This is not just a post about Instagram

Early this year the Australian Prime Minister, who was under a bit of pressure about a questionable decision at the time, dismissed social media as ‘electronic graffiti’. People in my networks were outraged and, of course, took to social media to express their outrage. For a few days feelings were high, which resulted in a creative deluge of hashtags and memes. All good fun.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 12.05.51 pmThe general feeling was that the Prime Minister was an out of touch loser who would find out just how far behind public opinion he was, come election day. I wondered if some enterprising soul might make bumper stickers proclaiming “I use social media and I vote”.

Just to be clear, I would totally buy one of these bumper stickers, should they become available, but the Prime minister’s comment left me more confused than angry. I couldn’t work out if the statement was a throw away line, or an inadvertently astute commentary on the role of social media in society today. I say ‘inadvertently’ because I don’t really credit many politicians with indulging in deep thinking.

Some people think of graffiti as wanton property destruction. If you have ever had to clean it off your front fence – repeatedly – then you might think this view is warranted. However, there’s a persuasive argument to be made that graffiti is a potent form of political protest, particularly for those who have no other voice. There’s certainly a growing understanding of graffiti as Art.

In other words: it’s complicated.

At risk of agreeing with our Prime Minister (there’s always a first time for everything I suppose) I think he might be on to something with the analogy between graffiti and social media. Both of them, by their very nature, resist clear cut definitions.

If you tune into the discourse, the hum of academic social life, you hear certain messages about social media. It’s talked about as a distraction, a way to kill your career dead and, at the same time, an absolutely necessary part of contemporary practice . As the person often tasked with teaching people to be ‘digital academics’ (whatever that really means) I know from first hand experience that there is a lot of confusion, angst and ambivalence in the academic community about social media.

I think the problem is that social media, like graffiti, is a form of self expression. There are a growing number of platforms out there through which you can use to express yourself. In fact, the sheer number is getting a bit daunting. So which ones do you choose to use and what should you do with them? This is a complicated question because, as I said, it depends on how you want to express yourself – and everyone is different.

There’s some evidence to suggest that people who find social interaction easy in real life will also find it easy online. I say this with love, but some academics are not exactly ‘easy’ with people… so, to make it easier, I often use White and Le Cournu’s concept of digital residents and digital visitors (thanks to Joyce Seitzinger for alerting me to this work). I ask people to think of the online space as an opportunity to build a house. What kind of house do you want? A shack by the beach or a luxury waterfront property?

The shack is what I call the ‘light touch enagement model’. The simple online shack would give you somewhere to put your CV, somewhere to put your publications and somewhere to help people find your CV and publications. What’s best to use will necessarily change as social media sites come and go, but here and now, in early 2015, I recommend you create a profile on the following sites:

  • Linkedin (don’t phone it in friends – the academic recruiters are looking there I promise you)
  • and/or researchgate. The jury is out, but I think has more traction right now.
  • A page on your institutional site, if it’s available, so you can validate your affiliation. But don’t get comfortable! I notice that some universities delete the carefully built home pages of their academics who die or leave their institution, leaving us with no central repository of their work
  • Put all your publications in your library repository. This is a no-brainer – there’s a direct relation between doing this and citation rates.
  • Some kind of simple aggregator service, like Flavours Me, that puts up a ‘home page’ with links through to your other profiles.

If you’re more like me and you ENJOY mucking around on social media – or you want to experiment – add some more rooms! Some of these rooms will be like kitchens – fit for a purpose and relatively tidy. Others will be for play – like a cabana by the pool. My luxury waterfront mansion includes all of the services I mentioned above, plus:

  • Twitter
  • An outwardly facing Facebook fan page (a page that is connected to your account, but not part of your normal account)
  • Same thing on G+
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Mendeley / Zotero
  • The complete Google space (this could be a post on its own, so I wont go into detail other to say EVERYTHING THERE IS USEFUL)
  • Storify

How to present yourself to best advantage on each social media space is the next problem. What should you share? Who should you follow? Some people think it doesn’t matter much, but I disagree. How you decorate each ‘room’ in your house is important because it helps you decide what to do there, at the same time as telling others who you are.

