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Succeeding in postgraduate study
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1 Using social media

Let’s begin this session by looking at how social media can be used for academic purposes, before moving on to how you can use Twitter to keep up-to-date with information.

Social media services are accessed through the internet and enable communication, collaboration and interaction (sharing of contents) through various web-based tools. You may already be familiar with commonly-used social media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. You can also use social media to find information, ask for answers and opinions, share knowledge, carry out research and build a network of useful contacts.

Box 1 Commonly used social media tools

Commonly used social media tools include:

  • forums
  • blogs
  • wikis
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Skype
  • YouTube
  • Flickr
  • SlideShare
  • Diigo

Search engines that search across social media, such as Social Searcher [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , give you the ability to select and search a number of named social media sites at a time, or to select a type of social media tool (e.g. blogs or images).

Social media services are inclusive because users themselves can contribute to and share the information in online communities. Information and material contributed to social media is known as ‘user-generated’ content. We will be looking at one or two of these tools in later activities and seeing how relevant they might be for your own academic, research or professional purposes.

Box 2 Why use social media?

As the name implies, social media enables you to interact socially, online, in a variety of ways.

You can use social media to:

  • collaborate on work and projects
  • share material, information, videos or favourite websites
  • give or receive feedback or comments from a varied group of people
  • keep updated on events
  • let people know what you are working on
  • interact in an informal and real-time environment.

You can exploit these tools in your studies by searching for relevant information or by becoming part of an online community, asking questions or making comments for others to respond to. Although social media tools contain user-generated content and may not be actively moderated (or ‘controlled’), most do have guidelines for acceptable use that users are expected to abide by. These include respecting others’ views and showing common courtesy when posting your own views or material online, also referred to as ‘netiquette’ (internet + etiquette). An example of some guidelines can be viewed at the website BBC Webwise | Making the Most of Being Online - Netiquette

Twitter offers fast updates in small messages on what people are doing and is also used to relay events as they unfold (i.e. in ‘real time’). Social networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn allow family, friends or professional and business contacts to locate and get in touch with you, check your status or interests, and catch up with what you have been doing. Skype can help you keep in touch with friends, colleagues or associates over long distances via its phone, chat and video services. We will explore Twitter and others later on in the session, but first we will take a look at forums and blogs, which have been around for some time as a means of communicating online.

Box 3 Useful questions for evaluating social media

The following set of questions are useful in evaluating social media:

  • Do you need an account to use all options and functions?
  • Is payment required for some services?
  • Is there a limit to any uploads?
  • Is online help, or a guide, available?
  • Is the content relevant?
  • Are there links to other related items?
  • Is the content from a reliable source?
  • Do you find the tool easy to use? And to navigate?
  • Is it the right tool for your purpose?
  • Do you like using it? Would you use it again?