A university should not be an island. At Umeå University, we are constantly making efforts to communicate knowledge and research findings to external contacts. This means engaging in ongoing dialogues with other universities, with students, with the general public, with industry, and with the public sector. The university has generously allocated resources and created functions and organizations for this, such as the Office for External Relations, Uminova Innovation, and Uminova Invest. Furthermore, platforms like HUMlab and a lot of what is going on at the Arts Campus cut across the fields of academia, arts, design and business.
I participate continuously in these infrastructures and actually do quite a lot of traditional external relations stuff. I have written several reports for NGO’s and public authorities, and I give talks outside of the university about ten times per year. But I have also repeatedly turned to social media for reaching out. Umeå University is also active in this respect. From considering, back in 2010, whether social media might pose ethical or other problems for the organisation, the university is now represented on a range of social platforms.
Such efforts at the level of the organization — as well as our internal courses for thinking about as well as doing things in teaching that make use of digital and social media tools — are both important and valuable. But in order to take full advantage of the affordances offered by social media, we must not be afraid to use more guerrilla-style tactics. By this, I don’t mean to refer to warfare, but to employing strategies similar to those associated with guerrilla marketing or guerrilla filmmaking.
These are strategies that rely on energy and imagination, and on using unconventional and unexpected means to make things happen throughout grassroots networks. And I am not just suggesting these strategies so that I will appear ’cool’ and ’modern’. In fact, this is how the Internet works, and this is how we can be successful on that arena. Just think of how viral videos like ”Charlie bit my finger” or ”Double Rainbow” were not products of any calculated or conscious effort.
Businesses are now increasingly trying to tap into the power of the long tail through so called viral marketing, and if we as academics want to be serious about social media we must dare to experiment with this as well. Apart from being active on Twitter, I have made some efforts to create videos that speak the language of the social web. Some examples: