Some scientists have taken to social media like flies to honey, while others are more reticent. Communicating science through Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other platforms can be a great way to make connections with colleagues and do outreach with the general public. But what are the best ways to get started in this Brave New Technological World?
AAASMC: How do you think having a social media presence has influenced your career?
Particularly on my science communications and outreach side, it has absolutely been beneficial for that part of my career. It's raised my profile—and not just my profile but the profile of the issues that I've been struggling to bring to the fore both within science and outside of science. I've definitely had a lot of success when it comes to science outreach and science communication by having social media. I don't understand how anyone who is interested in any kind of science communication or outreach is going to navigate their career efficiently and effectively without the use of social media from this point on.
AAASMC: How do you find people and get them to come to your blog?
DNLee: That was my struggle early on. You don't. You can't. The first thing you have to do is find your voice and cultivate content. Content is king. It really, really is about content. So you have to do good content, and you have to do it regularly. You don't have to blog 15 times a day. In the early days of science blogging, between 2003 and 2007, it was all about pushing content—the more content, the better. Some of the most popular blogs at that time were also very productive in blogging. They posted a lot of information, not all of it good. They put so much out there that you would ping them. But now with so much information, that doesn't help you anymore. Now I think the thing is to have a good voice, to provide good content, and to provide something regularly. You can't just write something once and then not come back to it for months on end, which is what I did when I first started blogging. I thought, "Wow, this is such an awesome thing I just wrote that people are going to come and are going to love it." But if they did and there was nothing there for them to get back on in a week then it was nothing. I realized you have to have something regularly—that's the thing to do.
Since then, particularly in the last two to three years, Twitter has become a more visible platform. But I was slow to adopt [it]. I'm actually a slow adopter. I take my time adopting things because once you've adopted something, you're committing to it. How many balls can you have in the air at once? I was slow to adopt Twitter, but now that I have and I know how to use it, it's easy to integrate it. I do a lot of microblogging. I go on lots of Twitter conversations and rants, and I really should collect them and make a blog post out of them but I don't have the time right now because I am personally deciding to spend more of my energy on my research. I don't have the time to do the in-depth blogging that I'm used to. I miss it sometimes. I really, really do. But I still make a point to blog routinely because I really do enjoy blogging and I can't imagine quitting any time soon, although I have found it harder to do. For the first time since I've been blogging (I started in 2006) over the last six months I found it harder to find time to blog.
AAASMC: There has been a lot of discussion about pseudonyms among scientists and science communicators on Twitter lately. Do you have a recommendation whether people new to social media blog or tweet under a pseudonym or their actual name?
DNLee: I don't really have strong feelings about that either way. I don't believe that you have to blog under your own name or a pseudonym. I think you should do what's most comfortable for you. I think the most important thing is finding your voice—it really is about finding your voice. You want a Twitter handle that's not too hard to remember or to type in. It doesn't matter what name you go by. Names are just labels anyway.
AAASMC: But if you want to get career benefits from Twitter, is it important to integrate your social media persona with your academic identity?
DNLee: There are academics out there who talk a lot about their research but never give their real name. If you're an academic interested in that research, you can still absolutely contact that [pseudonymous] person and have them work in your lab or write for your journal. It's just a portfolio. It's just a label. I've met people [online] with real life names that would rival [anyone with] a pseudonym in terms of creativity and strangeness so I don't know that it matters in the end. It's just what you're called by.
AAASMC: Any last pieces of advice for people who are new to social media?
DNLee: If you're going to get started, start slow. Don't try to take over the world. And I think the one thing that gets a lot people—especially seasoned scientists who jump into it—[is that you shouldn't] assume that the rank you've earned in one area of life professionally carries over to another area, because this is a completely different playing field and there are completely different hierarchies and you don't get to keep your rank, necessarily. That's the one thing I'd really like to share with folks. When you're new to something, you're new. You're at the bottom. So take your time. Don't try to take over the world all at once and don't assume that you are taking over the world.