Social Networking for Professionals (for Academics)

A little over a month ago I received an email from my friend Stacey: “We are looking for a speaker for our biomechanics graduate seminar to speak on social networking in a professional setting and/or internet presence for researchers in academia…Would you be interested in doing this and do you feel like it’s a topic you could speak to? The audience for the seminar is mostly graduate students, both Masters and PhD’s, and our biomechanics faculty.”

A bit of extra context: Stacey Acker is an Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo, in the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology. Stacey and I went to high school together, and I was lucky to be a grade ahead of her, so we weren’t competing for the same awards. You know that rare person who gets pretty much straight 100s and actually deserves them? Well, Stacey was that person. Life has brought us both to Waterloo.

Here’s part of my response:

I’m a tad on the fence here: I think I could do an OK job on the topic, but I also think there would be stronger candidates out there. On the one hand, I know the Internet like relatively few others, but on the other hand I have very little experience with academia and the specific needs of your crowd.

So…what exactly are you and the audience hoping to gain? General overview of social networking platforms and their various roles/suitability for building professional profiles and networks? Dos and don’ts of social media as a professional? Why you need a Google+ profile even though Google+ is stupid? I could speak to those things well enough. However, if there’s some crazy world of academia-specific networking sites, then I’m completely ignorant of those…

Fast forward to today, and my colleague Dan Deeth and I spent an hour giving ~25 biomechanics folks a crash course in social media in our creatively titled presentation: “Social Networking for Professionals: It’s a Real Thing, and You Should Probably Do It”

As the email above indicates, I was initially hesitant to do this presentation, and there were two reasons:

  1. I’m not familiar with the audience, their needs, their knowledge, etc.
  2. I’m not exactly the most well-versed in social media¹

I asked myself, “Who knows more about social media than anyone else I know?” and I replied to myself, “Dan Deeth” (he of double-beef fame). Dan is Sandvine’s Media and Industry Relations Manager, and somehow stays on top of the entire Internet. That’s right – if something happens on the Internet, Dan knows.

Together, we could offer some real-world experience, and it wouldn’t be a cheesy presentation about how social media is changing the world and is the greatest human invention ever. Instead, we could offer practical tips and our own varied experiences.

We put our heads together for an hour or so and came up with the general outline of the deck. After that, it was pretty much polish and tracking down fun references.

About a week ago Stacey asked for introductory bios to send to the prospective attendees. Here’s what I banged out:

Lee Brooks: Lee is a graduate of UW’s Computer Engineering program who now leads the Product Marketing team at Sandvine. He is an avid technophobe who prefers to live in the real world and only reluctantly uses social media and networking services. He pops his head up every now and again to speak at telecommunications conferences, local Communitech events, and at UW to teach “the kids” about “the world”. He finds writing in the third person to be odd and discomfiting.

Dan Deeth: Dan is graduate of Brock’s Business Communications program who now handles Sandvine’s corporate communications. He also runs Sandvine’s renowned Global Internet Phenomena program, and is somewhat legendary in the office for his ability to monitor a constant torrent of social media updates. If something happens anywhere on the Internet, Dan’s one of the first to know.

Apparently the teaser worked, as we had a packed house.

Social Networking for Professionals: It’s a Real Thing, and You Should Probably Do It

The title slide probably set an accurate tone, thanks to this xkcd strip.

Yep, we're not taking ourselves too seriously here.

Yep, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously, but it doesn’t mean we won’t give the topic serious attention.

Yep, we weren’t taking ourselves too seriously. We were there to give a straight-up examination of social networking.

Dan and I broke the presentation into a number of chunks:

  • General Introduction: to hopefully convince the group that even if they think social networking is a bunch of baloney, it’s still worth their time
  • Objectives: what are you actually trying to achieve?
  • Strategies: how are you going to achieve it?
  • Tactics: actually using the various services and networks
  • Case Study: Johnny Lee
  • Take-Aways

General Introduction

Slide three used the well-known social media donut example to summarize social media:

An oldie but a goodie.

An oldie but a goodie.

…and if we hadn’t broken the ice with our introductions, then this did the trick because it had the room cracking up. We also found the time to make a few points, though:

  • Lacking an online presence is interpreted as being lazy
  • If people can’t find you, then they can’t hire you
  • If you had to look anything up, where would you go?
    • Hint: online
  • Social networking lets you
    • engage as formally or informally as you like
    • build relationships now

We knew the room might be quite skeptical, so we needed to win them over from the get-go, and I think our candid delivery and common-sense approach worked.

We also acknowledged some social networking sites for academics, including Research Gate, Mendeley, and, and I linked to an interesting study called Scientists and the Social Network. The study shows that people generally use these sites to achieve different objectives than the more widely known social networks.


Essentially, why do you want to use (or, perhaps, why you should be using) social networks?

  • Get hired?
  • Advance your career?
  • Build a foundation for the future?
  • Meet like-minded folks?
  • Keep track of peers?

We ran through some studies showing how much employers rely on examining social media presence as part of the hiring process (i.e., enormously), and how what they find can either hurt or harm your prospects at landing the job.

And, for those who were thinking more along the lines of entrepreneurship, we offered a few compelling reasons why these lessons applied to them.


Ultimately, to achieve any of the objectives outlined previously boils down to executing on two strategies:

  1. Own your own results, so people can find you when they’re looking for you
  2. Be relevant, so people find you when they’re looking for your area of expertise

Owning your results means dominating whatever comes up when you Google yourself. You should try this: pop open a Chrome incognito window and search for yourself (don’t use quotes, just search on your name). Where are you in the search results? Do you like what you see?

