Reflections on social workers & social media in Aotearoa: Part 2.

In my last guest post I explored some of the risks and benefits for social workers using social media. I argued that, although there were some very clear risks that social workers need to recognise and be aware of, there are also benefits for professional networking and professional development.  In this post I want to turn to social work academics and researchers.  Why should they make use of social media?  Aren’t they busy enough with teaching, marking and publishing research?

For me the answer is not very different from the reasons why any academic or researcher should use social media. They should do so to:

  • disseminate their research and scholarly activity;
  • transfer knowledge between the academy and industry (social media can enable this far more effectively than subscription-based peer-reviewed journals); and
  • contribute to the development of open academic practices.

The last point, about open academic practices, is particularly important.  Social workers are, or ought to be, committed to social justice.  I have long believed that the idea of open academic practices – including open data sharing, open educational resource development, and the use of creative commons licensing – is closely related to a broader social justice agenda.  Keeping social work research locked behind the paywalls of academic publishers doesn’t help to transfer knowledge.  The kind of informal knowledge sharing and intellectual exchange that occurs at academic conferences make them critical sites for the development of new ideas, and new networks. Social media use before, during and after academic events can open them up to a broader public, enabling a global conversation about important ideas, and emerging memes.  Open educational practices include using media sharing sites (like YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, and Slideshare) to share presentations and other materials; blogging applications (like WordPress and Blogger) to offer reflective writing on research and academic concerns; and social networking tools (like Twitter, FaceBook, and Google+) to engage and exchange with others in academic and professional communities of practice.

However, as compelling as the ethical common good argument might seem, the reasons for social work academics to participate in social media are not only altruistic.  There is growing evidence that the use of social media is directly related to an increase in the impact of a published work, especially when the work is made available on open access. Mewburn & Thomson (2013) give a convincing account of the very rapid dissemination of a published article that (because of the authors activity on blogs and twitter) became one of the most widely read articles in the journal Studies in Higher Education within a few weeks of publication.  Terras (2012) gives a similar account noting that, of the articles she published in her institutional repository, those that she blogged and tweeted about were eleven times more likely to be downloaded.  Mewburn & Thomson (2013)  conclude that:

Blogging is now part of a complex online ‘attention economy’ where social media like Twitter and Facebook are not merely dumb ‘echo chambers’ but a massive global conversation which can help your work travel much further than you might initially think.

For some academics social media are not just new channels to communicate research findings, they are transforming the nature of scholarly practice itself.  See, for example, the aptly titled ‘From tweet to blog post to peer reviewed article: how to be a scholar now’  (Daniels, 2013).  If you need to be convinced that anything of academic note can be communicated in 140 characters have a close look at Mollett, Moran, & Dunleavy (2011).  The rationale for academic engagement with social media has been articulated extensively and authoritatively by a group of academics within the London School of Economics. Their Impact of Social Sciences project provides a rich seam of advice, guidance and exemplary case studies on social media use to enhance the social impact of scholarly activity.

Social work academics, like other academics, are busy people. They need to prioritise and ration their time cautiously and carefully. However, as Mewburn & Thomson (2013) ask, given the steady growth and influence of social media in the academic attention economy, where so much information clamours for our limited awareness, ‘what will be the fate of academics who don’t make the time to blog or tweet?’

There are many social work academics who blog and tweet but here are just a few to whet your appetite:

Some social work academic bloggers:

Martin Webber’s blog
Malcolm Payne’s blog
Supervision in social work

Some social work academics on twitter


My next post – in the new year – will focus on social work organisations and social media. Have a happy festive season and a great New Year.

This piece is cross-posted on the Learning Designs website, and is released under a Creative Commons attribution 3.0 license.


Daniels, J. (2013, September 25). From tweet to blog post to peer-reviewed article: How to be a scholar now [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Mewburn, I. & Thomson, P. (2013, December 12). Academic blogging is part of a complex online academic attention economy, leading to unprecedented readership [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Mollett, A., Moran, D., & Dunleavy, P. (2011). Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities: A guide for academics and researchers. London, England. Retrieved from 

Terras, M. (2012, April 19). The verdict: is blogging or tweeting about research papers worth it? [Web log post]. Retrieved from

About Neil Ballantyne

Expatriate Scot working as a senior lecturer in social work at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Internationalist and open Marxist, preoccupied with abolishing capitalism.
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3 Responses to Reflections on social workers & social media in Aotearoa: Part 2.

  1. Pingback: Reflections on social workers and social media in Aotearoa: Part 3 | Social Work Research in New Zealand

  2. Pingback: To tweet or not to tweet? An RSW activist’s introduction to twitter | Re-Imagining Social Work in Aotearoa New Zealand

  3. Pingback: Thing 4: Explore blogs | 23 Things for Research

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