JoshCast: Kosmos Online Interviews Me About Social Media in Academia

December 10th, 2010

Earlier this weak, I chatted with Jeanne Hoffman at Kosmos Online, who asked me a few questions about the use of social media in academia. Check out the podcast and transcript. I talk about the birth of my blog, FantasySCOTUS, the Harlan Institute, and some of the other cool stuff I work on.

Perhaps the only useful advice I offered was to this question:

JH. Do you have any advice for academics who would like to start using social media or anything available to them on the web to help advance their career or at least to kind of get their message out there?
JB. Find your voice. There’s so much chatter and repetitive nonsense on the web where people just kind of copy what other people say and link to other stories, and those blogs don’t really have much of an interest. Find your voice. Figure out what you want to say, figure out what you’re different at, what your comparative advantage is, then milk it. There are so many different elements of a blog that people like, but ultimately it comes down to, is this something I want to read and check on every day? And if there is something interesting or unique that you provide that other people don’t, you will get traffic. And it takes a while to find your tone, to find how you want to express yourself on the web and in the blogosphere, but before you start going overboard with any kind of blogs, twitter or whatever, just figure out what you want to do, and from there everything else will flow.
Jeanne also asked me about the risks of blogging for an aspiring academic. Let’s see how this pans out:

JH. I know a lot of academics are a little worried about putting things on the web because they’re not sure how it will affect their career. Maybe they’ll say something that lot of people will view negatively and it will affect their future or their ability to get tenure. What’s your opinion about that?

JB. Well maybe you should ask me after, or if I ever get a teaching appointment. That would probably be a safer vantage point to ask that. It’s worth noting that I realize I’m taking a risk. I recognize that fully. I’ve spoken with a lot of professors and nearly every one of them told me not to do it. I just ignore them. Here’s the way I look at it, to put this in IHS terms: if I have a comparative economic advantage which is blogging, writing, promoting ideas, developing thoughts, why would I not milk it? I think as the academy evolves towards the next generation, when you see blog posts being cited in Supreme Court decisions, some of the most leading professors in the world blogging, and you see current events in the law being decided on the blogosphere before they even make it into the law reviews, I think there is a certain added value, and I kind of recognize this, and I recognized that I was pretty good at writing quickly and responding to things quickly. For instance one of the things I do is instant analysis. For example if the Supreme Court decides a case, if it’s a 150 page opinion, I can just read it in maybe about an hour or so, maybe an hour and a half, and as I’m reading it I basically comment on it, and these posts get significant amount of traffic because people don’t have the time to read through the opinions so quickly. If the Supreme Court has oral arguments in a case I either attend or if I read the transcript it’s really the same thing, I can get it out really quick, and I’ve been able to get really good insight before anyone else on the internet. I mean, I’ve had the first analysis on some of the most important cases. So I think there’s a real need for me to build a brand for myself.

Now, as far as if there’s a risk, oh certainly. I’m 100 percent positive that if, one day, if someone on an appointments committee wants to spike my candidacy, it will not be very difficult for him or her to find a single tweet or blog post or something I wrote with one objectionable sentence. I think the same probably applies to some of the law articles I’ve written. I don’t really modify my style of writing based on the form too much.

So I think the broader point is whether an aspiring academic wants to write in areas that are controversial. I think the medium is less important. If I’m writing on constitutional law and people might not agree with my views, it doesn’t matter if I have a blog or a law review or I write an op-ed or if I write some other scholarly piece, they’ll find something they don’t like. So I would rather use my comparative advantage to go ahead than to risk it.