Academic Career Coach: LinkedIn, Online Visibility, and researchers’ status.

Academic Career Coach: LinkedIn, Online Visibility, and researchers’ status.

This article, a shorter and edited version, is also published in March 2022 on THE Campus.

This is blog #4: LinkedIn, Online Visibility, and Researchers’ Status. Thank you, Marco, for bringing up this valuable topic by asking: ‘How to use LinkedIn as a researcher?’ It seems relatively straightforward to answer this question. Though, soon as I started listing the options of how he could boost his LinkedIn profile, I knew there was more to it. A quick Google search confirmed that. By listing hardly more than the Top 10 rather plain tips on improving one’s profile, I felt urged to conduct more research concentrating on using LinkedIn research-related.

Nowadays, the academic environment requires much more from their scholars than completing these Top 10 tips lists; they expect ‘active self-branding’ (Kjellberg & Haider, 2018). Scholars, consequently, need to contemplate their online narrative. Each online profile is a micro-narrative that maintains one’s digital, public identity and is, therefore, part of the researchers’ image. So, this question of Marco is spot on. How can LinkedIn contribute to a researcher’s narrative? To answer his question, I will examine the forcefield around online visibility and ponder its effect on researchers’ status. This article offers insights regarding the opportunities and tensions creating online profiles and poses a strategy for constructing them. It certainly is not a guide for composing the ‘right’ online self or improving online visibility (Cheek & Øby, 2019). The aim is to raise awareness concerning online visibility and offer steps that may lead to a personal strategy for the online narrative through profiles. To conclude, I will get back to the initial topic: LinkedIn, providing you with five steps to improve yours.

An online profile (hereafter: profile) offers the possibility to build ‘relationships or collaborations or communication interfaces with the readers of these profiles’ (Brabazon, 2021). According to Cheek & Øby (2019), all profiles together present a researcher selfie aiming ’to present and convey a worthy researcher self in line with the expectations of a selectively chosen target audience of viewers.’ Researchers can create profiles on institutions’ web pages and academic social networking sites (ASNS) like, ResearchGate, Orchid, and Google Scholar. The University Library of Utrecht (2017) offers concrete steps to increase online visibility on ASNS. Social networking sites (SNS), like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram, can also construct research-related micro-narratives; the researchers and their work should then come first in the narration (Cheek & Øby, 2019). Note that with 55% of users within academia, LinkedIn is one of the most popular SNS among scholars (Tran and Lyon, 2017). These (A)SNS are marketplaces ‘in which research products, individual researchers, and institutions jostle and vie for attention’ (Cheek & Øby, 2019). In this online arena, the researcher’s task is to explore how its profiles, these opportunities for the self, can function as sites of engagement (Brabazon, 2021). 

Kjellberg & Haider (2018) link the researchers’ online visibility to the notion of entrepreneurship: ‘where the academic researcher is seen to brand and offer herself/himself on an academic market, where she/he competes for rewards – in the form of visibility, attention and resources.’ But they also found that researchers tend to have discomfort in branding themselves online at (A)SNS. They encounter tensions ‘between self-importance and modesty’ and face ‘a thin line between being visible and being too visible.’ Hence, this tension can diminish by using the (A)SNS solemnly research-related. Yet, the real dark force within online visibility is the distress relating to trust and reputation. Or, in other words, the uncertainty about the effect of online visibility on researchers’ status. Sharing personal information on profiles raises to a particular extent trust as being too professional seems to decrease it (Kjellberg & Haider, 2018). Thereby, researchers still incline conventional outcomes of fellow researchers, like peer-reviewed papers and conference presentations, to be more trustworthy than the online presence on (A)SNS (Tenopir et al., 2015). However, online visibility currently functions as a building block in an academic career as the informal and digital output contributes to one’s status besides orthodox scholarly communication (Kjellberg & Haider, 2018).

Online visibility comes thus with tensions and discomfort and therefore asks for a strategy on how to construct the researchers’ narrative through profiles carefully. A plan for composing your digital, public identity. Consequently, I want to outline the following steps to give you a sense of direction for creating yours:

1: Conduct your online networking strategy.
Which (A)SNS end up on your wish list to take into account for your online narrative? For further inspiration, use Miah’s (2020) list.

2: Take an effort to identify the format and audience of the (A)SNS.
Learn the literacies of the platform; what are their conditions and features? What is the platform’s language, like type, length, and tone? Is their audience the public you want to engage with?

So, it requires exploring to identify what (A)SNS profiles at least ask for to turn a profile into a site of engagement. Besides, the platform’s format has to equal your level of comfort; only then a potential profile is up for consideration. If so, then:

3: Create a research-related profile on the platform(s) that fit you and enables you to present your (researcher) self.

