Thing 4: Presenting yourself – personal ‘brand’ and social media


Image: Ben Salter

In this Thing we will have a look at how you may be perceived online, and what you can do to raise or control your profile – including getting active on Twitter.The first thing many people (including potential and current employers) will do when they hear your name is Google you, so it’s important to learn how to ‘curate’ that brand. A good way to think about it is as an extension of the professional you. A strong online presence can be a powerful tool in achieving your professional goals, particularly in promoting your work and reaching a wider audience.



We’ll begin by taking a look at what content is associated with your name online. Start by Googling yourself. Type your name into Google (and/or any other search engine) and see what comes up (you may also want to try nicknames – Nic vs Nicola, for example). Do the same thing over at socialmention, which gathers data from social media.

You may want to try combining your name with certain key words (e.g. ‘biology’ or ‘physics’), or even seeing if what comes up when you search for keywords only (e.g. ‘electronic engineer researcher surrey’). Do you or your work appear on the first page or two? If so, is it content with which you’d like to see yourself associated?

Once you’ve analysed how you appear online, start to think about how you’d like to appear and what you might be able to do to make that happen. Quite a few of the tools we’ll explore in upcoming Things can improve and augment your online presence. For example, keeping your Surrey Online profile updated, or having a LinkedIn profile are great ways to make sure you’re visible, but there are things you can do now.

First of all, think about online accounts and profiles you already have. Make sure accounts you already manage are up to date and reflect the persona you want to share – including your name and photograph, if relevant. If you haven’t already, fill out the ‘About’ page on your new or existing blog, and consider adding a photograph. A good (and appropriate!) photograph can make a big impact on your audience. Try to be consistent across different platforms.

Professional vs Personal
Do you want to keep your professional and personal identities separate online? Keep in mind that if content is accessible to colleagues and professional contacts, you probably don’t want your latest holiday snaps or student party photos showing (although this may be fine for some people/accounts). On the other hand, letting your personality shown in your professional presence can make it more engaging and memorable.

Exploring further

Consider linking. If you have multiple online accounts, find ways to connect them. If you have accounts on social media tools like Twitter or LinkedIn, you may want to provide links to them on your blog (see this WordPress help article if you want info on creating links). You might also like to try the opposite approach and include links to your blog on your Twitter profile. Google favours pages on domains, so include a link to your University profile or page (if applicable) from your other accounts.


higher ground

“At last a profile picture I can use for both my geological research and my Black Panther fanpage!”
Photo by Endika valle on Unsplash


Twitter and social media

The vast majority of people use some form of social media these days in their personal life. it is work considering, however, how some platforms can be useful for your professional work, too. We’re going to concentrate on Twitter here, since it is simple, quick and very widely used. We’ll look at some other approaches in other Things, such as LinkedIn, Instagram or Mendeley.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows you to publish short updates – text, links and pictures. You can follow other users to subscribe to their updates, which appear in your own feed so it’s easy to see them. You’re not required to set up an account on Twitter for this Thing, but we strongly recommend that you do. You’ll need an account to explore many of the tool’s features, and it’s a good way to improve your online presence.

Why use Twitter?       

It’s a common misconception that Twitter is all about people sharing what they had for breakfast, celebrity spats, or live-tweeting about The Great British Bake-off. Many users prefer to ask questions, network, or share interesting links. It can be a powerful tool, both for building professional contacts and for staying up to date in your area. There are also many organisations and researchers using Twitter to stay in touch with their students or contacts. You might use Twitter for any of the following (taken from #DH23):

