Sunday, March 4, 2012

Blog in the News: On Self-Promotion and Networking

Waiting by Dave Walker
Source: We Blog Cartoons
While a busy teaching schedule and writing projects have been keeping me away from the blog over the last few weeks, the blog has been active in my absence. Others have been taking notice, and the blog has been featured on the Journal of Victorian Culture Online website, in the Times Higher Education, and has even received a special mention at a Victorian Studies conference.

Last year I wrote a post inspired by the different life narratives emerging from two very similar objects: Victorian decoupage screens. In turn, this was quoted by Charlotte Mathieson in a short essay exploring literary tourism and readers’ responses to place. Mathieson has now revised this post for the Journal of Victorian Culture Online, providing a timely contribution to Dickens 2012 bicentenary debates. As a result, my blog has enjoyed increased traffic with readers clicking through…

Posts exploring the phenomenon of celebrity memoir have also been revived. Responding to a tweet from @TimesHigherArts asking followers to confess their guilty reading pleasures, I got in touch and admitted to reading Dawn French’s Dear Fatty, and what is more, declared I was willing to defend it in print! The result was a short snippet in the Times Higher Education’s ‘What Are You Reading?’ column -- a few words in defence of celebrity memoir and a link to my blog post reviewing the work.

And then, yesterday, I was sitting in the audience of a keynote lecture at a conference on Nineteenth-Century Memory: Approaches and Appropriations (held at Leeds Trinity University College) when my blog was mentioned in the Q&A session. Trev Broughton had delivered a fascinating talk on memory and forgetting in Victorian biography, part of which compared the urge to produce biography to the desire for souvenirs (i.e. biography as an aide-mémoire, sustaining the presence of something -- or someone -- past). I put up my hand and asked about the emergence of biographical series (such as Morley’s ‘English Men of Letters’) and how these might relate to the act of collecting souvenirs. In her response, Broughton referenced my post on souvenirs and self-fashioning (and the picture of me with a Bronte tea towel!) as a spur to her reading of souvenirs, biography and memory. In addition to being terribly flattering, this mention prompted several delegates to approach me and ask about the blog. The post in question has since received several hits and Google searches...

So what’s the value of all this shameless self-promotion? The three instances listed above provide a useful demonstration of the benefits of engaging with social media as an academic, particularly an early career academic: attention has been drawn to my work, I have engaged directly with other researchers on the social web, and I have forged new connections with new readers. Social media has thus helped me to ‘network’ – an oft-dreaded activity that used to be confined to the in-between times at conferences, involving awkward conversations over coffee cups. But networking can now extend beyond the temporal and physical space of a conference; conversations can start before an event and continue long after, with connections being made online. In fact, networking is no longer the preserve of conferences and other research events; plugged-in academics are networked and networking all the time.

Communities on the social web were a recurrent theme in my recent research into early career Victorianists’ use of blogging and Twitter. I have just completed a short article on this topic, the writing of which was a collegial affair: commissioned as a result of my blogging activity, and drawing on case studies and contributions from #phdchat and #phdpostdoc Twitter communities. So yes, all this blogging and tweeting is a form of shameless self-promotion, but it’s also something more. The clue is in the name: social media and the social web. It’s about making connections, forming communities, offering support. In getting your name ‘out there’, you are not a voice crying out in the wilderness. A blog ‘in the news’ is a blog in conversation.

Update: A revised version of this post has been published on the PhD2Published website.

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