We highlighted the famous case of Rick Santorum (I’ll let you learn about that one on your own time, if you don’t already know), and then profiled three less famous people:

Michael Bolton (Software Developer, Initech Corporation) has to compete with some singer for search ranking relevance

Michael Bolton (Software Developer, Initech Corporation) has to compete with some singer for search ranking relevance

Why are these the results we get? Well, we can draw a few conclusions:

  • There aren’t many “Deeth”s
  • There aren’t many “Acker”s
  • There are lots of “Lee”s
    • Works for men and women
    • Quite a common name in Asia
  • There are lots of “Brooks”s

Plus, we can draw a few conclusions that are perhaps more instructive:

  • Dan acted early
  • Lee acted late
  • Stacey is fortunate

Despite my late start, I actually have quite a bit of content online. We can conclude, then, that the biggest problem for me is that my three main properties on social media networks all have different names:

  • leadershipmarketingandeverything
  • leelovesmarketing (LinkedIn)
  • @leestwees

Why? Because I got started late. For years, I thought “I don’t need Twitter”, and I remember thinking more than a decade ago that there was no point in buying leebrooks dot anything. Damn you, Past Lee, for your lack of foresight!!

Being relevant means being discoverable: If you Google your area of expertise, do you show up in the results? Again, this is a fun and enlightening exercise. Don’t cheat: use words and terms that others would, not the ones you use to specifically describe yourself.

(this is actually a major challenge for marketers: being able to put yourself in the customer’s/prospect’s place to understand the things they would search for)


We broke this section up into two parts: The Basics, and The Extras.

In The Basics, we covered some basic things to keep in mind, (e.g., assume that everything is public and permanent, be wary about topics like politics and religion), and then presented our thoughts on:


Please, please, please, do not use a digital photo of a physical photo as your profile pic.

Please, please, please, do not use a digital photo of a physical photo as your profile pic. That image is the headshot thing from CounterStrike. Fair use!

We also showed some example headshots that I snapped at a conference a few years ago:

Following the rules still leaves you with room for variety.

Following the rules still leaves you with room for variety.


LinkedIn slide

This really won’t take long to do. So go do it!


Yeah, I handed over to Dan for this one.

Yeah, I handed over to Dan for this one.


You can sum up the correct Facebook strategy as "Lock that shit down."

You can sum up the correct Facebook strategy as “Lock that shit down.”

We polled the room to see how many people were active on each network. About five or six of the folks had a profile on LinkedIn, maybe two were on Twitter, and almost all were on Facebook.

Twitter got the most skepticism, which didn’t really come as a surprise. A lot of people in general see it as frivolous and pointless, and academics as a group are probably more prone to find more things frivolous and pointless than the general population. It’s also clear that most people’s conceptions about Twitter are, well, mis-conceptions. It isn’t just about food pics (that’s Instagram!) and pointless updates – it can actually be used as a great resource and relationship-builder.

Next, we moved onto some more advanced material: Blogs, Google+, Meetup, YouTube, and RateMyProfessor. To summarize each:

  • Blogs are great for building a complete picture; follow these tips from The Oatmeal
  • You’re probably already on Google+ whether you know it or not, and it can actually help your search ranking
  • Meetup is great for actually meeting up with people (I know, right?)
  • YouTube can show your presentation and communications ability
  • RateMyProfessor: Are you on it? Do you want whatever it says coming to the front page of a search result? If not, then you’d better bump it to page two with a tonne of great, positive content!

Then we closed off this section with some general instructions for anyone who we’d convinced to go on the line:

That top one's good for life in general, kiddies.

That top one’s good for life in general, kiddies.


Case Study

Here, we presented the story of Johnny Lee: as a grad student, he posted to YouTube what would later be voted as the best technology demonstration of all time, “Head Tracking for Virtual Desktop Virtual Reality Displays using the Wii Remote”. I remember watching this when it came out and just being floored.

Anyway, Johnny used that video and a robust online presence (website, blog) to launch his career. He worked at Microsoft on the Kinect, and is now at Google X doing who knows what. He’s also got a TED talk under his belt. Just sayin’.

Plus, despite what has to be a common name, and despite competing against a country music artist with seemingly dozens of albums, Johnny owns the top search results.


We left the audience with a few key take-aways:

  • Whether you’re going to use them right now or not, try to secure your domains, handles, etc.
  • You don’t have to do so today, but there will be consequences down the road if you don’t
  • A little bit of effort (e.g., an evening) can go a long way
    • LinkedIn + domain
  • The cream rises to the top, but you have to be in the glass (butter churn?)
  • Just like with investing money, this stuff compounds
    • early and often gives better results than a catch-up lump


We had enough time left over to field some questions:

  • What do you do if there are results that are unfavourable?
    • You need to bump those off the front page, and to do that you need online content. Additionally, if it’s something that absolutely will get found during an employer’s search, then you need to address it head-on.
  • How much time does this take?
    • Well, to get up and running will take you an afternoon or evening. Maintaining it should really be a hobby; that is, it should intersect with something you’re doing already. This blog gave me a good example: sure, it’s building online presence, but it’s a genuine area of interest so it’s easily worth the couple of hours a week that I put in.

Social media in general can be very misunderstood by those who don’t use it (it turns out that people were of the impression that creating and maintaining a LinkedIn profile would take hours and ongoing effort), so I hope our session gave people the information they need to get started!

My thanks to:

  • Stacey for the invitation
  • Dan for his invaluable assistance and insightful additions to the session
  • The biomechanics group for their lively participation!


¹To say the least. I suppose this statement is a little bit ironic, given that you’re reading it on a blog (or via RSS or something), but relative to my colleagues I’m a luddite. I prefer to think of myself as skeptical as to the necessity of technology. On a related note, in advance of delivering this session I signed up for Twitter (@leestwees): it just seemed wrong to be talking to a group about something I didn’t use.


Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Careers, Everything, Marketing

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