Social media for scientists

Social media for scientists
Photo: Pixabay

Social media are set to be the growing communication tool for professional purposes, including the research environment. An increasing number of scientists see it as an important way to engage and connect with colleagues and institutions. So if you want to increase social media engagement, follow some tips below.

First of all, you need to know the advantages of such channels of communication. Xavier Lasauca, Knowledge and Information Systems in R+D Manager at the Generalitat de Catalunya, highlights that social media are useful to “get new information, increase the impact and visibility of research papers, engage with fellow researchers and meet new collaborators, and improve a researchers’ public profile, building their online reputation and competitiveness.”

Researchers and the social network

13% of scientists and engineers stated they regularly visit Twitter.

According to news reporting out of social media use for scientists, by Nature Cell Biology editors, a 2015 survey found that 47% of scientists connected with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) use social media to follow new discoveries and discuss science. ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and were the top five sites visited by scientists and engineers participating in a separate 2014 survey. Among these, Twitter has emerged as a key outlet: 13% of scientists/engineers stated they regularly visit Twitter, mainly to follow discussions on research-related issues, and post work-related content.

“The brevity of ‘tweets’, and the capacity to include images and videos means that scientists can go through a lot of information at a glance, with the option to dig deeper if they wish. The constant stream of posts can be filtered to match the user’s interests through the creation of lists. Thus, researchers can group and follow specific accounts, for example, journals, funders, institutes, science news outlets, bloggers and individual scientists, in separate threads,” points out the journal. Furthermore, “live-tweeting from conferences has become common and offers many benefits, such as allowing attendees and non-attendees alike to receive messages about talks and participate in discussions,” they add. Thus, it can be powerful connecting scientists from around the globe.

An in-depth look at Twitter

Now, let’s go from setting up a profile, following people to building an academic network: You need to set up an account that represents who you are and what you do. People should see that behind your account there is a real, credible, and interesting person. According to Next Scientists, people tend to follow 3 steps to determine if an account is worth following: “They have a visual impact by your profile picture, background design, and username; they will read your bio to see who you are and what you like; they will scan your last tweets to confirm their suspicions on what you tweet about.”

Choosing a Twitter username: The first thing to decide is the username, what goes next to @ on Twitter. It can be real or a nickname or your expertise. In either case, you will also have to provide a real name to display along with your username, otherwise, it gives the impression you are not the real deal. According to Next Scientists, you should avoid underscores and numbers, since they give you a teenage appearance.

Crafting a bio: If you join Twitter to enter the realm of scientists on Twitter, you would prefer them to be able to find you and follow you, so you should make your Twitter profile publicly accessible. Also, you have to choose a profile picture: since Twitter profile pictures show up very small, you should use a clear, recognisable headshot, so that the other researchers might be able to recognize you at a conference.

Also, keep in mind that Twitter is a lighter type of platform, thus you have to squeeze in 160 characters: your field or expertise, institution, hobbies, and what you tweet about. In a bio, you can also provide a link to your personal blog or website, LinkedIn profile, research institution, one of your projects, your ResearchGate profile or your list of publications of Google Scholar or Mendeley. Here are some examples of good Twitter profiles: @Koko_Warner, @elakdawalla, @AJWVictoriaBC, and @GlobalEcoGuy.

Creating content: In order to connect with researchers in your field, you can start asking questions and engaging in conversations using relevant hashtags (Twitter Help Centre recommends using no more than 2 hashtags per Tweet), such as #phdchat, #phdlife, and #ShowUsYourScience, as well as retweet and share. You do not have to wait until you have published papers to talk about what you do every day. According to PLOS One, you can also use storytelling techniques in science-related social media content to increase engagement. Additionally, Sprout Social recommends being succinct and clear since Twitter moves so quickly, and points out that the ideal length of a tweet is 71-100 characters.

Building a network: According to AcademicTransfer, you should start following the accounts of your university and department, organisations, universities and research groups worldwide you are interested in or in your field, and the accounts of academic publishers, news websites and blogs related with higher education. You can organise them in Twitter lists so that the number of people you follow isn’t overwhelming.

Despite the professional benefits of social media, many scientists are afraid to use them for work. “Developing a useful digital footprint is time-consuming and many scientists struggle to fit this into their already heavy schedules,” according to Nature Cell Biology editors. Also, “stepping into any type of public forum also requires caution, such as in issues of confidentiality, and clinicians especially should be mindful of patient privacy when discussing their work online,” they add. Thus, considering both the pros and cons, it is up to the individual to decide to use social media. “But once they decide to participate it is important to have a clear idea of what they would like to achieve from their online interactions, and to decide which platforms would best serve this purpose,” the editors conclude.



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