Personally, I am torn about the importance social media should play in your professional life. I am not torn, however, about the role of social media in our personal life. There is absolutely no place for social media in a Busy Professor‘s personal life. The tiny bit of good out there, like seeing updated pictures of your grandchildren, is far overshadowed by the negative aurora consuming social media. Scholarly work by Martin Seligman and others shows that people feel depressed after looking at social media either because they see happy people who seem happier than they themselves are or they see unhappy people and unnecessarily feel empathy for them. The rapidly growing research base on happiness is rather clear. Happiness comes from ongoing relationships, extended engagement in projects, and meaningful purpose that comes from serving causes bigger than ourselves—and absolutely none of this happens in the cesspool of social media.
Professionally, there are perhaps some benefits to being on social media, mostly in the realm of self-promotion. We haven’t talked about self-promotion much here because academics generally shun self-promotion, even though academics seem to engage in the practice frequently. There is a mythical illusion that academia is a meritocracy, and that the people doing the best work should automatically rise to the top of notoriety. The pathway that this false narrative recommends is for professors to downplay, or even loudly mention, one’s professional successes. This make-believe storyline is complete baloney as nothing could be farther from the truth. Busy Professors strive to do good work, and they do not hide that good work from their colleagues, even though jealousy is certainly to arise in the most surprising of corners. Social media is one way that Busy Professors should distribute the results of their work, because you won’t be invited to give conference lectures or be nominated for academic awards if people do not know of your work and having at least some online presence is required these days for this to occur.
So how does a Busy Professor utilize social media to self-promote one’s good works, without getting sucked into the vortex of the worst of social media? If you are self-disciplined, one solution is to post and schedule future posts without actually reading anyone else’s social media posts. If you are still building up your self-discipline, then the best solution is to quickly search the Internet for “simultaneous posting to social media at once” and you will be presented with a number of web-based programs that will simultaneously post or post items as scheduled for you. For example, I work with a team that distributes a quarterly email newsletter of upcoming events and opportunities for academics. My task on the team is to take those newsletter items and be sure that one gets inserted into the social media stream each week, so that people visiting the group’s Facebook page sees what looks like an active online presence. It takes about 30-minutes to set up three the next three months of scheduled postings and our group is able to be seemingly present in social media, without any one of us personally getting sucked into that inescapable social media black hole. The same goes for blogging where academics can temporarily post their budding academic ideas and get interactive feedback faster than from a traditional journal, which only works if blogging is a temporary tool to advance one’s intellectual thinking. Blogging is never the core focus activity of Busy Professors’ and certainly never the end-product.
This approach of scheduling automated social media posting has the additional benefit of keeping Busy Professors out of the rapid response mistake. Far too many of my busy professor colleagues who are too busy reading and posting and reading and replying and reading and posting again to publish anything because they have become inflamed about an issue of the moment, brought to their attention by the tsunami or the 24-hour news cycle news-alerts. Remember that no matter how eloquent a social media response is, no one ever has their political mind fundamentally changed because of what they read posted on social media. Social media is specially designed to be a den of confirmation bias that serves only to construct easily identifiable, large-scale commercial demographic markets. Because they know this, Busy Professors keep their focus on the production of archival level scholarship instead of engaging in quickly evaporating 240-character social media spars or buried, rarely read, blog posts.