by Margarita Mooney on February 18, 2015

With a student who took a hybrid in-person/on-line class I taught.
With a student who took a hybrid in-person/on-line class I taught.

How many scholars have told me that social media takes away from their work? Certainly more than those who have told me social media enhances their scholarship and teaching. As part of National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) guest expert workshops, from March 17-31, 2015, I’ll lead a seminar in which I hope to bust the myth that social media is a lurking threat to the “real” work scholars do.

Just as universities are full of professors who scarcely have thought about pedagogy or public speaking, universities are full of scholars who are trained to communicate only through traditional publications—scholarly books and journals. By learning to be smart about how you use social media, I’ll show you how your research and teaching can be enhanced in short investments of time online. I’ll persuade you that social media has opened up unprecedented possibilities to create new connections, build an online scholarly community, and share your work, whether that be through blog posts or short Facebook or Twitter posts.

Click below to listen an audio clip about how the Haitian earthquake of 2010 propelled me to develop a diverse social media profile.


But to embrace social media as engaged scholarship, you’ll need to start thinking about social media as a scholarly communication tool rather than a way to troll your old friends’ new personal lives or all the bad news in the world that’s irrelevant to your work.

I care about social media because, as an engaged scholar and passionate teacher, I want to both break new ground in my discipline and engage with scholars, my students, and the public about my work on happiness, suffering, virtues and the common good. I’m convinced that not only can my work pass the important test of peer-review, which by definition, is done by people close to my area of work, but can also have practical relevance to students and audiences outside the university. I consider it a privilege to earn my living as a scholar and teacher. My various university positions have provided me a vast infrastructure to support my theoretical and empirical work and to develop my teaching. I’m honored that people see the practical value of what I do. I feel it is a moral obligation to share my scholarship and teaching with those not at my own institution or in my field.


In the three-week course I’ll be teaching through NCFDD, I’ll help you develop a social media communications strategy that can draw in audiences to learn more about your passion through your various social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc). Whether you are a newcomer to social media or have lots of experience, we all need to take an inventory of our various social media accounts and update our strategy.

The course is free to members of NCFDD. If you are not currently a member of NCFDD, I highly recommend it! Visit the NCFDD website to find out how to become and individual member. If your college or university is an institutional member of NCFDD, you may be able to join NCFDD for free and participate in this seminar. You may also email the NCFDD membership director ( to find out more of the benefits of joining NCFDD.

In Week 1 of this course, we will learn how to use social media to brand your passion. We will assess how to better present your profile on various social media tools to capture people’s attention. Knowing your passion and knowing your audience is key to any social media strategy.

In Week 2, I’ll challenge you to create content for social media, and connect to other scholars who are eager to know what you are working on. All of us consume social media, but as scholars and teachers, we should also know how to translate our work into content for social media. Using examples from my own work, I’ll show how I’ve used a combination of longer blog posts (around 2,000 words), short Twitter posts, and creative Facebook posts to increase my scholarly and public connections.

Scholarly books and articles will always be important to a scholar, but if you can write a book or an article about your work, why not a blog, a Twitter post or a Facebook post? Translating our work for a general audience on social media is not that different than teaching. Just as your first few minutes of class must grab students’ imagination, social media posts need to first grab readers’ attention quickly, and then slowly draw them in to deeper contemplation of our scholarly work.

The student pictured above waited in line for 2 hours to write this goodbye message to me at the Bell Tower of UNC-Chapel Hill
The student pictured above waited in line for 2 hours to write this goodbye message to me, “Margarita Mooney, You will be Missed,” on a brick inside the Bell Tower of UNC-Chapel Hill

In Week 3, we will work together on strategies to use the many analytical tools on social media to track our progress and revise our strategy. Engaged scholars need to know how to track quantitative and qualitative metrics of social media impact on scholarship. What’s the best way to have an impact on social media, given the amount of time you have to dedicate to it (which need not be a lot)? What are the resources your institution provides to support social media and engaged scholarship, such as one-on-one technical assistance, training workshops, small grants, or enthusiastic undergraduate students?

Using social media for engaged scholarship and teaching needs to be a team effort. Will you be part of my team and join this course? I’ve consulted with many experts in social media over the years, and to my surprise, I sometimes have insights that they don’t. I bet you have insights—or at least questions—about social media that will help others. During this course, we will set up small groups to meet online in between our group calls. We will also start general discussion threads on particular questions you might have. We should end this course with an improved presence on social media and a plan to keep enriching our social media presence.

I want to teach this class so I can share with you what I’ve learned about social media. You need to know how to respond to your inner voice or the voice of your mentors who think social media is not a smart investment of preciously scholarly time. I want you to feel the joy I do when a famous scholar re-tweets my tweet. I want you to feel the satisfaction I do that my very diverse family and group of friends no longer find scholarship a mystery but actively engage with my ideas on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I want you to get more visits to your social media sites. I want more audiences who are dying to learn what you know to invite you to speak to them.

I’m teaching this class because I’ve largely navigated the world on social media on my own, and against the advice of senior mentors. The worst piece of advice I ever ignored as a new assistant professor was not to waste my valuable time designing a website for my work. So I turned to my university’s web designers, and got the opposite advice, and their enthusiastic practical help. With thousands of visits annually, my website is clearly the main portal that everyone—scholars, students and the general public—has to learn about my writing, teaching, and public speaking. I also ignored senior mentors concerns about contributing to a blog intended for scholars and the general public interested in sociology of religion. As I learned the art of blogging, I became a better speaker, a better teacher, and a better scholar. I want you to feel the joy I did when my senior mentors retracted their previous negative views of social media and embraced my vision. I want you to hear the words of a grant officer commending you for your forward-thinking social media strategy as he approves your grant. I want your students to praise you for being willing to teach them by incorporating means they already use to learn about the world.

Here are some of the metrics that support my decision over the last six years to invest time in social media as a strategy for engaged scholarship and effective teaching:

  • 10,000+ visits to my homepage and book website from all over the world (
  • Between 600-3,000 page views on each of 80 Patheos blog posts between 2012-2014 (at least 80,000 page views total) (
  • Research cited by columnists for The New York Times and The Miami Herald.
  • Authored more than 15 articles on my work for scholarly magazines, such as Chronicle of Higher Education, and general audiences such as print and online magazines.
  • More than 5,000 downloads of several podcast interviews
  • More than 300 Twitter followers @margaritamooney
  • 12 lectures on how to use social media for engaged scholarship and teaching
  • Superb teaching evaluations from enthusiastic students who promote my research and teaching
  • Incorporated social media strategy into two successful grant proposals totaling nearly $3 million in research funding from the John Templeton Foundation

Regardless of whether you can commit 15 minutes or 1 hour a day, you need a plan to strategically use social media to enhance your scholarship and teaching. To ignore social media as a vital tool in scholarship makes about as much sense today as teaching a class without a syllabus or giving a keynote lecture to a large audience without rehearsing. Maybe you can get away making those common mistakes, but why would you want to? If you are the kind of scholar and teacher who desires to be creative, innovative, and capable of leading others into the future, I hope you join me in this class on social media and engaged scholarship from March 17-31, 2015.