This is identity work people! My favourite kind.

Let’s take Facebook as an example. Facebook is my loungeroom. I invite people in to see and comment on what is happening in my life, but I don’t show them the mess in my bathroom. A lot of complaining happens in the loungeroom, as well as showing of the holiday pictures.

Thus my criteria for friending someone is whether or not I would sit in my loungeroom with them and share my holiday snaps, thus I friend:

a) Family
b) People who I know and like in person
b) People I know I would like, should I ever meet them in person.

This last category is small because it takes more time. I’ll sometimes accept friendship requests, or extend them, because I’ve seen that person talking to other friends and laughed at what they have said, or I’ve talked to them on Twitter.

I do use Facebook as a way to access news too, so my Facebook fan page gives me a way to be a ‘news service’ in other people’s facebook feed, without putting pressure on them to come into my loungeroom. I’m not really interested in Google + or Linkedin, but I duplicate my news content there using Buffer, so I have a presence without having to actually be there (if that makes sense)

The building analogy sometimes needs a little creative thinking to be useful. I’m more relaxed about who I follow in Twitter because it’s more like the pub. I have conversations with people and follow them on the basis of that – but I am very careful about what I actually say. No one likes a messy drunk! Pinterest is clearly a kind of scrapbook, but I imagine it as a wall in the foyer of my house. I hang art there that tells people what kind of person I am, but not family photos. So making cool collections for other people to enjoy is my main activity.

Other social media platforms are more difficult to connect to a place, which brings me (finally) to Instagram. In some services you just must ‘dwell’ until the expressive potentials become clear. With Instagram this literally took years.

At first I downloaded the app and played with it. Instagram basically lets you muck around with images and post them to other sites. I could see the aesthetic appeal, but I couldn’t think of a use for it. For a couple of years it sat on my phone. I didn’t really use it, but couldn’t bring myself to delete it because, well – it was cool.

Friends who rarely make an appearance in Facebook and/or Twitter started telling me they were hanging out there, so I started just looking at everyday, to connect with them. I got very interested in the way they were presenting pieces of their lives, in particular the places they live and their hobbies. They were mindfully noting what was going on around them, but in playful and odd ways. I started to find that Instagram was relaxing and energising at the same time. I found myself there at odd times – on the couch on Sunday afternoons, or when I was alone on a bus or in an airport. Basically whenever I wasn’t particularly lonely, but open to company.

Finally it dawned on me. Instagram is Art*.

If it’s Art, then it’s like the verandah or my online house. It doesn’t have a purpose other than what it is: a nice place to be. It’s somewhere I can sit and just look out on the world, alone or in company. I can point out things from my balcony, but I don’t have to particularly engage with them or analyse anything. Now I know the purpose is not to have a particular purpose I am happy. I’ve relaxed about it and just strive to make my academic and home life into Art in Instagram.

It’s strangely enjoyable.

I’d be interested in what you think about this approach to social media strategy – is it helpful? Do you think of different rooms, or have another way to explain why you like some sites and not others? I’d be interested in hearing about it.

Oh and if you want to follow me on Instagram, you can find me here, but don’t expect me to be useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Related posts

An open letter to social media

Social media and your PhD

Why you should use Twitter

53 interesting ways to communicate your research

ย Related links

White and Le Cournu’s concept of digital residents and digital visitors

People who find social interaction easy in real life will also find it easy online.

Tony Abbott’s questionable decision (!)

*I found out, by talking to people on Twitter as I wrote this, that my clever friend Dr Kylie Budge was on to the idea way before me – she’s got an open access paper about Instagram and art practice if you’re interested.

