Social media: a great place for baby pictures, unwanted game invitations, cat memes, and… communicating research?
Image by Yogi Inji, used with permission
Sure there are professional/social media hybrid sites, like LinkedIn, ResearchGate, and Academia.edu. These are fairly obvious places to disseminate research, if you so choose. But increasingly, researchers are turning to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other mainstream social media platforms to get the word out about their research.
Social media research communication can be as simple as linking to your research outputs on your personal social media pages. But social media can be useful for much more than simple dissemination. A strong social media presence can help to position you as an authority on your particular subject matter, increase public interest in your work, and boost your visibility as a researcher.
Investing valuable work time into social media isn’t for everyone. But depending on your goals – and especially if you want to include a communication component in your career – it may be worth your while.
Find some heroes
A great starting point is to look at social media accounts for researchers you admire. Are there any keen social media users amongst academics in your field? What about in your department – could you ask your colleagues how they created their social media presence? You may like to follow and/or study a few big-name social media academics, to get a sense of how they translate complex research into digestible bites for non-specialist audiences. Check out @AstroKatie, @MalindaSmith, @NeilTyson, @TheLitCritGuy, Nanogirl, @CarinBondar, or @BillNye to get some ideas. There are also lots of research-themed social media pages run by passionate communicators who share a broad range of research news, not just their own:
- The Credible Hulk features science for skeptics
- Buzz Hoot Roar produces science infographics
- Relax. I’m an Entomologist shares news about insects with a side of humour
- SciShow answers science questions in a kid- and teen-friendly way
- Vihart showcases the artwork of a doodling ‘mathemusician’
Define your goals
You may notice that academics on social media take a broad range of approaches to research communication. Some present information using graphs, charts, and statistics. Some write essays or think-pieces. Some use humour, art, music, and memes to get their points across. Some build a small following of academic colleagues, while others court celebrity status as research ‘superstars.’
Once you have a sense of how other academics are using social media, you can start to define your own social media goals. Do you want to simply share your research with friends and family? Do you want to develop a voice within your academic community, and use social media as a professional networking tool? Do you want to build an international research ‘brand’ and become a full-time communicator? Who is your target audience? How technical or general does your content need to be? What do you want to get out of your social media presence, and how much time are you willing/able to commit?
Set up your account/s
Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? YouTube? All of the above? Select your platform/s and create accounts. Give some thought to whether you want to include your name, or put yourself in the background. If you want your social media presence to support your own personal career development, you’ll need to make it very clear for someone clicking quickly through your account:
- who you are
- what you study
- which institution you are affiliated with
As you share, just take care that you’re not breaking any agreements with publishers (for example, some publishers place restrictions on authors’ rights to post full articles online). If you co-publish, you’ll also need to make sure that any co-authors are comfortable with your use of joint material. However, those caveats aside, have fun getting your work out to a larger audience!