Script Practical Guide
Using social media to communicate your research
- Social media is a powerful tool to influence policy and practice
- Begin with one platform and do it well
- Compose effective messages to meet your objectives
By: Charles Wendo and Paul Dawson
In this digital age, social media can enable researchers to reach wider audiences, connect with peers and increase the impact of their findings. By utilizing the benefits of social media, you can amplify your research, engage with stakeholders and cultivate a strong online presence. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the benefits of using social media, the requisites for success, how to select the right platforms and composing effective messages.
Understanding the benefits of social media
Social media provides researchers with numerous advantages. Let’s delve into the key benefits:
1. Directly reaching a larger audience:
One of the most significant benefits of social media is the ability to connect with a vast number of people instantly. Traditional academic publishing has limitations in terms of reach and accessibility. By sharing your research on popular social media platforms, you can overcome these barriers and extend the reach of your work. Your research can quickly gain visibility and exposure to a broader audience through retweets, shares and likes.
2. Increasing citations and impact:
Engaging with social media platforms can positively impact your research’s visibility and citation rates. Sharing your research findings increases the chances of other researchers noticing and referencing your work. This enhances the impact of your research and increases your visibility within the scientific community.
3. Influencing policy and practice:
Social media offers a powerful tool for researchers to influence policy and practice. You can raise awareness of important issues by effectively communicating your research findings. You can also shape public opinion and provide evidence-based insights to policymakers. Engaging with policymakers and relevant stakeholders through social media can lead to meaningful discussions and potentially influence decision-making processes. Through social media, you can contribute to the translation of research into real-world applications and effect positive change.
4. Building public profiles:
Social media allows researchers to create and enhance their professional profiles. You can establish yourself as a thought leader in your field by consistently sharing research updates, insights and expertise. Building a robust public profile can open doors to collaborations, invitations to speak at conferences and new research opportunities.
5. Getting feedback from the public:
One of the unique aspects of social media is the ability to engage with the public and receive valuable feedback on your work. You can gain new insights, perspectives and suggestions by sharing research findings and encouraging comments and discussions. This feedback can help refine your research, identify potential applications and address societal concerns.
6. More confidence:
Engaging with social media can enhance your confidence as a researcher. You gain confidence by receiving positive feedback, engaging in conversations with peers and being recognized by a broader audience. This can empower you to pursue further research endeavours and communicate your findings even more effectively. Social media acts as a platform for support, encouragement and recognition, boosting your motivation. In this article, a chemist explains how communicating her research on social media saved her career.
Requirements for success
- While social media offers tremendous opportunities, it’s important to approach it strategically to ensure success in communicating your research.
Be clear about your audience and objectives: Before diving into social media, clarify who you want to communicate with – and why. Identifying your target audience will help you tailor your content and engagement strategies accordingly.
- Define your communication objectives – whether it’s raising awareness, seeking feedback or looking for collaboration. Having clear objectives will help you to plan and deliver content that helps your communication goals.
- Ensure quality content: Content is king when it comes to social media. Strive to produce high-quality, relevant content that meets the interests and needs of your target audience. Simplify complex scientific concepts, provide context and use engaging formats such as infographics, videos and visuals to capture attention.
- Develop a social media plan to stay organized and focused. Your plan need not be complicated. In one page, you can state your communication objectives, target audience, key messages, social media platforms to use and how to measure your success.
Selecting the right platforms
Choosing the most suitable social media platforms is crucial for effective research communication. Consider the following factors when selecting platforms:
1. Evaluate usage statistics:
Assess various platforms’ popularity and usage statistics to understand which ones align with your target audience. Globally, platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are good for reaching mass audiences. However, it’s essential to compare platforms not just by their audience size but also who the audience is and how easy it is for you to produce content regularly on a platform. For example, Twitter is good for reaching policymakers, journalists and researchers and it is relatively easy to publish short text-based articles regularly.
2. Consider the strengths of each platform:
Each social media platform offers unique features, strengths and limitations. Understanding these can help you choose the platforms that align with your communication objectives and content format preferences. Consider the following popular platforms:
Facebook: Provides a broad reach and diverse user base. It allows for sharing a variety of content formats, including text, images, videos and links. Facebook groups can be valuable for building communities.
Twitter: Known for its real-time engagement and concise messaging. Twitter allows for quick dissemination of information, networking with experts in your field and participation in relevant discussions through the use of hashtags. It’s ideal for sharing bite-sized research updates and insights.
LinkedIn: Primarily a professional networking platform, LinkedIn enables researchers to showcase their expertise, connect with peers and share research-related content. It’s an excellent platform for building collaborations, finding job opportunities and showcasing research achievements.
Instagram: A visual-focused platform that appeals to younger audiences, Instagram is ideal for sharing visually appealing content such as infographics, images and short videos. It is particularly useful for showing glimpses of your research and showcasing your experiments.
YouTube: YouTube is suitable for creating educational videos, sharing conference presentations and conducting interviews.
Choose platforms that not only have large audiences but also align with your communication objectives, content format and target audience. A combination of platforms can help you reach wide audiences and get maximum rewards from your research communication efforts. However, it’s important to start with one platform and learn to do it well before you expand to other platforms.
