Why Professors Should Disseminate their Knowledge and Share Opinions to Public Audiences

Mark Anthony NealProfessors have a megaphone to the world. There are incredible opportunities for academics to communicate their knowledge with the general public through traditional and social media. While many don’t for various reasons, there are a number of professors who are doing this incredibly well. One such individual is Mark Anthony Neal, an African American studies professor at Duke University and author of the book New Black Man. The term “incredibly well” is quite a superlative, yet this is probably an understatement. As I noted in a previous post, Mark Anthony Neal’s blog featured 1063 posts in 2012. That’s not a typo! He averaged almost three different posts per day. In 2013, this number shrank to a “disappointing low of” 821 – that’s still more than two posts per day over the course of a year!

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark and will be doing a series of blog posts with him on various aspects of his “media empire” and the best practice he can share with other professors. Here is part 1 focused on his strategy, goals and why he does this.

Mark, thank you very much for taking some time to speak with me for this blog series. Can you summarize all the different things you do in terms of external communications?
Sure, I write several posts each day for my blog, host a podcast and I maintain a regular social media presence on Twitter,YouTube and Google Plus. In terms of Facebook, I manage pages for my blog, my academic department at Duke and New Black Man. There is some cross-over in terms of audience. I also take part in several media interviews every month.

This must take an incredible amount of time!
It does. But it is worth it. It definitely requires commitment to doing this work.

Are you one of these guys who works until 3 in the morning and gets up at 6 am? Many might think this would be the case given that you are a full-time professor and your communications activities look like a full-time job.
I have two daughters, who are now fifteen and eleven and I’m quite of involved with them, so I don’t have the time or capacity to work like that. You find pockets of time and use it in a very focused manner. I usually spend 90 minutes in the morning updating the blog. I see the blog as a gateway to find other information. I am curating information for my audience. Throughout the day, I use social media to share this information with my audience. If you are going to do to this work, you have to make the time. However, technology allows you to streamline your efforts so you can be more efficient. Thanks to Tweetdeck, I don’t have to be on social media all the time – I can schedule posts throughout the day.

So how do concretely spend those 90 minutes in the morning?
First, I see what is out there. I have an idea on what types of pieces are going to draw attention. Often if I have something particularly hot and interesting, then I might just work on this. I find things that speak to where my head is and that my audience would find of interest and then put it out there.

Let’s get to the fundamental question – why? Why do you spend so much time on these sorts of external communication exercises?
I always have done work that I considered to be public scholarship. I always believed – particularly for those of us working with pop culture – that we have to write these things when they come out. We can’t go through the normal journal route – things have moved on by time the piece comes. There are academics out there that don’t consider this serious work. I am of the opinion that it is important to share our knowledge with a wider audience.

How have your external communications efforts helped you in your career an as academic?
It has helped – there’s no question about it. I’ve gained half of my talks over the last years due to my external communications efforts. It has taught me how write good and fast at the same time. I have learned how to streamline messages.

Have you seen a correlation between your external communications efforts and your ability to teach in the classroom? How does Mark Anthony Neal the professor in 1996 – before you were involved in external communications – compare to Mark Anthony Neal today in terms of engaging your students?
Mark Anthony Neal in 1996 used to stand at a podium and read a lecture. That doesn’t work any more. Young folks learn through visuals and materials that are interactive. This directly correlates to my digital work. Simplifying messages works in digital media, and also helps students learn

Learn more about our forthcoming Online Media Training Program for Professors.