Using social media for non-traditional forms of scholarship

Academia 2.0, academic networks, Blogs I read, Conferences, connections

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.

A Call for Papers on Twitter networks at the 2010 Sunbelt Social Networks Conference

Conferences, networking, Networks, online networking, Social Network Analysis

At the 2010 International Sunbelt Social Networks Conference, to take place at Riva del Garda, Trento, Italy, from June 29 to July 4, 2010, we intend to organize a session on Twitter networks. We are looking for papers with empirical evidence using the social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter has become one of the most prominent publishing channels of short messages during the last year and caught our attention as network researchers. We would like to initiate a session on how network researchers use the public conversations observed on Twitter and how they capture, analyze and interpret Twitter networks.

Potential contributors should also note that at the Sunbelt conferences series, final (written) papers are not requested to be submitted: just abstracts suffice. However, all submitted abstracts of the proposed papers will be reviewed by the INSNA organizers (and not by the session organizers), who may also decide on the format of the paper presentation (as lectures of 20 minutes or posters of 60 minutes). In any case, since we would like to coordinate the Twitter networks session, potential contributors in this session are free to contact us before the end of November 2009, as the deadline for submission of abstracts of contributed papers is December 1, 2009 now January 15, 2010. Nonetheless, the abstract submission should be done by the contributors themselves who should complete the Submission Form here. Since the name of the session “Twitter networks” is not listed in the Session field of this Form, applicants should insert it in the “New Session” field.

Session initiators:
Ines Mergel, Maxwell School at Syracuse University, NY
Moses Boudourides, Department of Mathematics, University of Patras, Greece
Lothar Krempel, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Germany
Marc Smith, Connected Action Consulting, Belmont, CA

Harvard conference on Political Science Networks (call for papers)

Conferences, Harvard University, network ties, networking, online networking, Political Science, Program on Networked Governance, Public Management

For the Harvard conference on Political Science Networks, June 13-14, 2008, I am organizing a Public Management and Networks panel. The conference is organized by David Lazer, Program on Networked Governance at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard U.

Here is the full call for papers:

The study of networks has exploded over the last decade, both in the social and hard sciences. From sociology to biology, there has been a paradigm shift from a focus on the units of the system to the relationships among those units. Despite a tradition incorporating network ideas dating back at least 70 years, political science has been largely left out of this recent creative surge. This has begun to change, as witnessed, for example, by an exponential increase in network-related research presented at the major disciplinary conferences.

We therefore announce an open call for paper proposals for presentation at a conference on “Networks in Political Science” (NIPS), aimed at _all_ of the subdisciplines of political science. NIPS is supported by the National Science Foundation, and sponsored by the Program on Networked Governance at Harvard University.

The conference will take place June 13-14. Preceding the conference will be a series of workshops introducing existing substantive areas of research, statistical methods (and software packages) for dealing with the distinctive dependencies of network data, and network visualization. There will be a $50 conference fee. Limited funding will be available to defray the costs of attendance for doctoral students and recent (post 2005) PhDs. Funding may be available for graduate students not presenting papers, but preference will be given to students using network analysis in their dissertations. Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply.

The deadline for submitting a paper proposal is March 1, 2008. Proposals should include a title and a one-paragraph abstract. Graduate students and recent Ph.D.’s applying for funding should also include their CV, a letter of support from their advisor, and a brief statement about their intended use of network analysis. Send them to The final program will be available at
Program Committee: Christopher Ansell (UCBerkeley), James Fowler (UCSD), Michael Heaney (Florida), David Lazer (Harvard), Scott McClurg (Southern Illinois), John Padgett (Chicago), John Scholz (Florida State), Sarah Reckhow (UCBerkeley), Paul Thurner (Mannheim), and Michael Ward (University of Washington).

Book chapter: Sustainability of Online Ties

ASNA, Conferences, Good reads!

Thomas and I have published a revised version of our Online Sustainability conference paper in the official proceedings of the ASNA 2006 conference book. You can download the chapter here. More information about the book is available on

The full reference is:

Mergel, I./Langenberg, T. (2007): Sustainability of online ties, in: Friemel, T. (Ed.): Applications of Social Network Analysis, UVK Universitaetsverlag Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany, pp. 51-71.

Full table of content:

Applications of Social Network Analysis (Introduction)
Thomas N. Friemel

When Exactly do Social Relations Become a Resource?
Marina Hennig

The Friendship and Study Networks of Public Administration Students
Tevfik Erdem and Nail Öztaş

Sustainability of Online Ties
Ines A. Mergel and Thomas Langenberg

Using Social Network Analysis to Study Actor / Information System Relationships – Exploratory Research
Nicholas L. J. Silburn

The Influence of Actors’ Coalition on Policy Choice: The Case of
the Swiss Climate Policy
Karin Ingold

Network Centrality and International Conflict, 1816-2001:
Does it Pay to Be Important?
Zeev Maoz, Lesley Terris, Ranan D. Kuperman and Ilan Talmud

Topology and Vulnerability of the London Underground System
Ferenc Jordán

How do networkers network? New Working Paper

Conferences, Harvard University, Homophily, INSNA, MDS, Metrics, network ties, networking, Program on Networked Governance, research papers, Social Network Analysis, Social Networks, Working Paper

Together with Timothy Huerta, Texas Tech University, and Jennifer van Stelle, Stanford University, I have written a paper on “How do networkers network?”. We conducted a study of participants at the annual conference of INSNA (International Network of Social Network Analysts) to understand how young researchers are introduced into the community of senior researchers. The paper is work in progress at the moment and we would like to hear your comments, especially on our methodology.

