Engaging with Social Media: Risk or Opportunity for academia

Social media has big implication on how people in general communicate, collaborate and engage with each other. Stakeholders have much to gain and reciprocate from engaging with social media in various aspects of their operations. The noise around social media and the media buzz makes the market feel that it is more suitable for teenagers and mainly used to discuss about their personal stuff and wellbeing. But the research framework and output of various initiatives such as ASMA, etc. are providing an insight about how it is used and made beneficial to the various aspects of organizational development and academic brand building.

For a lot of institutions, use of social media very often begins from evaluating the pros and cons of the usage and over a period of time, it remains in the closed doors of marketing, whereas social media has a lot more to offer for the institutions. While evaluating the usage of social media, institutions do get into a confusion of choosing between tangible outcomes vs intangible outcomes, the similar situation under which Marketing strategies and sales planning works.

Given the rush to use social media as a tool to generate immediate results, most of the institutions underutilize the power of social media and tend to underestimate the usefulness of these tools. Social media conceptualization and consumption very often go through the criticism of its utility.

Not everyone is positive about social media and it becomes important to understand their viewpoint by reading through their main criticisms. Broadly the concerns are revolving around the following domains.

Technological Challenges:

Some academicians and academic leaders feel that encroachment of technology in every aspects of academic and institution building has potentially damaging implications.

Confidentiality:

Social media is basically build on personal and professional disclosure. This aspect of social media expects the institutions to subscribe to transparent system and invite opinions from various stakeholders who are not directly involved. This is a serious concern in terms of sharing of internal information and relevant data between private and public domain.

Facileness:

Many social media tools are based on sharing of stories and updates. These short term institutional contribution have led to charge the social media as a center of entertainment rather than substantial outcome.

Loss of control:

Social media allows anyone to publish anything in the public domain, it leads to a situation, where the institutions are unable to identify which contributions is valuable and which is not. Also when it goes to the public domain, it becomes difficult to control the trolls which happens and it may not be in favor to the institutions.

Information Overload and Tracking:

Social media has drastically increased its horizon in cultivating informations as flood. Many a time genuine and relevant information gets lesser attention by virtue of the information overload. It also becomes difficult to really get the attention of people whom the post wants to engage.

Institutions/ Personal Balance:

Social media being a tool to be in public domain, it becomes difficult to synchronize the individual’s post about the institution vs the institutional post. It becomes very difficult for the organizations to monitor and track these processes, as it infringes the individual rights and working laws. Many a time, it goes into personal space which becomes disheartening.


The criticism may be valid in some cases, but not necessarily all. Social media covers a wide range of tools and specific scope of usage. Many leading institutions have proved that how social media usage can give them a great mileage in terms of brand building, academic engagement and community building. For example - using Facebook to engage with the potential graduate via various modes of engagement can be fruitful in creating a good relationship and community of potential recruits for the institutes, whereas having a strategy around LinkedIn can help the corporate relations and personal profiling of the students in order to develop relationship with the potential recruits. Now a day’s corporates are also doing social media profiling for the potential recruits to understand the suitability of them in the organizational culture. They need to understand the how and in which way the social media tools should be used. Podcast launched by Microsoft is to engage the learning partners in much effective way.


Having said this, it is also important to keep hearing the critics of social media usage in academic institutions to rephrase, reenergize and reassure the policy framework for social media usage. Effective social media usage involves the production, use and consumption of information and knowledge. Collaboration and engagement runs through all facets of social media and institution brand building cycle. The social media has variety of channels to facilitate the engagement and collaboration with the right kind of audience and take support in institution building.

Social media is not just an information explosion on online platforms, they also provide users to select the tools, filter and then engage into conversation. Tools such as blogs, microblogs, and social networks provides can provide an informal space where new ideas and insights can be reviewed and discussed to learn the best practices among the academic institutions, which can be taken into consideration while designing the social media strategy of the institution.

The Indian higher education social media system has huge challenges related to adaptation and implementation of right social media strategy. The technological disruption underline the high risk of depending on one tool and strategy to build the academic brands and to keep up with the individual, industry and society at large.


Most institutes are laggards in using the technologies and investment in social media implementation, which enables the overall development of the institutions such as institution building, branding, faculty and pedagogical development, student engagement and technical infrastructure building.

However, the decision makers of the academic institutions are trying to elevate the higher education social media consumption through forward looking strategies, but it still needs a boost and engagement at large scale. Institutions needs to make social media provisioning domain wise and tool wise to get the desired results from these tools. A right mix of strategy, tools, budgeting and action will give the ecosystem a boost.

The impeding change thus offers an opportunity to take the system towards a complete social media transformation selectively in order to support the offline efforts of the organization development.

