The great thing about being a historical institutionalist is that – for the vast majority of the time – one’s assumption that things aren’t going to change pays off.
How it was yesterday is how it is today is how it’ll be tomorrow. Simple.
Until it’s not.
And right now I’m in the middle of a big rupture which, even though I’ve known about it and planned for it for some months, is turning out to be more of a pain than I’d thought.
Moving jobs is hardly the most unusual of life events, but it has underlined to me the need to plan carefully in managing your digital footprint. After a decade of blogging not here on ALPS but also on my departmental pages (where I seem to have left a less-than ideal last post that I now can’t delete), there’s a question about how to (re)make a place for me to share my ideas.
And this is the central point: social media is about sharing and discussing, so you need to be able to make contributions and others need to find them and respond.
In the case of ALPS that’s been a long process of building up an audience over 10 years, to point that we have a pretty good profile within our community (if still far short of that of professional associations), mainly through word-of-mouth as we’ve passed through endless conferences and talks. And as long as Chad keeps on bringing in the support to pay for the hosting, we’ve got a long-term proposition.
Universities are long-term propositions too (pace Chad’s regular posts to the contrary), but unless you’ve got a very particular arrangement with your VC/Provost/whatever, your relationship with that university might turn out to be rather short. So are institutional blogs the best bet?
You might find a home on another platform (like UACES’ Ideas on Europe), but even then things might change over time that make it less viable. Equally you might want to try and colonise a new platform, but will the audience you want to reach be there any time soon?
One option is to set up by yourself. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to pay for a fancy URL for my website (although apparently too tight-fisted to get a professional designer in) and there is functionality for a blog and the like, but I’ve never used it to any great effect. It just seems rather disconnected.
Part of that is the issue of SEO: will what you produce show up on searches? Yes that’s in part a function of tagging and keywords, but it’s also about the volume of linkages to your chosen platform, something that is hard to grow rapidly in an organic fashion.
Part of it is also about setting your content within a relevant context: yes, I might have blogged a lot more than my former colleagues, but they still posted from time to time; this site is full of blogged interaction between us, which adds real value (I think) to the content.
So what to take from this?
Firstly, sunk costs exist, so as much as possible try to future-proof your social media footprint. Think about your possible career/life choices and the degree of permanence and/or resilience you need from your chosen platform(s). In my case, I’m probably making my default research blogging base on Ideas for Europe, but mirroring to an Open University space as and when we can set one up.
Secondly, connect and share your content. Wherever you produce content, share it elsewhere: the more places you put things, the more likely it is to be seen and consumed. Blog sites like WordPress are great for automating that for new posts, but it’s also good to play around with IFTTT to make further linkages.
Thirdly, remember why you’re doing any of this. That’s going to vary, but in my case it’s about having a space to develop ideas and get rapid feedback on them, as well as to contribute to public debates where I have something useful to say. Those objectives drive me towards doing more on sites like Twitter, which also had the advantage of being where lots of the people I study hang out. Plus, I’m not nice enough to be on Instagram.
I write all this as if I’d done any of it myself, when evidently I haven’t. So don’t be like me, before you discover you’ve made some choices you’ll regret later.