When you engage in face to face conversation, you have the opportunity to pick up on social cues and adjust your message delivery, word choice, and complexity accordingly. What are the protocols when that communication takes place online?
While there are no formal rules for using social media to communicate your work, there are general guidelines and expectations among users. The nuances of each platform differ slightly and they require a varied approach, but keep in mind these general guidelines.
- Be Transparent: While you do not need to disclose the finer details of every step in your research, a high level of transparency adds to the credibility of your statements. In short: be honest and be open.
- Social Media Means Being Social: These new technologies are meant to create a platform for users to provide feedback and interact with content-creators. By allowing comments and taking time to respond, you are taking part in a convenient and easily accessible form of public engagement. Inviting and responding to comments on your blog, YouTube channel, Facebook, etc, furthers a dialogue among interested parties who may not otherwise have a way to converse with you and with each other.
- Keep It Up… In the 24-hour news cycle world, people expect new information that's updated frequently. Be sure to update often enough so that visitors have a reason to come back. And the same goes for responding to feedback — in order to keep the dialogue going, you must be sure to respond in a timely manner.
- …But Don't Over-Indulge: While you want to update your site frequently, you should be careful not to over-share. Because each platform has a different culture, become acquainted with how each is generally used.
- Agree to Disagree: While everyone appreciates a supportive comment, engaging the public means that not everyone will agree with you all the time and, online, those views can be posted anywhere, anytime. Criticism may be unavoidable, but you can maintain a non-combative attitude as you respond. You may even consider posting some guidelines about what kinds of comments will and will not be tolerated on your site.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with new developments in online tools. There are a number of useful sites out there, but try Mashable.com, a social-media news site, which offers regular coverage of new platforms, trends and tutorials. For more ways to stay informed, check with your institution about resources to get you trained in the latest tools and technologies.
Strategies Based on the Medium
Multimedia elements enhance most online science communication.
The video below highlights tips from a panel of scientists and bloggers who spoke about communicating science using social media at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting. The session in its entirety is also available to watch for free.