Talk to any professor and they will proudly tell you that they do academic research. They will happily tell you what their research is about and where it is published. Being academic is a badge of honor to them. Talk to the general public, on the other hand, and they will often equate "academic" with that obscure stuff generated in ivory towers with no connection to the real world.
This is clearly a marketing problem.
Ever since I decided to get my doctorate, I committed myself to producing accessible forms of my research in addition to the scholarly versions. If I was going to do good research, I wanted it to have influence. But let's face it, no matter how insightful, most academic journal articles are read by about ten people. And that is no way for society to learn from the great research conducted at our universities and colleges.
Early on, my focus was on creating mainstream magazine articles to complement academic research. Now I focus on social media. Social media is the avenue to society's mind. If we can take great academic research and make everyone aware of it through social media, "its academic" will grow to mean it is valuable information that will help us improve the world.
But the key is to ensure that academics who are doing great research are using social media to share their findings and applying their expert knowledge to the problems of the world in a manner that will have broad impact. Social media presents that opportunity to all academics. With it, professors are not limited to the rare opportunities to appear on The Daily Show, like Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page did, when they have research that can help us.
And when professors gather on social media to share their research, knowledge and wisdom, their universities will also benefit. More students will learn about their many choices for higher education and students already in school will know how to get more education out of the school they attend. It might even help schools recruit new professors and win grants.
There are some scholars already thriving on social media, but many more could be doing so, as well. Many academic departments in schools across the country are almost completely absent from the conversation. To rectify this, I have started to work closely with professors in the same way I have worked with journalists and policy experts at think tanks to get them up and running on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. I think the potential here to change the world for good is immense.
Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President of Digital Strategy at turner4D and publishes Social Advocacy and Politics every other Tuesday.