  • Publicising your work, such as a new blog post or article
  • Disseminating news about your professional activities, such as attending a conference
  • Commenting on news in your field or HE in general
  • Sharing interesting content you find, through tweeting URLs (shortened with services such as tinyurl or to leave you more characters to comment with) or through retweeting others’ tweets
  • News updates (from blogs such as those of other 23 Things participants, InsideHigherEd or publications such as the THES or Guardian Higher Education),
  • Opportunities and news from professional or research bodies such as Vitae or the UK Research Staff Association or funding bodies such as the Research Councils UK.  These might include calls for papers, funding or jobs.
  • Activities in departments, libraries and other research centres. You can find out about seminars and conferences this way.
  • Live-tweeting at conferences (either participating in the conference audience ‘backchannel’ or to get a flavour of discussions and speakers to look up, and participate remotely by asking questions, if you can’t attend in person)
  • Asking questions, and answering those of others.
  • Crowdsourcing and finding research collaborators or participants
  • Finding and contacting individual scholars in your field who might be able to recommend reading material, answer questions or suggest opportunities that would be interesting for you.
  • Enhancing some of the more informal communication that occurs in the academic world such as networking at conferences and seminars, bumping into colleagues at your own and other institutions or moral support from peers.
  • Peer support
  • For a mixed diet of humour, academic debates and interesting snippets, try some of these:  @DamienKempf; @AcademicsSay; @AstroKatie; @tressiemcphd; @hashtagoras; @qikipedia; @OED; @NyashaJunior; @AcademiaObscura ; @NevilleSouthall ; @TEDTalks ‏; @bengoldacre ‏‏‏

Some basic Twitter vocabulary
(see the Twitter Glossary for more)

  • Tweet: A Tweet may contain photos (up to 4), videos (a GIF), links and up to 280 characters of text
  • Retweet: A Tweet that you forward to your followers is known as a Retweet. Often used to pass along news or other valuable discoveries on Twitter, Retweets always retain original attribution (more info on Retweets from Twitter support)
  • @reply: a reply to another user (more info on @reply from Twitter support)
  • Direct Messages: private messages sent from one Twitter account to another account(s). You can use Direct Messages for one-on-one private conversations, or between groups. (more info on DMs from Twitter support)
  • #: A hashtag is any word or phrase immediately preceded by the # symbol. When you click or tap on a hashtag, you’ll see other Tweets containing the same keyword or topic. e.g. #23thingssurrey, so that all tweets on a particular event or issue can be easily searched and tracked (more info on hashtags from Twitter support)


If you already have a Twitter account, skip ahead to Exploring Further. If not, follow these easy steps to get one set up.

  1. Go to and use the sign up box to get started. Follow the steps to create an account. You may want to think about your online presence when you decide on a user name. Do you want to be consistent across your various accounts?
  2. Once you have created your account, you’ll be taken to your Twitter homepage where there are further steps to work through to get you started, e.g. updating your profile to include a short biography or adding a profile picture. You can come back to these steps at any time using the link to Settings in the top right corner of the screen. We recommend you leave the privacy box unchecked so that others can see your tweets and communicate with you.
  3. Now post your first update! Click on the box in the top right hand corner where it says ‘Tweet’. Write a comment – maybe something about your participation in 23 Things. As you type you will see the number in the bottom right hand of the box decrease; this tells you how many characters you have left. Leave enough space to add the hashtag #23ThingsSurrey at the end. This is the hashtag for the 23 Things for Research programme at Surrey, and will allow others to search for all related tweets. Once you’re done, click ‘Tweet’. You’ll see your tweet appear in your timeline.
  4. Find people to follow.
    1. Search by name or twitter handle in the search box. Try looking for and following @RDP_Surrey and @UniofSurrey
    2. There’s also a follow button on every user’s profile page.
  5. You may wish to join the University’s twitter flight school to get you up and running easily.

Exploring further

  • Twitter hashtags offer a great way of following conferences – either by finding out about and interacting with those at a conference with you, or by hearing details of a conference you were unable to attend. Take a look and see if a conference of interest to you has/had a hashtag, and then see what sort of tweets come up under that hashtag (keep in mind that Twitter may not show results before a certain date).
  • Another way to use hashtags is to set up real-time chats – for instance, the #phdchats on Wednesdays. These are usually held at specific times each week or month, and you can participate by tweeting your comments or questions with the appropriate hashtag.
  • Set up and save searches for relevant topics, people or events in your field.
  • Take a look at a few Twitter clients. Tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite allow you to schedule tweets ahead of time and track retweets, reach and other stats.

Further reading



Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

Author: rdpsurrey

Providing personal and professional development opportunities to researchers at the University of Surrey.

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