by

Creating Your Web Presence: A Primer for Academics

This is a guest post by Miriam Posner (@miriamkp and miriamposner.com), Mellon Postdoctoral Research Associate in Emory University’s Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC); Stewart Varner (@stewartvarner), Digital Scholarship Coordinator at DiSC; and ProfHacker’s own Brian Croxall (@briancroxall and briancroxall.net), who also works with DiSC. This post is an extended recap of a recent DiSC workshop on creating a web presence. You can watch a video of the whole workshop at the Internet Archive. Finally, this post has been adapted from one we posted on the Library Blog at Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library. —bc

Thinking about how to create and maintain a Web presence might strike some academics as distasteful. After all, why should we go about marketing ourselves? Shouldn’t our work stand on its own? Didn’t we get an advanced degree because we were above such pettiness?

Chances are, however, that if you’re reading ProfHacker, you understand that being visible on the Internet can benefit your scholarship, pedagogy, and even service. And if you’re going on the job market soon, you can reasonably assume that the search committees will put your name into Google (or Bing?) to see what they can learn about you. To get ahead of this game, you’ll want to Google yourself (something that Brian has written about previously). Depending on the results you get, you might want to spend some time cleaning up, standardizing, and generally retooling your online presence. Maybe your first, abandoned website is jostling up against the conference paper you presented. Maybe there are some unwelcome leaks from your Facebook account. Or maybe you’re just not there, lost in a sea of other people who share your name.

Luckily, you don’t have to be a tech genius to whip your Google results into shape. Here are some low-investment, high-return ways to maintain a consistent, professional Web presence.

The Basics

Whatever platform you’re considering, there are three basic principles of creating an effective online presence:

  • Familiarity: What are you getting into? Don’t sign up for a social networking platform or Web application without understanding what it does with your data, whether you can maintain the privacy you want, and the conventions that govern the way the community operates.
  • Consistency: It’s important to carry the same voice, image, and persona across multiple social networking platforms.
  • Participation: Social networking is a gift economy. The more you participate productively with others, the higher your own profile will be.

What Happens in Facebook Should Stay in Facebook

Even if your Facebook profile doesn’t show up in your Google results, it’s not unusual for an employer to look at a prospective employee’s Facebook page. So how do you keep those spring break photos safely among friends? You’ll want to tighten your privacy settings to control who can see what. Brian showed us how to do this last week when he covered the six steps for checking your Facebook privacy.

Google Profile: A Quick, Easy Public Face

One of the easiest ways to create a distinct identity for yourself on the Web is to create a Google profile page. This is a simple page that gathers a little bit of information about you, like your hometown, your photo, and the schools you’ve attended. It’s easy, but it has major benefits. First, a Google profile helps searchers distinguish you from people with similar names. Second, because Google Profile is a Google product (natch!), it appears to get a bump in Google search results.

Miriam's Google profile

Filling out your Google Profile is a snap: it’s a simple web form with a few fields. As with all these platforms, try to choose a profile picture, or avatar, that’s consistent and represents you professionally.

Academia.edu: A Social Network for Academics

Social networks tend to be ranked highly in Google search results, and Academia.edu—the social network that is devoted to academics—is no exception. Creating a profile on Academia.edu is quick: you just provide your name, email address, university, department name, and position.

Once you’ve created your profile, you can add various documents: a CV, syllabi, a statement of teaching philosophy, conference papers, journal articles, even a full book if you would like. You can also link to websites and blogs, add research interests, and, of course, upload a photo of yourself. The advantage of Academia.edu is that it’s a network that speaks the language of academe and is set up to provide you a profile that is explicitly professional. Even your profile URL is tied to the institution where you currently work; for example, Brian’s profile can be found at <http://emory.academia.edu/briancroxall>.

The social network aspect of Academia.edu allows you to “follow” other people’s work. Your home page on the website notifies you when people have added talks or articles to their profiles or when new work has been uploaded and categorized under one of your research interests.

A final neat trick is that Academia.edu will email you when someone has searched for you on Google and landed on your profile page. You can track what searches people are using to find by looking at your keywords page.

LinkedIn: Populating a Professional Space

Within the business community, a LinkedIn profile is a must-have. Within academia, however, LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, is far from ubiquitous. In fact, Academia.edu is often touted—by itself and others— as the academic alternative to LinkedIn.

Still, a LinkedIn profile is worth considering. First, because LinkedIn is so widely used, it again ranks highly in Google search results. And, second, because it ranks so highly, LinkedIn is another great way to disambiguate yourself from other people who share your name. Finally, if you’re a someone who wants to keep all her career options open, a LinkedIn profile can signal to potential employers that you’re a serious professional.

Once you’ve filled out your basic profile information, there are a few things to consider:

Take a look at your “Public Profile Settings:”
LinkedIn Public Profile Settings

Choose a Public Profile URL that’s as close as you can get to your professional name:
LinkedIn Public Profile URL

In the same menu, be sure you’re sharing only the information you’re comfortable making public:
LinkedIn public profile privacy

If you’re serious about using LinkedIn to find work, be aware that employers often search by keyword. Populate the “Specialties” field with words that employers are likely to look for, like “project management,” “GIS,” or whatever your special skills happen to be.

LinkedIn will aggressively ask you to sync up contacts with other email and social-networking applications, such as GMail. If you allow this to happen, each of your contacts will receive an email asking for his or her permission to connect with you. Before you take this step, be sure this is what you want.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Twitter generates strong opinions. In some fields, like digital humanities, participation in Twitter is near-essential for staying abreast of ideas, opinions, and job opportunities. In some cases, Twitter allows you to make connections that wouldn’t be possible any other way. In other fields, participation in Twitter is irrelevant or, worse, potentially damaging.

When you’re deciding whether Twitter makes sense for you, think about the kind of community you want to be a part of. And think about the kind of results you want potential searchers to see when they look for your name. Remember that the more you use Twitter, the higher it will rank in the search results for your name.

And as with any user community, Twitter only rewards participants who spend time learning the syntax, answering questions, and generally being nice people. If you’re on the fence about Twitter, don’t miss Ryan’s previous ProfHacker post about how to start tweeting and why you might want to. And this guide will get you quickly up to speed with all the Twitter lingo and conventions.

Keeping Up with RSS

It’s one thing to give your online presence a good spring cleaning. But the Internet never stops moving. You need to stay on top of developments in your field and news that pertains to you. And once you’re aware of these developments, you can maintain your participation by continuing to comment and keeping involved.

RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a great, low-maintenance way to do just this. Most frequently updated websites publish RSS feeds: streams that can be automatically read by any number of RSS readers. To subscribe to a feed, look for the orange RSS icon on pages you visit or enter the URL of your favorite page into your RSS reader to see if it has a feed.

Here are some feeds you might subscribe to:

So there are our tips for creating and maintaining your web presence. Of course, these tips are based on our own experience. So what did we miss? What would you still like to know? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

[Lead image by Flickr user barockschloss / Creative Commons licensed]

Return to Top