Social media spotlight: David Lazer

This is the first in a series of Q&As with faculty members on how they use social media.


For David Lazer, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Science, social media is a powerful way to engage in conversation within your profession. “It’s a way of simulating the conversation in the hallway, but globally, not just within your own institution,” says Lazer, who uses both Twitter and Facebook for professional purposes. He admits, however, of his work-related Facebook posts stemming from his fields of study, political science and social networks: “I’m sure it sometimes annoys my friends from high school and college.”

We asked Lazer, co-director of the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, to share how he approaches social media from a professional perspective, and who he considers his “must follows” on Twitter. He also shares the names of a baseball slugger and a prominent political figure who he’d love to have follow him.


How do you approach social media from an academic perspective, in terms of research, scholarship, and teaching?

I use social media to get the word out about my papers and other interesting papers I’ve seen to create a steady stream of content that is interesting to people and therefore affect the conversation. I use it to get word out about postdoc opportunities and job opportunities. I also try to use the platform as a means to give attention to junior colleagues who are doing interesting work. When I blogged, I used it to write essays that were conceptual and short; there wasn’t any venue in academia for that content—something you just wanted to say in 1,000 words but without much data. But blogging was time consuming. And professionally, blogs still occupy a grey zone, where it’s not clear how much you will or should be rewarded for blogging. You could spend a lot of time blogging and not get much professional reward. I wrote these posts not to advance my career but because I had something to get off my chest. Tweeting is cheaper, in the sense that you’re consuming and producing at the same time. It substitutes out for other kinds of entertainment. Maybe I’m not watching TV at night, but I’m tweeting for a half hour, which is both professional and also how I consume a lot of information.

What advice would you offer a colleague looking to begin or expand their professional social media presence?

I’d think about the different media and the role each can play, and how they can help you get your work and ideas out there, but also how much you enjoy doing it. With Twitter, there’s a question of whether you want to do this on a regular basis. I think it worth trying out and finding a few people and organizations you might find interesting to follow. And if that provides a stream of interesting things for you to read, then it’s worth using; and if you can in turn provide some interesting content, all the better.

Overall, it can increase the attention that your research and ideas receive, and some scholars have made that an intrinsic part of their personal identities.

Speaking of finding interesting people to follow, who would you consider your must-follows right now on Twitter?

Of the people who I tweet a lot and whose stuff I take very seriously, one is Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at UNC. She just gave a terrific presentation in October at NULab. She has hundreds of thousands of followers. She also has a column for The New York Times. Someone else is Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth, who also writes columns for The New York Times. I really enjoy his tweets; he comments on politics and the media, and has been particularly insightful regarding the period since the election.

Have you ever conversed with or been retweeted by any public figures or celebrities?

Well, I’ve never been retweeted by Justin Bieber, I’m afraid. In terms of followers, there are certainly prominent people in my field who follow me. I have 5,000 or so followers. I sometimes peek at who’s recently started following. Maybe Justin Bieber is following me, but I’m betting not.

Who is someone who, if they followed you, you’d get a real kick out of it?

There might be some prominent political figures. If Al Gore followed me, that would be a hoot. If David Ortiz followed me that would be cool. But I don’t know if he would find what I do interesting.


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