Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd, the director of Social Media Lab, monitors how scholars are using social media tools. (Photo: Jonathan Briggins)

Social media helping scholars connect

Dalhousie lab researches scholar social media use

The Social Media Lab at Dalhousie University wants to know how scholars and academics use online social media tools.

Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd, Director of the Social Media Lab, says this is the first study of its kind that focuses in on the way academics interact online using social media tools such as blogs as well as Facebook and Twitter. He says there is a lack of studies using proper research teqniques looking at social media trends. The lab will release their results of their research on November 14th.

"I saw the gap that nobody actually, in Canada, really focusing and looking at how social media is changing the way the public, people in general communicate, share information, and connect," Dr. Gruzd said in an interview Tuesday. 

Twitter Monitoring

One of the ways Social Media Lab is monitoring the use of social media by academics is through a website they developed called Academia Map. The global map shows where members of the American Society for Information Science and Technology are tweeting from and how members are interacting with each other. The points on the map increase in size depending on how often they post messages. This gives researchers a way to visualize how information is spreading.

Survey

Through this survey, they looked at 367 scholars including Ph.D students, post doctoral students, professors and administration from academic associations. They found the top reason for scholars using online social media tools is because of their quick and easy access to information. 

The study also found that academics prefer to read and comment on blog posts rather than running their own. Dr. Gruzd says that a number of people interviewed were afraid of saying something on a blog that could come back to haunt them academically and professionally down the road. Dr. Gruzd says that academics are less likely to maintain their own blog because of how time consuming and updating a blog can be.

Marina Adshade is an economics assistant professor at Dal currently on sabbatical working on a book based on her blog Dollars and Sex. She connects with people through her blog, monitoring comments, tweets, and Facebook likes. The blog originally started off as an extra resource for students but the focus changed to a wider audience after the her blog was picked up by the blog Big Think. Adshade says that a blog can be like an extremely needy child. It has to be updated constantly and comments need to be moderated.

Adshade believes that you need to have a thick skin to blog. “There are people who live to strip down academic writers online, particularly female writers. What this means is that no matter how loved your blog is, you will get nasty comments and emails from people who see you as someone to be ridiculed.”

New opportunities

Dr. Gruzd says scholars may not be doing a good enough job promoting research and explaining it to the public. “I see social media as opportunity for us as scholars and academics to reach the public and other sectors.” 

Dr. Gruzd and those behind the Social Media Lab believe that blogs and microblogs are becoming more accepted as trustworthy ways to gather and spread scholarly information. 

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