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Can writers be social online?

Social media or social web? I posed that question last year in a guest blog for the British site, Discover Society. Given recent scandals involving hacking and profile misuse on commercial social media sites, I’d like to revisit this question as it pertains to academic and textbook authors. To what extent should we post original writings on social media sites?

First, let’s distinguish between social media and social webSocial media can be defined as: “commercially-owned online platforms or applications that allow for interactions between users who can create, archive and retrieve user-generated content. Social media allows users to define and create groups, lists or circles of friends or followers who have access to content and can participate in dialogue” (Salmons, 2014).

I use the term social web to describe a broader universe of digital places where we communicate and exchange ideas including blogs, wikis, 1-1 email or group newsletters, or collaborative document tools and shared folders. Social web spaces can be enabled by commercial services or applications, just as writing electronically is enabled by word processing software. However, as defined here, social web applications or services do not monitor or use algorithms to promote content, place ads on users’ pages, or conduct surveillance on content creators or visitors. By these definitions, interactions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest occur on social media sites. Comments to a blog, a members-only shared folder for a collaborative team, or a discussion with other members in the TAA community are examples of activities on the social web.

As writers, many of us have used social media to share emerging ideas or work in progress, to disseminate calls for chapters, or to promote webinars, newly-published articles or books. We have used social media to connect with others of like mind who might provide friendship and support through work that is often quite solitary. We created pages or groups—often on multiple platforms– to reach different audiences. But, with greater awareness of the risks to our privacy and intellectual property, do we want to continue these practices or make some changes to the ways we operate online?

Tufekci observed that when social media platforms emerged in the mid-2000s the “networked public sphere–the burgeoning civic space online that had been developed mostly through blogs–expanded greatly, but with a simultaneous shift to commercial spaces.” These commercial spaces allowed us to simply post information and promote it to friends and friends of friends who were already visiting the site. Many moved away from the blogosphere, but perhaps now is a good time to revisit blogs and other options.

What Does It Take to Network and Promote Our Writing Online?

While it is easy to create pages on social media sites, formats, length of post, number and placement of images, and other restrictions are in place. On the social web we have freedom and control. We can choose from a number of free or paid blog or website platforms where we can devise designs or adopt available templates. We can choose the style of presentation, from very basic narrative posts to complex sites that include media, static pages and time-sensitive blog posts.

When we venture away from highly-promoted commercial social media sites, we have to be more intentional about building community and attracting visitors. We might need to band together and collaborate with others to build a stronger collective presence. Multi-author or group blogs are an option.  For example, Abstractis a multi-author blog for and by TAA members.

Ideas in Practice

Let’s look at a writer’s blog from TAA member, Dr. Helen Kara. Helen writes textbooks, student guides, professional books, and articles. Her blog’s clean design focuses the visitor’s attention on the narrative content. No advertising is shown on Helen’s blog—so there are no blinking images, pop-ups, auto-play media bits or other distractions. She promotes her books in a way that is anything but pushy. From my view, this approach makes me more interested in reading a book-length work than might be the case with a site overtly focused on sales. She conveys a welcome sense that this site focused on intellectual reflection and exploration.

Helen’s hybrid social media/social web approach uses social media’s promotional features to draw attention to blog content. Her social media posts are often shared and re-Tweeted, expanding blog readership. To her surprise, a simple reading list about indigenous research became her most popular post ever. Social media attention translated into republication on the widely-read London School of Economic Impact Blog. A guest contribution is currently featured; Helen traded posts with another writer. This is another way that authors can use the social web to build readership and to engage with colleagues.

When I asked about her blog strategy, Helen said:

“I write my blog for my own benefit and to help others. It’s a place to store information, thoughts, and parts of works in progress. It is also a place where I write for others – and sometimes these purposes overlap. The only real disadvantage is the time it takes, but on the other hand, the discipline of producing a good quality post each week is helpful writing practice.”

This last point is critical for writers, since ongoing practice is essential. Writing for a DIY blog like Helen’s, or a multi-author blog like Abstract, gives us a chance to keep improving our craft.

Questions for Researchers and Writers to Explore

If future social media users decide they want more freedom and flexibility, as well as more control over intellectual property, undoubtedly, new forms will emerge beyond the ones we know today.  What will the social web look like? How will you participate?

Read more! Find related open access articles about social media and blogging in academic life on SAGE Methodspace.


Salmons, J. (2014). Online research ethics: Questions researchers ask, answers guidelines provide. In K. Woodfield (Ed.), Social media in social research: Blogs on blurring the boundaries. London: NatCen Social Research.

Janet SalmonsJanet Salmons is an independent scholar and writer through Vision2Lead. She is the Methods Guru for SAGE Publications blog community, Methodspace, and the author of six textbooks. Current books are the forthcoming Learning to Collaborate, Collaborating to Learn from Stylus, and Doing Qualitative Research Online (2016) from SAGE.