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30 thoughts on “This is not just a post about Instagram

  1. Ian Street says:

    Pedantry/typo alert: Property destruction, not discussion, right? (but that could be interesting too…if Banksy chose to graffiti your house).

    and I definitely need to be better about social media curation :-/…they’re really hard to keep on top of, so I focus on Twitter most of all.

  2. Janet says:

    Love this post, Inger. I feel very much the same about the social media you talk about. Twitter,min particular,has been enormously useful in my teaching and research … although still trying to work out Instagram ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Tracy Stanley says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful and cheeky post Inger. It made me smile.

    Like you, I was offended when our Prime Minister referred to social media as electronic graffiti. It is an important channel, or voice – whether you like the message or not.

    I liked you metaphor of the house with the different rooms reflecting different social media channels. For me, social media is such a huge house, and at this stage, I only feel the need to spend my time in a couple of rooms. Or maybe I am scared of venturing all the way over to the other, less well known side of the house and investing time there.

    I know that I am not the only person scared about the dark side of the house. It feels like such foreign territory and I know of many academics who are not willing to even open the door. Still I have noted your suggestions re rooms to visit, and will go looking for my torch to have a bit of a snoop around.



  4. Jodie says:

    Question, Inger; does this approach make you feel like you’re always ‘on’? Like you have to impression-manage all the time, or that everything you post needs to reflect your professional persona? I suppose this would probably be a good thing, if so, given that it IS public and it is about managing your image and identity in that public space, but it just occurred to me that I use Pinterest, for example, as a very personal tool to curate my thoughts, and have been obstinately ignoring the fact that it’s entirely visible to others. I love Pinterest and it would make me sad to use it another way (you are, after all, only allowed 3 secret boards at a time so I do make use of those for the things that I REALLY don’t want the world to know about, lol), but it certainly has no direct relationship to my academic persona – although a PhD in menu planning could be awesome!

    What do you think? If it’s in the public sphere, does it need to relate to your professional persona, or is that pigeon-holing? (PS I really enjoyed using all those Ps…)

    Thoughts from the community also more than welcome ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      yes I do feel like I am always on… but nothing on the Internet is entirely private. Emails are the most insecure of all actually – anyone can forward them on.

      Does this have to cramp your style? Not necessarily. You don’t have to publicise your Pinterest site, which means less people are likely to discover it. Having an alternative identity is another idea.

  5. Kemi says:

    Hi Inger, I like this way of thinking about social media and how we engage with the different platforms.

    For me, Facebook and Instagram are for people I know, including old friends from when I lived abroad so Facebook = Bar in holiday resort or recreational spot. It’s lighthearted and relaxing. LinkedIn and to some extent Twitter are for some friends but mostly professional connections. I don’t have to know people I connect with there, I get to know them over time and my motives are predominantly professional/career-oriented so it’s like a enormous online conference where I occasionally have a glass of red wine in my hand :-).

    I try to separate personal and professional but it’s quite hard to do. I have had a blog since 2010 and it’s getting to the point where personal and professional are mashed together. I don’t know how I feel about that. I’d liken it to a climbing frame illustrating my life’s journey. Sometimes, I’m climbing past the holiday resort, other times I’m in the online conference asking questions, searching. It’d be easier if I was just about one thing e.g. just a mother or just a woman or just African or just a doctorate student.

    Your post will surely help me navigate through the different platforms as I become even more things over the next few years. Thanks for sharing!

  6. huka says:

    Great post. Love the home analogy. I used to be a social media fiend, but about the time I began my PhD, I killed all of my social media.

    My MFA research focused on the ways that social media continued colonialism, in that it structures the way we externalise our mindset; we pose our social reality through the lens of whatever tech guru has designed the platform we choose to partially live in. In this way, social media acts like colonialism by stealth.

    It was hard to delete my entire creative career, but the instant I did I felt a huge sense of freedom.

    Today, rather than use multiple platforms, I just blog. There’s less accountability to percieved social norms through blogging and it’s easier to be autonomous over the space my work resides in. I also use to store my publications for ease of dissemination.

