Where to Begin?

Developing a Digital Strategy

By Lisa M. Rhody, Jan 2018

So here you are, thinking about building (or maybe you’ve started and want to revise) a digital professional presence, but like any other project you start, building a digital scholarly identity works best when it has authenticity and purpose. In other words, it should reflect who you are and the work you do, a well as serve a purpose that both contributes to your own work and gives back to your scholarly community. That’s a tall order, and not something that happens magically overnight or stays the same throughout your career.

The following activity is designed to help you:

  • Consider your own academic / scholarly / professional self, including where you are now and where you want to go;
  • Reflect on what you want and need to get out of your use of social media and online spaces;
  • Assemble an inventory of your resources (time, energy, talents, strengths, etc);
  • And begin to draft your own digital strategy.

Know thyself… Personal inventory

Where am I in my academic/professional lifecycle?

Most research or academic work–even administrative work–is cyclical. There’s a time when we spend more time doing research or reading than we do writing, or when we’re doing editing and revision with ideas that are more informed, but need polish. There’s a time when those ideas have already found their ways to audiences, but need to diversify. Consider where you are in your academic / research / and professional life-cycle. What are you spending most of your time doing? Here are some prompts to help you get started. Are you:

  • An established scholar with existing research communities, collaborators, and peers?
  • Transitioning from one project to the next thing?
  • In the middle of an ongoing project?
  • Starting out as a graduate student in a new field?

What do I need right now?

What you need is likely related to where you are spending your time. We all go through cycles in our work: times when we are really developing a project but may not be ready to share it publicly yet, or times when we’re ready to share and disseminate our ideas widely. Take a minute to consider where you are in your work and what you need in order to grow.

Where am I now?

  • Moving on to a dissertation?
  • Sending article / manuscript to presses?
  • Going on the job market?
  • Looking for the next thing?
  • Going up for promotion?
  • Teaching a new course?

What do I need? Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Expand my existing community to find work in other/similar disciplines, communicate my work to a wider audience, receive feedback outside of my echo chamber?
  • To find new work in related areas, receive feedback on ongoing work, connect with scholars working in similar or allied fields, build a platform of scholarship.
  • Meet people in the discipline I want to join. Learn about the work currently being done in my field, learn about CFPs, and be invited to participate in others’ work. To find a community to bounce early ideas off of and receive generous feedback / encouragement / critique.
  • What will I need in 6 months? One year? Five years? What are the life events that will change the shape of your work and your community (and your relationship to those things)?

Consider the resources at your disposal–not the least of which is your own time. You may also want to think of any local institutional resources, like a library repository, or the MLA Humanities Commons. What does your campus use, and what do the people in your discipline use to share and communicate ideas?

How much time do I have to dedicate to this? Be honest with yourself. Keep expectations modest.

  • 1 hour per day?
  • 2 hours per week?
  • 1 hour per month?
  • 3 hours per day?  
  • Set boundaries.

Who are my existing communities, supporters, cheerleaders, critics, colleagues, partners, peers, readers, and allies? Are they already using digital platforms? Which ones? How often?

  • Does regular communication and participation fuel your productivity or exhaust you?  
  • How much energy (emotional, intellectual) do you want to dedicate to your digital identity? Less is more to begin…
  • Do you prefer long-form writing, short-form, micro-blogging (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr), more intimate communities (Humanities Commons), or broad publics (public blogging)?
  • At what point in your writing process are you comfortable sharing your new ideas?
  • What is your comfort threshold for risk, negative feedback, trolling, or public critique and debate?

Your answers to this may depend on many factors regarding personal identity, employment status, the institution you are affiliated with and their policies on social media and publication. You will want to consider this as you are putting together a strategy.

Building a strategy: Goals (with a timeline)

Short term

  • How much time regularly?
  • Which platforms?
  • Which authentic parts of yourself and your work do you want to share?

Medium term

  • Will the same strategy be as effective? What would you change?

Long term

  • How do your short term goals lead to long-term results?
  • What method can you use to evaluate how effective your attempt has been.

Sample Workplan:

I want to create an audience for my work now that I have several dissertation chapters written, so that there are people waiting to see my work and to discuss it with me at conferences.

Daily: Find people in my academic / scholarly community and follow them on Twitter. RT and circulate helpful materials. Spend about 1 hour per day reading the feeds of people i like and admire.

Weekly: Review metrics to see if I have added followers or experienced views of my papers.

Monthly: Increase each month the number of people who see my work. Continue to build a network of readers and champions of the next thing.

Annually: An expanded community of collaborators and peers engaged in similar area of study, my work is read and circulated among a larger group of readers; and I am aware of work I might otherwise have missed.