It’s not a secret that branding, marketing, and showcasing your research online can boost your academic career. You might have noticed that you will find most researchers and PhD students all over Twitter, where they can share their work, establish their relevance in the field, and grow their networks. Perhaps the one or other might even have their own research blog or podcast. Recently however, there has been a slow shift to TikTok as a platform to promote research.
The main unique quality of TikTok is its strong – almost aggressive – behaviour-tracking algorithm. Users do not have to look for the content they are interested in, instead the app continuously learns about the user’s interests and finds the relevant content for them. This also means that content creators don’t have to spend much time promoting their TikTok accounts but are rewarded for producing content that resonates with people.
This is why many academics have taken over TikTok to share bits and pieces of their research in captivating and creative ways to a predominantly younger audience. Their accounts, which are entirely dedicated to their areas of expertise and branded accordingly, offer the realistic potential of garnering them a high following of curious minds. It might sound a bit dystopian, but the future is now, and we may as well consider making use of the algorithmic dissemination of our research content and novel insights.
How to become TikTok famous as an academic?
Consistency is key. When looking at different popular researchers and academics on the platform, the one thing they have in common is that their videos have a recognisable element, similar to a brand identity. Whether it is Dr Inna Kanevsky (@dr_inna) who regularly debunks pseudo-science content related to psychology on the platform, Esmé Louise James (@esme.louisee) who talks about the…spicier sides of history, or Jean Menzies (@jeansthoughts) who analyses and unpacks elements of ancient history and mythology in contemporary media. Their accounts have consistent identity, which translates into brand loyalty and recognisability.
On TikTok, there are usually viral sounds, (augmented reality) filters, or trends which can be modified to suit creator’s brand identity. By adopting some of these trends, as seems fit and appropriate, creators can once more boost their reach and land on new audience’s main feed.
Making academia more accessible
Many creators who work in academia, don’t use TikTok to only promote their own work, instead they also encourage their followers to consider pursuing a career in academia. They answer frequent questions, which tend to come from aspiring, often first-generation, academics and address their followers’ concerns. Some creators like Dr Amina Yonis (@draminayonis) provide general tips on how to thrive and make most out of the PhD period. Others show how they manage their day-to-day lives as PhD students which might include caretaking or part time work obligations. By making easily digestible content about life as a PhD, the seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling slowly shatters, making the world of academia more accessible.
And who knows, maybe it’s your TikTok video that will inspire someone to take a leap of faith and start their PhD journey.
Anna Rezk is a 2nd year PhD researcher in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the BBC R&D. Her research revolves around the implication of personalised and highly customisable public service media content and how it can be leveraged to promote inclusive and democratic civic participation. Due to her background in journalism and computer science, she is particularly interested in news, and how content can be algorithmically enhanced and curated without thwarting editorial intent. Find her on Twitter as @anna_rezk.