    I am most definitely out of the loop these days, but as a result I am more in the world; for which there is no virtual substitute.

    Again, thank you for sharing this:)

  7. The voice of reason says:

    I’m with the Aussie PM on this. Social media largely gives people carte Blanche to post random thoughts just because they can. Like me, follow me, listen to me etc. no thanks, I’ve got a real life with real friends in the real world. No wonder the world is going to the dogs – people are tweeting instead of getting out there and doing.

  8. Mandalay says:

    Hi Inger, I enjoyed the way you described using social media as different rooms. For me, it’s been just Twitter and LinkedIn (where I found one group really great for sharing ideas) – at the moment, they’re an informal dining table/room! The one thing I did grapple with is that Twitter (for me) was more a news and research, forum, a professional persona which I’ve tried to maintain (no family anecdotes etc). But I did come across a post by (26 Feb 15) on having two Twitter feeds, one personal, one professional, which was interesting.

  9. PollyG says:

    Hi Inger,
    Thank you for all your posts. They are entertaining as well as thought provoking.
    The building/room metaphor is great, I think of FaceBook as my home – for friends and family, LinkedIn as my workplace for colleagues and potential colleagues, with and/or researchgate plus Twitter as uni – for PhD links. I continue to have a little background worry about too much personal data being out on the web with the ever-present threat of identity theft. Have you any suggestions about that? Perhaps you’ve already written a post that I’ve missed?
    In the future I’d like to know more about your recommended use of the “The complete Google space” in a post please.

    • Thesis Whisperer says:

      Noted Polly – and the personal data out there is a problem. I’m not sure I have a good solution except to avoid ever inputting anything into a computer that you wouldn’t want your boss, your partner, your students or your children to see. That includes email!

    • Mandalay says:

      Hi PollyG, just in relation to identity theft (and I’m guessing you do this anyway) but always check your privacy settings on whichever social media account you have, ensure all anti-virus/malware settings are up to date, change passwords regularly and make them a mix of words/numbers etc. As Inger said, also make sure there’s nothing on Facebook or email you wouldn’t be concerned with if it was made public. It’s interesting (scary) in public places (airports, cafes, trains) how I can ‘identify’ people in the same area just by having the ‘wifi’ setting in my phone switched to on – they can probably work out who I am too so I now switch it off! (Usually comes up with something like ‘Luke’s phone’).

  10. Jo says:

    I love social media and find that it is a really valuable way of keeping up to date with developments in my field (dogotal craft and archiitecture).

    Unfortunately I’ve just been bitten, and bitten badly. My carefully planned and promoted Instagram account has been ‘deactivated’ without warning and without the right of reply. The email I received infers that I posted sexually suggestive or nude content. This is not really my style. I’m sure that some of those cathedral domes or temple mounds might look like something else to a bot, but I’ve never posted anything lewd. I’ve also never made lewd comments and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never infringed on anyone’s copyright.

    All the images I post are mine, some are of other peoples work, taken in public places where photography is allowed. Or I’ve sought the express permission of the maker. I label and credit my photos where due. Under the Fair Use for Academic Purposes policy this should cover me, although I acknowledge that this can vary from country to country, and I do a lot of fieldwork. Of course if anyone has a problem I encourage them to contact me, no one has ever contacted me.

    The first email I received from Instagram said “Your account has been disabled for following the Community Guidelines, and we won’t be able to reactivate it.” This is a very harsh approach to moderation, one that gives no access to appeal, nor any information regarding the alleged infringement. Given this approach I have to question the wisdom of investing my time and energy into using Instagram for academic purposes.

    So it’s been five days, I’ve complained, my friends have complained, friends of friends who work at Facebook and Instagram have lodged internal requests for the ban to be lifted, but as of now I’ve not received any reply from a real person, and my account is still blocked.

    I’ve included the details in a Facebook post

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