You can find the paper in our working paper series (Working Paper # PNG07-005) and an abstract here:

This study was conceived during the 2005 INSNA conference by attendees who were interested in the evolving patterns of relationships among social network academics and consultants, and in how junior researchers were being integrated into the existing community. The study was also intended as a session- and space-planning aid for the 2006 conference organizers. Specifically, this paper describes a study of networking among social network professionals who attended the 2005 INSNA (International Network for Social Network Analysis) “Sunbelt” Conference. The attendees were asked to respond to two rounds of surveys regarding their experiences. We obtained data on existing and new ties in the first round of the survey, and tracked the maintenance or decay of those ties in the second round (approximately nine months later). We employ homophily arguments as well as theories of status and career/life cycle to determine what factors led to the establishment of ties from interactions at the conference. We consider the content of the new ties in addition to the above-mentioned theories to understand why such ties decayed or were maintained in the post-conference period. As well as applying the results of this study to the understanding of social network dynamics, we hope our findings will further the integration of new members into the existing community and enhance the session-scheduling and space-utilization aspects of conference planning.

Guidelines to review/discuss papers

Conferences, discussant, research papers, review

I am pulling together different ideas on how to give helpful feedback as a discussant or reviewer of other people’s work and am starting a list here. Helpful comments are more than welcome and will be added to the list! 

  1. Simon Fraser University, Center for Canadian Studies

Role of the DiscussantThe discussant should state the key point or thesis of each paper, mention the major points, reasons, innovation, or evidence that support the overall argument and assess the papers in terms of the major theme of the conference. Further, to stay within the spirit of this multidisciplinary colloquium the discussant should prepare questions that stimulate fair, open, and inclusive discussion.    

Guidelines for presentations and discussants from Grenoble University: 



Guidelines for presentations

 Chair / Discussant guidelines– Arrive at the session room at the latest five minutes prior to the scheduled starting time and introduce yourself to the presenters.- A room attendant has been appointed to every session room. It is this person’s responsibility to take care of the audiovisual equipment and to assist you and the presenters at any time. This room attendant will introduce himself/herself to you at the start.- Inform presenters of the maximum of time they can use for their paper presentation. This time has been fixed to 15mins and includes a 5 minute question time. A 15min discussion slot has been allocated at the end of every session (these typically include 5 papers) . Introduce the orange and red card system to them (see below).- In introducing the session – please be brief – tell the audience how many papers will be presented, how long each presentation will be and when there will be time for questions.- For each paper, introduce the author and the title of the paper.- In order to facilitate time management of the presentations, a set of orange and red cards will be at your disposal. Show the orange card to the presenter when 5 minutes presentation time is left. Show the red card when time is over.- In managing the question-and-answer-time, please ask questioners to identify themselves and to keep their comments as short as possible to allow the presenters to respond in full.- Please ensure the session to finish in time. Sessions that overrun will affect next sessions.- In case you are presenting a paper yourself during the session you are chairing, we strongly recommend that this be done at the end of the session, even if this means altering the formal programme slightly. The efficient management of the session will benefit from it. When presenting your paper ask one of the other presenters to manage your time using the cards.


APPAM discussant guidelines from the APPAM website:

Guidelines for Discussants APPAM also sends a detailed letter to all session discussants by early September of each year. This letter informs the discussants of their responsibilities, and also provides them with basic information about their sessions.  It reminds them of time limits, and adds these further points:  Discussants are encouraged to make integrative comments rather than paper-by-paper critiques.  In many cases, very specific or detailed critics can be shared with paper authors outside of the session. 

  • Discussants should, if possible, contribute to the policy focus of the session.  
  • In general, discussant remarks about each paper should deal with the major issues that enhance or undermine the paper’ contributions, reserving minor issues for direct communication with the authors. 
  • Discussants are encouraged to help shape the audience participation in the session by identifying key points worthy of further analysis and discussion. 


From ASNA 2006 conference organizers:

  • Is the theoretical background coherent (and state of the art?)
  • Is there a clear research question?
  • Is the empirical “transformation” adequate?
  • Is there a red line in the paper / logical structure?
  • Is the language comprehensible?

 From Maria:

  1. pointing out its strengths and its contribution to the panel/literature/field
  2. constructively addressing its weaknesses
  3. providing suggestions for improvement along those lines.If you have to discuss several papers, an obvious addition to the above would be to compare the papers.

Making Sense of Social Networks

Conferences, Human-Computer Interaction Lab, Social Networks, Social Software

I just heard about this recent symposium on “Helping Users Make Sense of Social Networks” organized by Ben Schneiderman and Adam Perer from the University of Maryland, MD as part of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab’s Annual Symposium. They provide ppts/pdfs of the presentations on their website – very helpful!