Few tools which can be looked into are as follows. Though there are lot more coming up, but the prominent tools are listed in the following

Communication Blogging Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, WordPress
Microblogging Twitter, Yammer, Google Buzz
Location Foursquare, Gowalla, Facebook Places
Social Networking Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace
Aggregators Google Reader, Netvibes, Pageflakes, iGoogle
Collaboration Conferencing Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, Skype
Wikis PBworks, Wetpaint, Wikia
Social bookmarking Delicious, Diigo, BibSonomy
Social bibliography CiteULike, Mendeley
Social news Digg, Reddit, Newsvine
Social documents Google Docs, Dropbox, Zoho
Project management Bamboo, Basecamp, Huddle
Multimedia Photographs Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug
Video Viddler, Vimeo, YouTube
Live streaming Justin.tv, Livestream, Ustream
Presentation sharing Scribd, SlideShare, Sliderocket
Virtual worlds OpenSim, Second Life, World of Warcraf

Tools available for learning, development and research

Social networking services include:

  • Facebook (www.facebook.com) is still the market leader. Many people use it mainly for social rather than professional activity.
  • LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a professional networking site. It is more popular in business than in academia but offers a range of functionality that suggests it may be useful for researchers.
  • Friendfeed (http://friendfeed.com) is designed as an aggregator of other social media tools, but it shares many features with other social networking services. Friendfeed was bought by Facebook in 2009, so the future of the two services is likely to be tied together.

Researcher-specific social networking services include:

  • ResearchGate (www.researchgate.net) is a social networking service aimed at scientists and other researchers. It offers a range of functionality including a semantic search engine that browses academic databases.
  • Graduate Junction (www.graduatejunction.net) is a social networking service aimed at postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers.
  • MethodSpace (www.methodspace.com) is a social network service for social scientists run by the publisher Sage.
  • Nature Network (http://network.nature.com) is a science-focused social network service run by Nature Publishing Group.

Tools for social bookmarking include:

  • delicious (www.delicious.com) one of the older and more popular services. Although numerous features have been added to the user interface in recent years, it remains one of the simpler and more effective bookmarking tools. Yahoo, which owns delicious, recently announced an intention to sell the service, so its future is presently unclear.
  • delicious (www.delicious.com) one of the older and more popular services. Although numerous features have been added to the user interface in recent years, it remains one of the simpler and more effective bookmarking tools. Yahoo, which owns delicious, recently announced an intention to sell the service, so its future is presently unclear.
  • BibSonomy (www.bibsonomy.org) is an academically-orientated service with many of the features of delicious plus the metadata gathering capabilities of a social citation service such as CiteULike (see overleaf). This is useful since it allows all resources – from informal Web sources to formal published resources – to be stored and accessed in a single location.

Tools for social citation sharing include:

  • CiteULike (www.citeulike.com) enables you to store, tag and retrieve bibliographic information. CiteULike emphasises the social elements of citation sharing and encourages you to make ‘connections’ with other researchers and to ‘watch’ what other people are adding to their library.
  • Mendeley (www.mendeley.com) describes itself as a reference manager and academic social network. It integrates with Word and a range of other applications (including CiteULike).
  • Zotero (www.zotero.org) is another bibliographic service which contains some social/ collaboration elements.

Blogging tools include:

  • Blogger (www.blogger.com)
  • Wordpress (www.wordpress.org)
  • Posterous (www.posterous.com)

Microblogging tools include:

  • Twitter (www.twitter.com) is the clear market leader, a general tool used for a wide range of purposes. The discussion that you participate in will vary depending on who you are following and how you engage with them.
  • Other microblogs include Tumblr (www.tumblr.com) and Plurk (www.plurk.com) which offers a stranded structure for the microblog conversations.

Wiki collaborative tools include:

  • PBworks (http://pbworks.com) is a commercial service which operates on a ‘freemium’ basis, with basic features being offered for free and more advanced features for a fee. Content can be created or edited via a WYSIWYG (‘what you see is what you get’) interface, or by editing the HTML source of the page.
  • Wikispaces (www.wikispaces.com) is a similar hosted wiki site which offers a choice of public or private wikis and currently offers free hosting for education projects.
  • Wikia (www.wikia.com) is a free wiki hosting service, deriving most of its income from advertising. In this model, all user-provided content is public with no option to choose a private site.
  • Wiki facilities are also available within many virtual learning environments such as Moodle or Blackboard.
  • In addition to wikis, other collaborative writing tools are available. Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) is a free, Web-based service from Google, with word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, online data collection forms, and data storage. The Document part of the service allows multiple authors to collaborate in producing and editing documents in a format similar to Microsoft Word (the most recent versions of Microsoft Office now also offer an online facility for licence holders).
  • The Zoho Office Suite (www.zoho.com) is a Web-based commercial service which offers an even wider range of facilities which are free to use at the entry-level but charge fees for more extensive or professional use. Another useful collaboration tool is Dropbox (www.dropbox.com), a Web-based file hosting service which enables users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet. If users install Dropbox on their computer or mobile internet device, the service provides an easy-touse interface via a virtual shared folder on the desktop; there is also a Web-based service if local client is not installed.