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Blogging and social media competence critical for legal academics

legal academics social media

It’s appalling talking to law professors and law school administrators and finding out how little they know about the benefits of blogging and other social media, let alone knowing how to use them.

A career development person at a major law school acknowledged to me that neither the dean nor anyone in the school’s administration used any form of social media for professional development or alumni or student relations. He wasn’t aware that any of the professors did either and said that though though he didn’t think any of the professors blogged, they had many professors who read blogs.

Read blogs. That’s like saying we have professors who read books and articles, have a cell phone and use a computer.

Social media strategist and frequent university lecturer, Lina Duque (@LinaDuqueMBA), writes at the Harvard Business Review this morning that in today’s digital age social media competence is a critical communication tool for academics.

Whether you’re looking to engage students, increase awareness of your research, or garner media coverage for your department, engaging in social media will give you a competitive edge.

Duque cited the case of a University of Toronto professor doing a study on the impact of air pollution on cyclists. She turned to Twitter to begin her survey work. That led to a cycling magazine blogging about her study, which was picked up by the major Toronto metro newspaper which then led to appearances on Global TV and CBC Radio.

There’s simply no way a professor not understanding social media would have that type of reach. Their research would suffer, the quality of their work product would be inferior and their career path would be limited.

Duque shares a good few tips that I’ll elaborate on.

Build a targeted profile. Get focused in a niche area you in which you want to learn more about, to network with people with similar interests and build a reputation. Generating and sharing targeted content will attract a targeted audience. Let people know the value you offer by what you share and how you describe yourself on profiles on social media networks.

Engage your audience in meaningful conversations. Speaking up about things you are passionate about will, in time, get you positioned as a thought leader in your space. When you see a blog post or news story that you agree or disagree with, speak up. The publisher of the post or reporter of the story will hear your views. So will others with an interest in the area. People love knowledgeable and informed people sharing information and insight with a little conviction.

Duque shares the story of Imogen Coe, a cell biologist and Dean of Science at Ryerson University in Toronto who took to Twitter last year to express her views on a sexual harassment story in the science community.

She… respond[ed] to Science magazine’s career column, which advised a post-doc researcher to look the other way when the latter complained that her male supervisor was looking down her shirt. Appalled by that advice, Coe e-mailed Science magazine, offering alternative advice on how to deal with harassment. She then tweeted a screenshot of her e-mail, which was quickly retweeted and supported by scientists around the world.

A reporter with the Washington Post saw the tweet and contacted Coe to get her thoughts on the story. The next day, Coe’s comments appeared in the Washington Post. The dean’s social engagement has amplified her message and helped her garner media attention as a respected source in her field. More importantly, her voice and that of others resulted in the original advice column being removed and replaced with crowdsourced advice, including Coe’s, that helps the person being harassed.

Make social engagement a habit. Make social media a daily habit so that you can stay up to speed in your area. Some professionals use a news aggregator, some Twitter, some LinkedIn and some Facebook. Not listening to what is being reported and shared on social media today is shirking your responsibility to stay abreast of developments in your field.

Engage other leaders in the field by blogging what you are reading and sharing your insight. Share with a quick comment a post or article you have read.

The Internet and social media and blogging, in particular, are a conversation. They’re not broadcasting content. These conversations lead to growing a network of knowledgeable, passionate and trusted colleagues from around the world.

“I don’t have enough time” is a lot of bunk. It’s as if you’re saying I don’t have time to be good at what I do.

Santa Ono, president of the University of Cincinnati who has over 69,000 Twitter followers, told Duque “Social media really doesn’t take that much time. I tend to use it mostly in the evenings before bedtime and in between meetings.”

Law schools and law grads are struggling. It’s become a national pastime to discuss on social media declining law school enrollments and the struggles grads are having in gaining meaningful employment.

Not only do schools have an obligation to use the communication and engagement mediums of our day, but law schools could help themselves in process.

The vast majority of law schools do not have professors, administration members or students using social media and blogging for learning and professional development. Start a social media initiative that will start getting results and you’ll shine so bright you will receive national coverage.

Get word out that your grads, as a result of being encouraged and taught to blog and use social media are getting jobs and you’ll have picked up a big time differentiator. The stuff works. It’s why a Michigan State 2L is clerking in London this summer and a recent grad of theirs is working in the general counsel’s office at General Motors.

My COO, Garry Vander Voort, mentioned in a meeting this morning just how easy it is to learn from and connect with people through blogging and social media. Rather than newspapers and periodicals for news and information, we use the net and social media, he continued. He smiled in saying it’s surprising just how many people don’t understand that times have changed.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Samir Luther