Does our academic work exist if nobody sees it? I watch far too many colleagues spend countless hours building, teaching, researching, and writing with little to show for it. Or, at least, little that gets seen, given their effort. And the conventional academic publishing industry certainly isn’t helping anyone do work that reaches a significant and diverse audience.
While we’re graduate students, academics are given a nearly endless parade of mixed messages: It’s all about who you know. Apply for every grant and job in sight. Focus with blinders on an extremely narrow discipline. Do work that has a broad impact. Be a good teacher. Teaching will never get you tenure. Network like crazy. Take down your social media profiles when you’re on the job market. Be collegial. Don’t collaborate; only publish monographs. Write cover letter after cover letter after cover letter about yourself. Don’t shamelessly self-promote. Think about nothing but your work.
And, above all else: Don’t settle for anything but a tenure-track position at an R1.
These messages are not healthy. Our work has value, and it’s safe to openly admit that. In fact, at this moment in education, championing what we do should be a major part of what we do. I recently tweeted, “For every Humanities professor, our job has become 20% advocating for the Humanities. 40/30/20/10: teaching, research, advocating, service.” Then, “Or some other ratio, but no matter what kind of institution we’re at, advocating for what we do is displacing something else.”
As academics, we must also make it part of our jobs to champion the work of our peers, and especially to amplify marginalized voices. This is part of our service to the academic profession, but it is an equally important part of teaching and research. It is the mission of educators to guard space for non-traditional work and to create open and non-hierarchical dialogues. It is especially important to champion and amplify the voices of K-12 and contingent higher education faculty, who often don’t have time or resources to do this work themselves.
As Director of Hybrid Pedagogy, I’ve discovered that editorial work is a form of advocacy. In this article, I want to pull back the curtain somewhat brazenly on the promotional strategies I’ve used for the last several years for Hybrid Pedagogy. At the start, promoting the work of the journal felt like a necessary evil, but more and more, this work has helped me to understand what it means to participate generously in a scholarly community. Academics are not always entrepreneurs. But our work (as both teachers and researchers) is to build networks that facilitate discussion and critical engagement. So, the steps I outline here are ultimately less about promotion and more about presence.
How to Promote an Academic Project or Publication
- Before you can successfully promote an article, post, or project, you have to build a network. To do this:
- Start by following, friending, or adding to circles relevant users on whichever social media networks you feel most comfortable. Focus on quality, not quantity. Having 10,000 followers on Twitter is much less important than having engaged followers. I avoid cultivating a network of carbon-copies of myself. I’ve curated my personal Facebook feed, for example, to include a wide variety of perspectives, folks I respect, not just folks I agree with. Real engagement doesn’t happen in an echo-chamber.
- Follow enough people, but be careful not to follow just for the sake of following. When creating a new account on Twitter, I suggest following about 150 people to start. Twitter doesn’t really work as a network until you’ve reached a certain tipping-point.
- Don’t follow and unfollow aggressively. Engagement requires genuine listening not just following or friending to create a bigger network.
- Share relevant information, retweet your peers, but post substantively. Don’t post about the same article or project more than a couple times without offering more information, a quote, additional context, etc. Avoid posting the same thing on multiple channels without tweaking for the specific audience.
- On Twitter, I advise using the “retweet” button so tweets only appear once in your follower’s feeds, decreasing clutter and keeping the attention focused on the original tweeter rather than yourself. Use the “RT” method sparingly when you want to amend a tweet.
- The “reply” button on Twitter nests your tweet with others, so anyone reading the conversation will see your remark in context. The “reply” button helps make Twitter more about dialogues and less about 140-character monologues.
Hybrid Pedagogy has grown its network using strategies like these. We feel a responsibility to our writers to get the widest and most relevant audience for their work. In addition to these social networking strategies, we employ editorial and publishing strategies that help draw attention to the articles we publish:
- We focus our attention on important topics, not just sexy ones. We accept that some work isn’t going to generate as large an audience, but that we can nonetheless help it find a relevant audience.
- For us, titles are crucial — short, snappy, clever, lots of keywords. While the title doesn’t need to convey exactly what the article is about, it also shouldn’t be overt link-bait or an obvious bait-and-switch.
- On Hybrid Pedagogy, we preface each article with images that aren’t merely illustrative but make the reader work to find connections. All images are Creative Commons licensed. When articles are shared on social media, these images auto-populate and help articles spread.
- Our first sentences are provocative and offer clues to what the article is about. Many lament the demand for this with digital writing, but I’ve watched great articles hemorrhage readers because of dull first sentences. We sometimes stray from this tip, if it feels like this kind of first sentence would damage the integrity of an article.
- We encourage writers to experiment and break with formula. Some writers have unique styles, and in our peer review process, we try not to push too much on an author’s voice. We want personality, which means remaining open and nimble about what prose shapes we publish.
- Two things are just below the last paragraph of an article on Hybrid Pedagogy: buttons for sharing and a comment section. The last paragraph of an article poses questions and encourages comments — this works better when done subtly, when the writer has real questions or a genuine call-to-action.
- An article is more successful when the author is available to share their work and respond to comments at the time of release. We’re much less interested in readers than we are in engagement, which means being engaged ourselves, writers and editors alike.
- I see it as the job of an article’s editors to help generate discussion. We do a disservice to our writers if we don’t promote their work. Editorial work on Hybrid Pedagogy begins as a collaborative process toward improving a piece of writing and continues through publication to help create meaningful dialogue.
When it comes to promoting academic projects, there is for me a single golden rule: share and spread the work of your peers more than your own. The work of scholarship should ultimately be about generosity. Champion yourself and your own scholarly work. But put even more effort into championing the work of your colleagues and students.