Build Your Online Identity to Match Your Scientific Work

You are branding yourself online right now. Your digital profile provides a public impression of you and your work. Does it match your scientific profile? How are you branding yourself digitally?

You might be thinking “I’m not even using any online media to promote myself – I just have a page with contact info on my local university website. I don’t need anything else. My science speaks for itself.”

Well, here is the thing: You are branding yourself! You are sending a signal, when you have nothing but contact info on your (current or former) university page.

So the question is: Is this information coherent with your work? And is it sufficient? What message are you sending? Who is it for? Future employers? Foundations? Collaborators? Journalists? Students? What impact does your digital appearance have? Do similar scientists/students have higher digital impact than you?

Realizing this is especially important early on in your career, where you (probably) have yet to establish your scientific self in the online branding framework. Online appearance is here to stay and there are benefits for you if you get onboard.

Manage Your Online Appearance

Acknowledge that online science branding is real. When you do that, you can take control of your digital appearance – whether it is on Inspire or Instagram.

Setting up a broad online profile requires a lot of time, effort and skills to ensure you give the proper impression of your work and yourself as a scientist  – and if it is not done properly it will not give the return you want. So you need to focus your effort, so you achieve maximum results with minimum work.

Get Started – Now

If you choose to do a digital health check, here are some considerations to start off with:

What is your objective?

If the viewer could learn only one thing from your online appearance, what would you want that to be? Maybe you are working within nuclear physics and just published a new finding, or maybe you work on a new method to analyze big data from telescopes. Maybe you do something completely different, but the key here is to ensure the visitor understands and receives your objective.

My advice: Be specific! Stay away from broad formulations like “I want to be seen” or narrow formulations like “I want Jim and Karen to understand quantum tunnelling.” The optimal target group matches your efforts, so avoid spending too much time targeting too few people or vice versa.

What is your content?

The internet is heaven for digital creators. You can convey your message with text, illustrations, photos, animations, videos, 3D experiences and so on. But before you go online with your new digital self, you need proper content to fill in. Otherwise you will  be left with a cool username and a long list of logins but nothing to put in there. Or worse: the wrong content to put in, so your target group does not see it.

My advice: Have content ready – again within the limits of your allocated time and resources. Create a simple calendar (this could just be a spreadsheet – or if you want more advanced tools try using Hootsuite or Buffer) to plan your updates, so you effortlessly can share your content with the public.

Who are you targeting?

This is probably the most overlooked question, when working with digital identity and communication in general. If you are thinking “I just want to reach as many as possible and hope they find my work interesting”, then you are doing it wrong. If you target all, you reach none. Maybe you want to get a grant and hence reach the foundation staff? Maybe you want to get the attention of a university because you are applying for a position? Maybe you want to be seen by educators? Or students? Or someone in the corporate industry?

If you read the above and think “Yes to all”, then you might want to consider a more complex strategy, that requires a bit more work to target each group individually.

My advice: Start with defining one target group, unless you are familiar with the digital media platforms, target groups and how to build a communication strategy.

What is your budget?

Consider what your financial budget is, but also (perhaps more important) how much time you are willing to spend – both in setting it up and maintaining it.

My advice: Make a timeline and set aside a realistic amount per week, e.g. every Tuesday morning from 8.30-9 am to update and maintain your online appearance. Do not be overambitious and remember the plan needs to hold weeks, months and maybe years into the future.

What is your goal? And how do you measure it?

This is not the same as objective. If your objective is to inform students about your work because you want more resources, then your goal could be to get approached by, say, 5 undergrads who want to do their master thesis with you as co-supervisor.

My advice: Quantify! Create a goal you can measure by a number instead of making qualitative assessments along the way. This makes it easier for you to evaluate your progress and, most importantly, know when you reached your goal.

Reach out – Get SoMe Assistance

Building and maintainig your scientific online presence require some effort. If you are unsure where to start, then keep it as a separate ‘side project’ to your research, until you find a good structure, that works for you. Do not mix it with your daily scientist life, if you are not comfortable with it. Instead approach it as an extended resume, if this means you will get started.

A good strategy can have a spider web of target groups, content, schedules and 2×2 matrices, and you should settle with yourself how much time is realistic for you to spend on this. This is most likely correlated with your general interest in digital appearance and if this interest is not too big, you might consider getting some assistance. This can be especially useful for you, for instance before you hand in your thesis or apply for a grant.

Contact me for more information on how to set up your online appearance.

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