Developing Your Digital Scholarly Brand Part II: Creating Your [Personal] Academic Website
By now, I hope that everyone who read my first post in this series has been able to use the tips to improve their profiles and presence on Twitter. As you may have learned it's not difficult, but it takes some consistent efforts to be effective. Please keep in touch (@marquesdexter) and let me know how things are going and if you have any other tips, suggestions, or questions on how you can better your skills. We are a community, and I/we do it #ForTheCulture
So, now that you have put yourself out there and (re)created your digital footprint as a scholar, it is now time to give your brand a home. The house that you will build to call this home is your [personal] academic website. Now, don't stress and assume that you will need to go out and learn all of these coding techniques. Over the following eight (8) steps I will guide you through the process of building this house, where you will cultivate it into a home.
Step 1: Decide what you want to highlight on your site.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." This holds true for your website. You have to seriously ponder what type of site you want to create. Are you looking to just showcase your writing? Will it be more of a blog? Are you seeking consulting opportunities? Or, will it just be more of a digital portfolio? These are all relevant questions that you should ask yourself before doing anything. You could have your site contain aspects of all but decide on something and stick with it (for the time being, at least).
Step 2: Plan out the content and how it will flow.
Once you know what type of site you want to create to present yourself to the world, start identifying the content areas you would like to have. Since my site is intended to highlight me as my brand--in particular, my research and service work-- I chose to focus on the press I have been featured in, (published) publications I've written, presentations and speeches that I have given, as well as flyers of the speaking engagements I've done. Based on the type of site and the content you choose, you really want to be very strategic with how the content is organized. Every decision should focus on how the user will navigate your site. More importantly, how you want to be seen by those who come to your site. Remember, this is your brand!
Don't forget to glean over other personal sites of peers, mentors, and scholars you know for ideas. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, just adapt it to suit your needs! Here’s how mine is setup:
Step 3: Explore and choose a host.
The next step is choosing a host site. There are several out there. Some of the more popular ones are GoDaddy, Strikingly, Square Space, Weebly, Wix, and WordPress. For the site I created, I chose Strikingly. Why? Well, it seemed to be the easiest for me to navigate. The templates were nice looking and easy to edit without having HTML or coding experience. This may not be the best one for you. You may have experience with coding. Great! Explore them all and see what suits your comfort, skills, and needs. Be sure not to rush into picking one. You do not want to put the work into setting up your site under one account and realize it doesn't fit what you are trying to create or proves to be more difficult than expected.
Step 4: Purchase a domain address.
What's a domain? It is the web address your site will be listed as (e.g., www.marquesrdexter.com). I know we are graduate students and for many funds aren't plentiful. But, this is a once a year cost that shouldn't be more than $25-$30; it's an investment in your future. What's great about most of the host sites is that they have a domain service connected with their products. This is great, as you don't have to do much to link your site address to the host.
As I've mentioned and will continually remind you, be strategic when you select your domain address. Most of the host sites will have your site listed as something in regard to http://username.host.com or http://www.host.com/username. To keep it simple, your (government) name is typically an easy one to choose. Don't make it too long or complicated; you want people to easily remember how to spell it, and you want it to be easy to put onto a single line on your business cards.
**Sometimes it is necessary to upgrade to a premium or pro plan to have a personal domain address. This is highly suggested. While it may up the cost of the total fees you pay per year, again, it's worth it. This is also something to consider when selecting hosts.**
Step 5: Gather your content.
Now that you have your host selected and your domain address solidified it is time to gather all of the content you want to upload. These are articles, pictures, links, the videos...the whole lot! Organize copies of these into individual folders on your cloud or a flash drive. This is critical, as it will make it easier for you to refer back in case a link gets messed up, file mistakenly is deleted, or some other random occurrence. What it also will allow for you to do is see where you may lack within a particular area and need to put intentional efforts into increasing content within that domain (e.g., photos from presentations). Lastly, organizing your content as such will help you to maintain consistency as you progress.
Step 6: Start building, but obtain feedback from others before publishing.
Ard, as we say in Philly, now it's time to start building. Take your time, as you will find out there's a lot to get adjusted to and have no idea you will need to do or know until you start building the site. One thing to note is you should save after every change. Once you have enough of your site compiled then seek out feedback from friends, peers, and even any mentors that you trust. While the feedback you receive will, and should differ, don't just accept "Oh, it looks really nice," or "Looks good to me" as the only feedback. Really ask others to let you know how comfortable it was for them to navigate, whether there were any typos, or if something is missing. You know the people you can ask to give you this advice.
Step 7: Publish the site and update frequently.
Once you are all set to debut, click that good ole publish button and let your masterpiece be released for the world to see. Remember to post on Twitter and any other social media accounts about your site. You want to drive traffic to your page as best as possible. Update your LinkedIn, business cards, email signatures, etc.
Of course, the work doesn't end here, it's just starting. Just like your Twitter account, you need to be consistent and continuously update your website. There's no magic number for how many times a week, month, or year. It really is up to you, your career, and the type of page you've developed. But, do not allow yourself to slack and let it fall behind. Having a well-developed website can speak volumes to your professionalism and could be the spark that captures a potential employer, consulting opportunity, or publishing opportunity.
Step 8: Enhance your website as your career grows.
Lastly, remember this is an investment in your future. As time progresses and your career blossoms, take time to enhance your website to suit where you are in your career. What may start out as a personal site can quickly evolve into the website for your consulting company, a repository for your published work, or whatever and however your journey after graduate school takes you.
Again, these are just eight simple steps to assist you in creating a [personal] academic website. Feel free to take a gander at my website http://www.marquesrdexter.com and let me know what you think. I am continually looking for feedback and suggestions to enhance my site. Just like you, I want to cultivate my brand. Hopefully, these steps make sense and are also empowering. Please don't be intimidated by the process. I know there's not much "free time" in graduate school, but if you find and make time to work on this, the rewards will be innumerable. For those not in graduate school yet, don't feel as if you can't start your website now. Whether you have a lot of content or just a little, you can still have the foundation of your site created.
Good luck and be on the lookout for the third part of Developing Your DIGITAL SCHOLARLY BRAND, where I'll encapsulate it all together by providing tips on crafting a logo and choosing fonts, colors, and statements.
About the Author
Marques R. Dexter is a Sport Management & Policy Ph.D. student at University of Georgia, where he also obtained his M.S. from the same program. A native of Philadelphia, he obtained his BSBA in Sport Management from Robert Morris University. His research looks at the identities and experiences of academically & athletically high-achieving African American/Black male athletes.