Are Politics departments making the most of social media?on 26 June 2013
Since running an election blog during the 2010 General Election, the social media presence of the School of Politics and International Relations at Nottingham has grown. We now run a permanent blog, Ballots & Bullets, and have a Facebook and Twitter account. We've also recently turned our hand to podcasting with our Picturing Politics series. What's more, many of our academics are active on Twitter and run their own blogs. So we're more than sold on the benefits of social media. Ballots & Bullets offers a medium for our researchers to share their work in an accessible format, something which has seen them influence the public debate on important topics.
We were aware of a few other schools and departments and individual academics using Facebook, Twitter and blogs, but wondered how many were taking advantage of social media. So we decided to draw up a list of Politics department Twitter accounts and a list of Politics academics Twitter accounts. We then ranked them according to follower numbers.
Why focus on Twitter? After all, many departments are using Facebook and run their own blogs. The main reason was practicality. For this same reason we also limited the league table to UK based departments and we excluded research centres. What’s more, in our experience Twitter works very well for the dissemination of academic research. It is very open and accessible and so provides a medium for sharing blog posts with multiple audiences.
As our list of UK based Politics academics shows, there are a lot of academics using Twitter. Many on the list acknowledge in their Twitter bios that they are academics working at a particular institution, which suggest that those using it are at least partly using it for sharing their work and wider academic interests (even if they are also tweeting about football!). On the other hand, academics often say that they have a Facebook account, but that it is just for family and friends.
So, what does the league table tell us?
Department of War Studies
School of Politics and International Relations
Department of Government
Institute of Local Government
School of Politics
Department of Politics and International Studies
Department of Politics and International Studies
Department of Politics and International Relations
Department of International Relations
Top 10 Politics departments by followers on our league table. See the full league table on our blog.
Well, it tells us that the Politics departments using Twitter are still a minority. We found 37 Politics departments using Twitter (five universities are on the list more than once): but there are 81 Politics departments in the country (based on the Guardian League Table).
There may be good reasons why a department isn't using social media. Certainly, having a Twitter account that never gets updated is going to look worse than not having one at all. But all Politics departments should want to promote what they and their individual academics are doing. Traditionally this has been done through press releases and department websites, these media still have validity. Social media is not about completely scrapping the rule book. No one stopped using telephones because email was invented. But ask yourself this, how many department news pages do you look at? Why rule out social media, when it is another way of communicating what your department does and there are already millions of people using it?
Lack of resources might be an issue for some departments, but it seems that even investing a small amount of time in Twitter can see a good return on that investment. Just one tweet, seen by the right person at the right time can make all the difference.
There may also still be some resistance to social media. For instance, people worry about the negative impact social media can have, largely fuelled by big scare stories such as the recent hacking of the Association Press’s Twitter account, which led to a sudden crash in the stock market. It is doubtful that @NottsPolitics will be crashing the stock market anytime soon, and from our experience, there have been very few negatives. Even critical feedback – when handled quickly and in the right way – can be turned into a positive, since it shows that you are listening and willing to respond to people’s concerns.
As well as looking at follower numbers, we also looked at how long each department has been on Twitter to see if there is a correlation between the two. We found that there is, as you might expect, a fairly strong correlation.
However, as you can see from the graph there are a few outliers, such as @LSEGovernment and @warstudies, the Twitter account for the King’s Department of War Studies. This suggests that latecomers to social media are not necessarily at a disadvantage. It might also be interpreted as suggesting that a strong existing reputation is what counts when it comes to social media. That is not necessarily the case. There are exceptions, but on the whole follower numbers and length of time on Twitter correlate, regardless of reputation or league table rankings. What this shows, is that social media offers a fairly level playing field, from which to build up a strong reputation.
Our 2010 election blog won a Some Comms award for best ‘low budget campaign’, so it is not just about throwing lots of money behind a social media campaign either. Social media is about engaging, it is about putting yourself in the position of your reader and asking yourself, how do I convey this idea in a way that they will understand and which appeals to them? This is one of the most powerful reasons for using social media – it forces you to think outside the academic box.
Higher education is changing and social media is part of that change, but it is also a new way of fitting together what has always existed – research, articles, books – and linking it to what some people still like to call the ‘real world’. By compiling a Twitter league table of UK Politics departments, we hope that we can encourage other departments to start using social media and help further promote the study of politics.
Naomi Racz is the Social Media Officer for the School of Politics and International Relations at Nottingham.