Each profile should:

  • Provide ‘accountability, transparency, and verification’ (Brabazon, 2021) of the researchers’ expertise.
  • Entail the essentials: an updated profile (ticking all boxes), contacts, and commitment.

Consequently, each profile on whatever (A)SNS has to be updated at all times, having an accurate account and publication list. Kjellberg & Haider (2018) expose the paradoxicality that scholars expect one another to have current profiles but are way less dependable when it concerns their own. Greifeneder et al. (2018) mention the lack of time to keep profiles updated even as one of the leading causes why researchers tend to have a skeptical approach towards SNS. They also state that researchers seem to have a high understanding of whether (not) to create a profile. If not, it is considered ‘a waste of time, not fitting with their way of working or even being harmful.’ Researchers thus dread that their online presence might come with a cost concerning their reputation. Keeping it research-related as being authentic might mitigate this issue.

Authenticity, genuine, trustworthy, and original, are significant in creating a credible researcher selfie. On the one hand, authenticity can be shown by sharing current work and research-related knowledge and ideas in the platform’s format. On the other hand, being authentic is not a straightforward resolution; it needs time, energy, and focus on making it present in one’s online visibility. It demands self-knowledge to present the (researcher) self. Therefore, give attention to questions like Who am I and as a researcher? What unique talents and interests amplify my life and research? Where do I want to set the border between personal and professional information? Thus, determine which private elements are (not) added value to your public identity.

4: Start sharing current work and research-related ideas and knowledge, and eventually, why these things matter on a personal level (Tsapali & Paes, 2018).

The accountability, transparency, and verification of expertise operate as the basis of having a thriving profile, creating a coherent (A)SNS chain that reflects the offline researchers’ image. There is no clear definition ‘of what success looks like and how to present such an image’ in a profile (Kjellberg & Haider, 2018). Therefore, dare to examine your personal (research) story and choose what (not) to inherit in the online narrative, specified per platform. The researchers’ entrepreneurial mindset in branding oneself, understanding the literacies of (A)SNS and making sound choices in which one (not) to use, and being bold in sharing ideas and knowledge contribute to an accurate and outstanding researcher selfie. Your audience will respond to this, which will open up the opportunity to start communicating and building relationships and collaborations.

It is a personal strategy and a most exciting venture shaping it. Therefore, the last step is:

5: Do not create a scattered researcher selfie with half-filled profiles, but compose a strong (A)SNS chain that represents an updated narration of your research career.

To conclude this article, I want to probe LinkedIn and how it does fit into a researchers’ online narrative. LinkedIn focuses merely on business professionals rather than academics; research opportunities are, for example, not easy to find on this platform. Segado-Boj et al. (2019) list the advantages for researchers using LinkedIn, like staying in contact with others working in one’s field, gaining access to difficult-to-find publications, and ‘keeping current’ with the activities and information spread by this channel. Ward et al. (2021) continue by mentioning opportunities like joining groups, following research activities, and using the platform to communicate their research. Here again, the emphasis is on content rather than form. For that reason, the steps below facilitate opportunities to create feasible content.

These tips support you getting the LinkedIn profile’s basic settings right. Now, open your profile and go to the Add section part (the button at the top of the page beneath the profile photo). Enter every option suggested. Beneath, I pinpoint and explain the essential ones for researchers.

Use the Featured section of LinkedIn
Determine which aspects of your (research) career need attention in this section, such as specific articles, profiles on (A)SNS, or recent posts. Also, consider uploading media like presentations you gave at conferences you attended.

Add publications/patents/projects /honors and awards.
Scholarly profiles are about researchers and their research-related outcomes; enter them all.

Publish peer-reviewed articles on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn offers an excellent opportunity to make ‘research available and known outside academia’ (Kjellberg & Haider, 2018) and distributes it ‘quicker and more widely’ (Cheek & Øby, 2019). Be sure to use a (open-access) downloadable link.

Write LinkedIn Articles.
LinkedIn articles tend to score well on Google. Those who seek you can read what you chose to write down, like thoughts and interests, translational research and knowledge, or whatever creative outburst.

Be active: keep updating, sharing, and reacting.
‘Researchers often have a presence on SNS, but they are not present on these sites (e.g., profiles are outdated and infrequently used, missing key information)’ (Greifeneder et al., 2018). Precisely what you want to avoid; there is a distinction between having a profile and being present 😉

About the author
Tjitske Dijkstra is Academic Career Coach. She guides academics in all career stages and helps them define their life and career paths. By making them aware of their unique talents and interests, she enables them to set and reach their goals. She believes that having a deep understanding of who we are leads to finding our place in life and work.

Feel attention. Take action. Be authentic.