“You simply must have an online presence” – Karen Peterson (Director of Scientific Career Development, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre).
There are many pros and cons surrounding social media, and it has often faced controversy due to privacy issues and cyber bullying. There are undeniably a LOT of disadvantages to social media, and I believe that a lot of the content shown has led to an increase in the prevalence of anxiety, particularly in impressionable teenagers who attempt to live up to the unrealistic standards set by social media.
Top tip: Nobody’s life is as good as it looks on social media! Most people want to show off how great their lives are, and we hide the negative aspects of our lives; this is problematic as it can lead to viewers feeling underwhelmed by their own lives.
Anyway, once you’ve sifted through all the rubbish, social media can be really useful. It has revolutionised various industries and changed the face of marketing. I think scientific research could massively benefit from taking advantage of social media more in future, and I’ll use this post to explain why.
Many managers and academics alike dismiss social media, claiming it is merely a procrastination tool; you are seen to be slacking if you’re caught perusing a newsfeed. This is undoubtedly true in many cases; I dread to think how much of my life I’ve wasted on Facebook. However, used properly, social media can become one of the most valuable tools scientists can use in modern society.
By using social media for science, you can:
- Showcase your work to a wider audience, allowing you to have more of a chance to educate the public (after all, the general public are NEVER going to read journals which no-one understands aside from the few scientists working in the field!) – you can be a public voice for science!
- Read about projects you wouldn’t have heard of without scrolling through the newsfeed
- Find out about jobs, competitions, and funding opportunities
- Network with fellow scientists
- Get involved in discussions and have debates
- Receive advice whether its about a specific project or your career
- Keep up to date with science in real time
- Raise awareness about important issues
- Get inspiration for your own projects
- ‘Attend’ conferences: For most conferences nowadays they have a Twitter hashtag; if you follow it, you’ll find that you are learning almost as much as if you’d actually attended!
The use of social media is increasing among scientists, but adoption and acceptance remains limited across the wider research community. In a 2011 study, only 2.5% of UK and US academics had established a Twitter account.
Which social media outlets should scientists use?
Twitter is my favourite social media outlet for discussing science. The only thing I don’t like about it is the frustrating 120 character limit. I often think 200 characters would allow me to say so much more! However, Twitter is easy to scroll through and read lots of information in a short amount of time. If you want to engage with the public, this can be a brilliant way to increase the impact of your research.
There is already a fleet of scientists on Twitter, and some of the best have been catalogued in this article.
Instagram is useful when you want to represent science visually. You can get really creative with what you post; this is particularly useful if you’re interested in SciComm and showing people what your day-to-day life is like working in science.
In my opinion, Facebook has had its day. However, for finding local events and joining specific groups which discuss your topic of interest, it is still pretty handy. Most people have Facebook nowadays so it’s probably the easiest to use in many cases.
LinkedIn is great if you’re looking to connect with other professionals, however, it doesn’t have the lighthearted feel which the other social media outlets possess. That’s fine as it’s supposed to be a ‘career’ version of Facebook (I basically use it as a public CV), but personally I’ve not found it massively useful yet.
Goodreads isn’t as ‘social’ as the other sites, but I really enjoy browsing it to see what my friends have been reading; I’ve found quite a few exciting new scientific books to read through having a gander on Goodreads!
You can use Youtube to post videos of a ‘day-in-the-life’ of a scientist, or watch videos/tutorials by other people. I learned how to do GIS by watching videos!
Here are my top tips on using social media for science:
1. Use analytics
Twitter already have a very easy function which you can use to see how many people have viewed your tweets (‘impressions’). Don’t worry if you don’t get hundreds of ‘likes’, sometimes it’s more important that you’ve had some link clicks and people interacting with your tweets. For other social media outlets you can use Google analytics (I remember it being straightforward to set up). This allows you to determine which of your posts have been popular, and which haven’t been so successful.
2. Don’t be too formal!
Social media is all about public engagement as well as engaging with fellow scientists. Don’t use over-complicated language for the sake of it!
3. Use imagery
If you post with pictures, you’re more likely to be interacted with.
4. Don’t be afraid to #hashtag
I use hashtags for Twitter and Instagram. They allow browsers to explore particular subjects, so using relevant hashtags is likely to lead to increased impressions. If possible, it’s always good to include one of the ‘trending’ hashtags on twitter, and popular tags on Instagram.
5. Be careful who you follow
There is nothing worse than accidentally following an internet ‘troll’- make sure you read the bios of anyone you are interested in following!
Parting note: social media is an incredibly useful way to network and socialise with peers. However, make sure you do continue to talk to people in real life too!
Want to read more?
Here is a great blog article by another scientist who uses social media to further her career; well worth a read!