Friday, October 23, 2015

Why Historians Should Consider Facebook and Twitter

Every now and then a post like this appears somewhere on-line.  Here are a few examples:

All of these posts (and others like them) provide very solid reasons for why academic and professional historians should use Facebook and Twitter.  I recommend reading them whenever they appear.

But let me offer a slightly different perspective.

When academic historians write and talk about using social media the conversation is always limited by the boundaries of the profession.  Social media can help historians network.  Social media can help historians share their work.  Social media can help historians share resources (usually in the form of links) with other historians.  All of this assumes that the people we follow or "friend," and the people who follow and friend us, are all academic or professional historians.

My approach to social media has been different in the sense that I have not separated my professional life from certain aspects of my personal life.  Yes, there should be boundaries between the two and I have tried to keep them.  But people who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will also have to deal with the occasional (or not so occasional) photo of my family, a post on the New York Mets, or the latest fan-boy commentary on Bruce Springsteen.  I tend to approach life in an integrated fashion--perhaps to a fault.

The people who follow me on social media are very diverse.  I have conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, evangelical Christians and atheists, academics and aunts and uncles, Mets fans and Yankee fans, and everyone in-between.  I like it this way.  

Sometimes we argue on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes my liberal friends are shocked by the comments that appear on my feed.  Sometimes my conservative friends feel the same way. I prefer such diversity over the posts I read on many Facebook or Twitter accounts where all of those contributing to the conversation are of one ideological bent.  

Are you on social media?  How diverse is your following or list of "friends?"  Or do you find yourself preaching to the choir with every post or tweet?  

OK--back to historians.  As someone who wants to write for public audiences through blogging and other popular outlets, I love social media because I get to see what a diverse group of people are thinking about and how they are responding to the ever-changing world around them. The conversations that happen on social media--either on my sites or the sites of others--fuel my writing and provide me with ideas.   Sometimes it is less about posting and more about sitting back and reading the posts of others.

So join the conversation at Facebook or @johnfea1. Or perhaps open a Twitter or Facebook account of your own.

One more thing:  Those of us trying to provide bring solid content to social media outlets always prefer "retweets" over "favorites" on Twitter and "shares" to "likes" on Facebook