Here at Research to Action, we love to gather new opinions and insights into approaches to research communication and uptake. This week, I was fortunate to grab some time with David Girling, lecturer and Director of Research Communication in the School of International Development (DEV) at the University of East Anglia (UEA). David teaches on the MA Media and International Development (MAMID) and on BA modules: Development in Practice and Development Work Experience. He also guest blogs on Huffington Post as well as running his own independent blog: Social Media for Development.
1. Could you please give us a brief background on your role as a lecturer and Director of Research Communication at the School of International Development?
I am a lecturer and Director of Research Communication in the School of International Development (DEV) at the University of East Anglia. I teach on the MA Media and International Development (MAMID) and on a couple of BA modules: Development in Practice and Development Work Experience.
I am Chartered Marketer with over 20 years marketing and communications experience in the public and non-profit sector. I was an active committee member on the Chartered Institute of Marketing Higher Education Group for five years but have recently joined the committee for the Charity Interest Group. I have also been on the judging panel for the HEIST Awards for two years, which looks as marketing excellence in Higher Education and the Rusty Radiator Awards which raised awareness of stereotypical imagery in NGO fundraising campaigns. My interests are multidisciplinary, but I have particular expertise in strategic marketing, communications, PR, branding, digital and social media. My research focuses on two main areas of social media within developing countries. Firstly how social media has empowered communities to effect change e.g. the Arab Spring and Chile Winter. Secondly how international development organisations and NGOs use social media: rapid response to unforeseen events, emergency related videos, fundraising and general awareness raising. I am particularly interested in celebrity advocacy, social media and international development.
2. You recently published a series of blogs on social media in Kenya. How do you think the potential for social media (to maximise research uptake) varies between the global south vs north and do you believe language or accessibility is a bigger barrier for communities adopting social media in the south?
The biggest difference is the digital divide. Three fifths of the world are unconnected to the internet. In Europe 75% of the population are connected, but in Africa there are only 16%. The two main barriers in my opinion are affordability and relevance. Around 75% of all content on the internet is in English. The cost of mobile phones and access to mobile internet is falling quite dramatically. Several $50 smartphones are currently in production by various providers. But if the content is not relevant or media literacy levels are low then why would someone sign up for a Twitter account? There are around 1.5m Twitter accounts in Kenya out of a population of 43m. Many of these accounts are likely to be dormant. There needs to be a reason to join social media I am sure there will be a new wave of social media platforms developed in the south for the south in the not too distant future.I recently published a video infographic ‘Does social media have the power to change the world?’.
The video offers some more insights into how social media has been used across the world.
3. Facebook, Twitter and Google currently monopolise our social media landscape, but is this changing? What do you think the next ‘big social media thing’ will be, and why?
There are some studies that say that we are becoming more parochial as a result of social media. We are often connected with people who have similar likes and dislikes. Algorithms and personalised search often mean that the content we are served is tailored to our interests. This is not always true of course. I have connected with people all over the world via social media and then I make the effort to meet them. I think the next big thing in social media will be designed first and foremost for mobile and will enable easier video sharing. Vine is fun but you can’t achieve a lot. It is already possible to share videos with apps like WhatsApp, but I think other platforms will enable easy sharing of videos whether its live or recorded, to a single person, a selected group or to the whole world. Faster mobile internet connectivity will be the norm in the next few years. We are seeing a backlash against the larger corporations such as Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps we will see an open source social media platform that can be tailored to individuals needs with greater controls of privacy.
4. If you were to recommend focussing all social media efforts into just one platform, which one would it be and why?
That’s an impossible question to answer as it all depends on your objectives and stakeholders. For example if you want to connect with the media for advocacy purposes then Twitter is probably the best platform. If you want to fundraise then Facebook might be more suitable. But neither of these are an option if you are based in China.
5. What are your ‘Top Tips’ for getting hard-line academics and researchers to take social media seriously? Do you have any examples of successes?
There are lots of academics who have embraced social media as a tool for research dissemination. Social media can also be used to build new or existing networks. You have to be committed to social media. If you start a blog you need to write a blog post at least 20-30 times a year, preferably more. If you set up a Twitter account you need to invest time to managing that account by forming relationships with other tweeters. You don’t write an academic paper, set up a Twitter account, tweet about it and expect is t go viral. It simply won’t happen. LSE have a brilliant resource for academics who want to start a Twitter account. I would recommend any academic who wants to start tweeting to start by reading their guide.
Here’s a list of development blogs which I compiled about 18 months ago.
It includes a few academic and research blogs. There’s a great short clip on YouTube by Tom Peters and Seth Godin, who are both leading academics in their field, talking about the benefits of blogging.
Social media can increase dissemination of academic research and it can widen networks, but its very time consuming and individuals need to devote time if it is going to be effective.
6. How do you measure the impact of your social media efforts?
There are a number of tools that you can use to measure the success of social media. One easy way is to set up a bitly or other URL shortening account which has statistics. You can then see how many people have clicked through to your content. If you have a blog it is important to set up Google Analytics and also to monitor comments. Social media is all about two way dialogue, whether you are on Sino Wiebo, Twitter, Facebook or Mxit. There are so many ways to measure impact that it is impossible to list them here. If on Twitter you can analyse your followers, are they important in your field, how many people retweet you, who retweets you, what is the social reach of that tweet. How many influencers have you reached. Youtube has lots of built in analytics. There are other free tools such as Klout. One of the ways I measure impact is how many people contact me as a result of my visibility on social media. Just this week alone I have been contacted for advice by someone in Kenya on search engine optimisation, someone else in Kenya about studying for a masters degree, I have been asked to deliver a talk at University of Sheffield and also this request to complete this Q&A. Again, I need to stress that managing a presence on social media is very time consuming if you want to do it properly.
Please share any comments or opinions below!
Image courtesy of Digital Art/FreeDigitalPhotos.net