Social media habits and routines

By Tyler Shores

Over the past few weeks Mark Carrigan and I have been running a series of sessions on social media for academics at the Faculty of Education. One of the purposes of this series has been to try and develop a shared conversation amongst those in the Faculty who are interested in such topics: why to use social media in the first place; how to get the most out of social media; what social media practices mean for us as academics; and other related issues.

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Mark did an excellent post in advance of our May 1st session, talking about how he integrates his social media use into his everyday practices — using social media for teaching, for writing, and for thinking.

I started thinking along related lines, in terms of what our social media use means to us on a day to day basis. For example, the average adult is spending around two and a half hours to almost three hours on social media per day by some estimates. Those figures really don’t feel terribly surprising. That is a lot of time on social media, either in dedicated blocks of time or interstitial moments that we manage to fill in between other tasks and our other non-social media things. One point that I took away from our session as well as the lively discussion was that it could be quite helpful to think more about our everyday routines; in this case, are our social media habits working for us? If not, why not?

As busy academics, many of us also worry about how much of a time suck social media can be on our seemingly already quite overburdened lives. For me, I find myself occasionally prone to bad (or perhaps more accurately, less helpful) social media habits and then become very mindful about wanting to fix them. Habits and routines are incredibly useful for our daily productive. Except of course, when they aren’t.

Not to mention social media apps are very, very good at making us want to use them and creating those kinds of habit loops:

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Essentially, this formula breaks down to something like the following:

1) Cue = I am bored,

2) Routine = check Twitter, check Facebook, check email, repeat

3) Reward = sense of connection, sense of accomplishment getting rid of those notifications, positive reinforcement of getting likes!

There are a few quite useful apps that can help give you a distractions audit. A quicker and easier (but more approximate) way to get a more objective account on the most time-consuming apps is a quick check of the battery usage breakdown for iOS or for AndroidFor instance, I found myself checking social media out of sheer boredom more often than I would have liked (note: it was a lot). Therefore, I started to think about the kind of routine this was and what it meant for my day to day routine.

It’s not always easy to change those kinds of habits and routines that become so automatic. But I’ve found that taking even one initial moment to think about what and how you engage with social media can make a helpful difference. For me, time posting and engaging with others on social media felt purposeful, so I mentally have categories of social media use in mind whenever I pick up my phone:

  • Posting and engaging on both personal and professional accounts
  • Checking for news and/or information
  • When I’m bored and want to be distracted

I’m not anti-distraction by any means. I don’t even think it’s that realistic to try and do away with boredom and taking distraction breaks completely, but even the simple act of being aware of your different purposes is something I’ve found to be surprisingly liberating.

If you’d like to check out some of the things we touched upon, you can find a collection of links here.

How to be a blogger without having your own blog

By Mark Carrigan

It’s a common assumption that ‘bloggers’ and ‘blogs’ are unavoidably intertwined. There’s a sense in which it’s true but it can also be slightly misleading. It’s possible to be a blogger without having your own blog. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to doing this. Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson from the LSE PPG summarised this issue helpfully a couple of years ago and everything they said is just as true now:

According to some good estimates, perhaps 80 per cent or more of the single-author blogs on the web are currently inactive, or are ‘desert blogs’ that very rarely updated. And this is because people start them with high hopes, in determinedly individualistic mode, but find that hard to sustain after a while. Coming up with fresh content, day after day or week after week, is hard work for any academic, especially in the current climate where there are so many other demands on people’s time. But if you don’t post regularly, in a rhythm that is clear to readers so they know when to come back, then it can be hard to keep things going.

We don’t think single-author blogs are a sustainable or genuinely useful model for most academics – although all praise to the still many exceptional academics who can manage to keep up the continuous effort involved. By joining together and forming multi-author blogs, academics can mutually reinforce each other’s contributions.

It’s difficult to build an audience for a personal blog. Many people manage it but, if and when they do, it tends to reflect a sustained commitment to blogging on their part. It can be quite dispiriting to recurrently throw your polished thoughts out into the wilds of the internet only to find they receive little to no attention. While twitter has changed this dynamic slightly, it has only done so in a limited way. While it may have made it easier to provide an audience for your blog, it has also led to an entirely different set of pressures, leaving two rather than one platforms to engage with in a sustained way.

These dynamics of audience building often militate against the upkeep of blogs, as Patrick and Chris point out. In one sense I disagree that this means personal blogs should only be for a committed few: this claim overlooks the overlap between blogging platforms and content management systems. So it might be useful for someone to setup a wordpress blog as an alternative to using something like or an ePortfolio i.e. producing a static website of a form that is extremely familiar within higher education. However this isn’t really a ‘blog’ per se so in another, more meaningful sense, I entirely agree with the claim above.