Starting out on Twitter
As explained above, there are many social media platforms but it’s best to start with one and do it well. We recommend you start with Twitter, for the following reasons:
1. Quality audience – Twitter has many policymakers and professionals you want to target. Globally, most heads of state and journalists are on Twitter. You need to reach policymakers because they make decisions that affect society. You also need journalists because they can propel your message to policymakers and the wider public. In fact, journalists frequently get their stories and story ideas on Twitter. Therefore, your tweet might yield a news item that reaches large numbers of people.
2. Helps you get more citations: A paper on ecology research and twitter activity concluded that number of tweets was a more important predictor of citation rates than a five-year journal impact factor. In another study, researchers established that tweets predict citations.
3. You can reach many people – anyone can see your post. Someone doesn’t have to be your friend to see what you post. Similarly, you can reply to anyone’s tweet. This infographic by Taylor & Francis refers to just one article that attracted 1,650 tweets and reached 2.5 million people as a result.
4. Twitter allows you to post in all formats – video, text, images and audio. You can also use Twitter for polls and live broadcasts.
5. It’s an established platform with a long history.
6. It’s easy to see the trending topics.
There are two main ways people might come to follow you on Twitter. One way is to notice your tweet, go to your profile to see who you are and then decide to follow you. This means the more you tweet and the more interesting your tweets are to other people, the more followers you will get. The other way people follow you is when they notice that you’ve followed them, then they check your profile and then follow you back. So, the more people you follow, the more followers you are likely to get. You need to be selective in who you follow so you are seen by the right people.
How to write a great Twitter profile
As explained above, most people will check your profile before they follow you. A profile summarizes who you are and is one of the key factors people consider before they follow you. Below are the elements of a good Twitter profile:
• A good Twitter profile is short – 160 characters maximum.
• Use a good picture of yourself. The picture should be an effective representation of who you are and what you do.
• Use a background header that reflects your personality and is consistent with the image you want to project.
• Introduce yourself – say what you do and who you work for.
• Add a link to your website to enable people get more information about what you do.
• Check your bio to ensure it displays well on both desktops and mobile devices.
• Use your profile as an opportunity to make a call to action.
Composing effective social media messages
Crafting compelling messages will help you maximize your research’s impact on social media.
1. Define your purpose:
Be clear about the purpose of each message. Is it for information sharing, seeking consultation or fostering collaboration and engagement? Tailor your language, tone and call to action accordingly.
2. Simplify complex concepts:
Break down complex scientific concepts into digestible and accessible content. Use plain language, analogies and visuals to convey your message effectively to a broad audience. Remember that not everyone reading your posts will have a scientific background. By simplifying your content, you can make it more inclusive and engaging.
3. Post relevant and engaging content:
Share information that resonates with your target audience’s interests and lives. Consider sharing new research findings, insights on current topics, expert opinions, thought-provoking questions and visual content such as interesting pictures and infographics. Additionally, leverage your milestones and personal experiences, while also engaging with other researchers’ content through comments and shares. Make your posts interactive by asking questions, encouraging discussions and seeking input from your audience.
4. Crafting effective words:
Craft your messages strategically to achieve your communication objectives. Use attention-grabbing headlines, concise and clear language and relevant hashtags so people easily find your tweets. Remember that social media posts are distinct from research papers. Keep your social media messages concise, engaging and accessible.
5. Consider the message:
Twitter allows much longer posts now than it did before but audiences still prefer shorter posts of 140 characters or less. This means it’s important to make your point within 1–3 short sentences. Videos too should be short – ordinary twitter users can post videos up to 2 minutes 20 seconds but shorter videos are more likely to be viewed up the end. You might wonder, how do I shorten an 8,000-word research paper into 1–3 short sentences? Go straight to your main finding and the implications. Use shorter words. And then provide a link to your research paper so people can find more information. A good example is this tweet: “A new research study suggests resistance training in youth might benefit academic achievement”.
Most people are on social media from 6 pm to 10 pm and from 6 am to 9 am. If you tweet during these periods, you are likely to reach more people. Consider tweeting during the peak social media hours of the geographical region you are targeting. For instance, a Nigerian studying in Canada should tweet during the peak hours of Nigeria if they are targeting a Nigerian audience.
Apart from the peak hours, there are a few other things you need to know about the timing of tweets. Try not to tweet too close together unless you are in a conversation. Further, try not to tweet when there is a big trending topic on social media unless you can link your tweet to it. Otherwise, people are likely to be focused on the trending topic and thus not pay attention to your tweet.
Researchers can transcend the traditional boundaries of academic publishing and communicate their work effectively using social media. You should engage with the public, build networks with fellow researchers and contribute to the broader scientific community using social media. Remember, effective use of social media can amplify your research impact, enhance your profile and open doors to new opportunities. Start utilizing social media today and embark on a journey of successful research communication and profile-building. You can leverage social media to significantly impact your field and beyond.
Charles Wendo, a science journalist and veterinary doctor, is the Training Coordinator for SciDev.Net