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Selecting the right platform

Different social media can attract different audiences. Is there one that works best for your needs? We asked Academic Liaison Librarian Ned Potter.
The three bears scrutinise their porridge
© CC0 - Arthur Rackham

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of choice regarding social media platforms. You can’t possibly use all of them (unless that’s your job) and it’s much better to be active on one or two sites than to have sad, neglected profiles all over the internet which haven’t been updated since 2012. So how do you choose where to start, and where to go from there?

Community is everything

In most aspects of our lives when we choose a tool we focus on how good it is, and how much we like it. This is fair enough. With social media though, we first have to think about what we want to achieve: what is the tool for? And because social media is all about interaction, we have to think about the community. If the community you need is on Twitter, then you need to be on Twitter too, to meet your aims, even if you find Twitter’s character limit restrictive. Conversely, if you absolutely love the look and functionality of Pinterest, but the community you’re interested in doesn’t tend to go there, it’s probably going to be a waste of time being on it.

It’s not always simple, but the general principle is: go where your people are: people you want to learn from, people you like, people you want to converse with, people you want to reach out to and engage with, people who might help you and inspire you, people outside your usual circles who can expand your horizons.

All that said, don’t feel like you have to go anywhere. We all have to choose what we’re comfortable with.

Searching and testing

Where a platform has an open search facility, I’d recommend searching for keywords that relate closely to your interests. See what people are saying. If there are people talking sense, it may be worth setting up a profile and joining in. If no one is talking about your preferred topics, it may not be worth investing any time there.

Sometimes searching isn’t enough and you need to try a platform out to get a sense of the community. It’s extremely rare (and increasingly unlikely) that the entire community on a platform will be relevant and interesting to you, so you’re trying to identify that part of it which suits your needs and preferences. In my profession, the majority of interesting conversations happen on Twitter; that’s where I am, because my community is there – even though 99.9% of the Twitter community as a whole is of no interest to me at all. That 0.1% is enough to make it extremely valuable. To find out if a useful 0.1% exists for you on a certain site, it may be worth setting up a profile and listening in for a couple of weeks, then starting to contribute. If it seems like your community is there, put more time into it. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to delete your profile and move on.

Personal versus professional

Social media can be used both professionally and personally, or both. In many cases, social media works best when it’s not exclusively either one of those, but a balance, perhaps slightly in favour of professional. If you’re purely personal then it’s hard to see how social media is going to help you with career opportunities. You may also be putting yourself at risk by putting too many personal details out there in public for anyone to find. But if you’re purely professional, this can often lead to a dry profile with people not really getting to know you, so your network doesn’t build and you end up with fewer career opportunities that way too. For these reasons, often a balance works well. You can adjust that balance over time until you have it right. As long as you think about what you want to achieve, you can use it in whatever way works best.

Remember, social media is all about community. It may be that in a way you don’t have to choose the ‘right’ tool or the ‘right’ tone, because your community will already have chosen it for you.

© University of York (author: Ned Potter)
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