Public Administration Commons“. This place can serve as a networking platform that provides the opportunity to connect to ongoing research projects, give direct feedback not only to the final results, but on an ongoing basis while the discovery is happening, to test ideas in early stages, but foremost to provide a channel that helps to push findings directly to government so that public managers can act on the findings and find a guide on how to tackle current and urgent problems. Many agencies face similar or at least comparable problems and while it is helpful to understand that there are best practices cases out there, it is much more important to actually make the social connections between government officials to share insights on the day-to-day “How To” questions that are coming up while people are trying to solve problems. I would like to take the platform idea a step further and make this platform a place for those of us who are teaching OG-related topics to find up-to-date case studies that can be used in classrooms. We can educate cohorts of MPA or IS students that already know about the newest developments when they enter their first jobs.

Together with my co-authors, I have written about the idea of an “Open Public Administration Commons” in a recently published article in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: “Towards Open Public Administration Scholarship” (email me if you want to read a copy of this article).

Related reading:

Schweik, C., Mergel, I., Sanford, J., Zhao, J. (2011): Toward Open Public Administration Scholarship, in: Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory (J-PART), Minnowbrook III: A Special Issue, Special Issue Editors: Beth Gazley and David M. Van Slyke, Vol. 21, Supplement 1, January 2011, pp.i175-198.

Academic networking & social media

I recently presented my ideas on why academics should tweet and blog too at a symposium at Syracuse University called “Tenure Track Dream Team”. A little over 140 students who are currently on the job market attended the day – about 8-10 were actively using Twitter and 2-3 tweeted during the conference.

I focused my talk not so much on the technology (“You have to use it!”), instead I decided to think about what kind of networking ties academics need in early stages of their career and what usually drives human interaction. My advice for the students was to get out of their comfort zone: They need diverse network ties, so that they will hear about job opportunities (Granovetter’s research on weak & strong ties); they also need to maintain their local ties for future collaborations, but reach out into their global network, so that people are aware of their work and thereby bridge different parts of their network (Watt’s idea of creating small networks and reach across your local, dense ties).

I suggested to them that social networking services are a way to create, maintain and nurture their academic ties. I am using Twitter to understand who belongs to the network of people writing and talking about my research field. I tap into ongoing conversations and contribute when I have something to say. Twitter is a great resource to test and promote early findings or generally hear about hot and new topics. I also use it to understand how practitioners in my field talk about the issues. I started conversations and consequently was able to invite guest speakers to my classes. Moreover, Twitter is a great tool if you can’t attend a conference – someone will always tweet about what is going on or in which room the best presentations are going on.

In addition, I suggested to the students that blogs are a great way to bridge the 140 letters limitation of Twitter and point people to longer posts and links to publications. I suggested to think about individual blogs or content-area blogs that can be easily maintained by several people who are all working on similar topics. The latter lowers the individual publishing/writing pressure and the workload can easily be divided among several people.

RSS feeds as an integral part of blogs, but also all kind of other frequently updated parts on a website, are a great way for academics to sign up for table of content updates of their favorite journals.

We also had a good conversation about publishing cycles, open commons and publishing rights. Syracuse University has just started an “open commons” for working papers called “SURFACE” that shapes up to be a great vehicle to publish early results.

Here are my slides:

Update: Link to the video with my keynote address titled “Social Media for Prospective Faculty: Why Academics Should Blog and Tweet, Too!

Inclusive Connective Corridor: Social Networks and the ADVANCEment of Women STEM Faculty

Today, Chancellor Cantor officially announced our new NSF award “Inclusive Connective Corridor: Social Networks and the ADVANCEment of Women STEM Faculty“. I will be serving as a scientific advisor on the project and will support the team to design a social network analysis. The goal is to understand if and how human capital building activities of the grant will result in sustainable social capital.

Here is an excerpt from Chancellor Cantor’s email announcement:

Unleash the Power of Inclusive Talent

Changing the face of the next generation of faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is the aim of a new, multi-disciplinary project at SU titled The Inclusive Connective Corridor. Esteemed faculty leaders from the sciences, engineering, the iSchool, and Whitman School are leading the charge in forging expansive social networks crossing disciplines, sectors, and genders to support the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in these fields of intense national interest, but which women remain overwhelmingly underrepresented nationwide. It also reflects SU’s proud legacy of leadership in building inclusive environments for creative work.