The obvious worry that stems from this is that people who want to write online immediately setup personal blogs, rapidly lose interest and their contribution to the blogosphere is then lost. So if you’re someone who wants to write online but isn’t interested in committing to sustaining a blog on an ongoing basis, these are some alternatives which might be of interest to you:

  1. Does your department have a blog? Does your university offer opportunities to write online?
  2. Discover Society is an online magazine publishing commentary by sociologists and social policy academics. Potential articles can be discussed in advance with the editors. Guidance for contributors is provided here.
  3. There’s a number of LSE blogs which accept contributions: LSE Impact BlogLSE British Politics & PolicyLSE EUROPPLSE USAPP and the LSE Review of Books. All these links go to instructions for contributors, apart from the LSE Review of Books which has a slightly different process.
  4. The Conversation is a great initiative which is expanding internationally. Much like the LSE blogs, articles are edited by professional editors. Unlike the LSE blogs, these editors are journalists. I think there are strengths and weaknesses stemming from this which you can see if you compare the two sites. I think the Conversation articles can sometimes be a little sterile, as if the communicative impulse has been edited out of them. On the other hand, the grammar and syntax is impeccable. You can find information about becoming an author here.
  5. Open Democracy is a “digital commons not a magazine” that has been around for a long time (though personally I can’t see the difference between a ‘digital commons’ and a large, sprawling and well established online magazine). You can propose articles here.
  6. Medium and other new generation blogging platforms work in a rather different way. I’ve written about this here recently. If none of the ideas listed above take your fancy then it’s worth considering the use of Medium.

Unless you’re blogging on at least a weekly basis, it’ll be difficult to build an audience. There are exceptions to this (e.g. Deborah Lupton’s blog) but, unless you’re already well established, it’s unlikely that an audience will consolidate around your blog. People might read articles, particularly if you make the effort to disseminate them in the networks available to you, but it’s unlikely that they’ll get into the habit of reading it i.e. choosing to check your site or subscribing to an RSS feed because they have an expectation there will be new material for them to read.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with blogging in the absence of an audience. I did it for years because I fundamentally enjoy blogging. This is rather my point: if you think a personal blog is something you’ll enjoy then I couldn’t be more enthusiastic in my support of it as a practice. But you should do so in awareness of the practicalities involved in using a blog for purposes over and above this. If you’re more interested in using a blog for impact or public engagement then you are in blogging as a form of self-expression, it’s unlikely to be worth your while to pursue a personal blog. In which case, any item from the by no means exhaustive list above would likely be more useful.

One final thought is that these different platforms can be combined. So for instance you could archive all your guest blogs on a personal blog. Or you can republish articles you’ve written for one site on your departmental blog. The key thing is to ask. Many sites are covered by a Creative Commons license anyway but editors will still appreciate it if you ask permission before reduplicating a post. My standard practice is to get put a ‘Originally posted at X’ link but there are different ways of doing this.

Blogging during your PhD

By Mark Carrigan

It can be easy to frame writing online as a distraction from the ‘real work’ of your PhD. Why would you spend time blogging when there are so many other things for you to do? The many arguments people tend to make in this respect are ones about your career. Blogging can extend your professional network, increase your visibility, develop a reputation within your field and help you engage with audiences outside the academy. Furthermore, it can help you do these things much earlier in your career than would otherwise be possible, even before you have finished your PhD or produced any other publications.

What is less frequently recognised is how blogging can help you become a better writer. By offering many more occasions for writing, it gives you extensive practice of writing for an audience. It gives you opportunities for feedback with much greater regularity. It helps keep you connected to your impulse to write when you have something to say, so easily lost in writing projects as complex as journal articles, book chapters or doctoral theses. It helps you develop a routine of writing regularly, for real audiences which ensure you put care into elaborating your thought, without the often inhibiting quality of writing for academic publication.

The key question you have to address if you want to get started is whether you want to start an individual blog or would prefer to guest blog. It is time consuming to build an audience for your own blog, requiring you to provide regular updates and work to promote it through other social media. Popular platforms are WordPress, Blogger, Medium and Tumblr. Key considerations include telling people about your blog, linking it to other social media, facilitating e-mail updates, tagging/categorising your content and using memorable titles with keywords.

If you mainly want a research notebook which you can share reflections on your work, as much for your own benefit as for others, the challenge of building an audience might not be a problem. But if you’re trying to build an audience then it might be easier to try and blog for other sites, with established audiences which ensure readers for your blog post. Here’s a list of academic blogs and online magazines which invite contributions by academics. Each link takes you to the submission page for the publication in question, providing full details about how to submit:

There are also opportunities within the Faculty of Education. For instance the CPGJ blog (i.e. this one!) and the FERSA blog. Take some time to read these sites in order to get a sense of what they publish, what their motivations are and whether your work would be relevant to them. The next step is to send the editors of a site a short pitch. Here are some things to consider:

  • What topic would you like to write about? Is this something the blog will be interested in?
  • What expertise do you bring to the issue? Are you informed by your research approach and/or your findings?
  • How is your perspective shaped by your research? How will you convey this in the piece?
  • Who is the intended audience for the piece? Is the blog you’ve chosen right for this audience?
  • How much detail about your research will you include? Is it feasible to include research data?
  • Will your blog post be tied to a particular publication? How do you give it additional value if so?

If your pitch is accepted then the editor will work with you to develop your piece. They have experience of what works online and can be useful sources of insight as you plan future writing projects. It might be that follow up articles occur to you in the process of writing your first. It might be that you write on different topics. It might be that you write once, enjoy the experience but decide it doesn’t work for you. It’s important to respect the editor’s time but feel free to ask them advice, as you find your feet in the online sphere. They’ll be used to questions like this.

If you have a few colleagues who share your interests, it is also worth considering starting your own group blog. For instance, I started Sociological Imagination in the second year of my part-time PhD and it was active for over seven years. The main things to consider if you are keen to do this is your themepolicy towards guest postsdivision of labour and expectations. Many of the same difficulties apply as starting your own blog but it is simply easier to build an audience when the work is split between a team.