Wednesday 8 February 2012

Helping an academic create a more coherent online presence

Written for academic researchers interested in improving their online presence.

Late last year, Laura Czerniewicz worked with Kelsey Wiens and I to review and improve Laura's online presence. This process involved three phases:
  1. First, we audited her current online presences;
  2. Second, we defined what she would like achieved;
  3. Third, we actioned the most important aspects of this by developing her online presence guidelines and implementing a plan for each presence.
1 Audit of her current presence.
Searching for Laura online using the most common search engines (Google, Bing. et al.) showed her Twitter account, old UCT blog and a profile on CET's website. It also revealed that a few of her presentations had been uploaded to Slideshare by other people and an index of her research articles had been automatically generated on This followed her publishing a profile there (and "forgetting about it, while it developed a life of its own" as she says). The latter was an example of a digital shadow; where an index of articles she had submitted to diverse journals over several years was dynamically created by an online service after her initial contribution.

@Czernie on (11 January, 2012)

2 Defining what she would like achieved.
The results of this audit were then combined with ideas on opportunities she could action to improve her digital identity's footprint (which she can pro-actively manage versus a digital shadow that is often a passive reflection of activities) in her online presence plan (generic version).

The most important aim Laura emphasised was that "coherence" should be achieved between her varied professional online presences. To achieve coherence, we developed a set of guidelines for her online identity. This covered; her name, personal and profile descriptions, tagline and the researcher keywords she would try to consistently use for her identity across all her presences.

Another important aim was improve the online visibility of her scholarly output. To support this, she committed to having an active online presence in the following areas; creating and publishing her academic profile and CV, blogging regularly, uploading showcase presentations, publishing micro-updates, sharing social bookmarks and submitting her blog's details to online directories and blog aggregators:

Academic profile and CV presence
We had a in-depth discussion about the extent to which her professional identity should include a personal dimension. While I felt that she should include a personal hobby, she believes her online identity should be purely professional. Although we limited her presences to her academic and professional side, I still think that this is a pity; it limits the opportunity of her profile's viewers to understand her passion for craft and design and potentially discuss this with her...

Laura was very busy; even though she was very committed, she struggled to find time to fit this new project between her existing activities. An example of this was when I wrote the first draft of her identity's profile; Laura was very insistent that she should own her profile and re-wrote it. As a rule, I learnt that this is one task a post-graduate student should not be handed! Another challenge posed by Laura's time scarcity is that indexed, but did not provide access to original documents. I'm hoping that Laura can find the time to upload these herself, despite it not currently being a high priority.

Blogging presence
The old blogging software Laura used was "clunky and irritating". We decided to change to Wordpress, which was not only user-friendly but could also easily integrate content from her other online accounts.
I then helped her move her old UCT blog to, which had to be hosted off-campus as UCT ICTS did not offer Wordpress hosting in 2011.

Presentation presence
Slideshare is a popular service for academics, and others, to share presentations. Laura had created an account long ago, but had forgotten her username since she had not been using it regularly. She was also concerned that previous uploads of her presentations were poorly tagged and hard to search for. To help, her account's profile was improved and she uploaded recent presentations to it. She was pleasantly suprised when a presentation on Academic Visibility reached over 6,000 views, following it being featured on Slideshare's homepage!

Stats for this presentation on (8 February, 2012)

Microblogging presence
For microblogging, Laura enjoys using Twitter and only tweets in her professional capacity. We had an interesting discussion on the extent of Laura's tweets and Kelsey suggested that a small percentage of these might feature personal interests. Laura has yet to be sold on the idea, however.

Social bookmarking presence
Laura started using Delicious at a time when it had huge news coverage because of the ownership change. She took the initiative to link her Twitter account to Delicious, which now automatically saves interesting URLs directly from her Twitter account.

Online directories and blog aggregation presence
Laura's blog was submitted to the Open Directory Project to improve its visibility. A blog aggregator, Amatomu, is next on Laura's list.

Other negotiations and considerations
Across all these services, the personal and professional line in social media was debated. While Laura is insistent that there is a clear line between the two (i.e. LinkedIn is for professional use, Facebook is personal), there are other UCT academics who use them (especially Facebook) as a joint space. It will be interesting to see whether Laura's views change...

The list of services above is a shortlist from what was considered and it was important for us to negotiate around the "lots that you can do" versus what is feasible. In particular, we defined the minimum that Laura was prepared to do for achieving her objectives.

As a busy academic, Laura also has a low tolerance for technical failure. In choosing services, we had to make sure they were easy-to-use and dependable; Laura would not spend time troubleshooting. Having clearly defined the low hanging fruit and most appropriate online services for Laura to use, we finished defining her online presence plan: each online publication she wanted was listed and a list of tasks and deadlines was defined for each.

3 Actioning an "online presence plan".
Laura, Kelsey and I then worked at creating a coherent identity across Laura's online presences that showcases her academic work outside traditional channels (like academic journals). At the end we used this experience to turn her personal plan into a generic one, which we hope other academics will refer to... and, most importantly, apply!

Please give us your thoughts in the comment box below, thanks :).

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