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Strategies: Social Networking Sites

Use of social media has increased significantly since 2005, with two-thirds of Americans adults now using at least one platform. As a scientist, how can you most effectively use social media to share your research and engage the public, and which platform is best suited for your goals?

Using social media can bring your research and your field into the lives of a wide-range of audiences. Here are a few broad concepts surrounding the ways in which social networking can be used as a conduit for scientific engagement:

  • The key to social media is simple, if not always easy - socialize and network online. Use social media platforms to announce, publicize, and gather feedback on your research, and be ready to discuss and engage. Creating networks, having conversations, and actively engaging are the most important parts — connect to others whose interests you share, and ask and answer questions.
  • Use social media platforms to connect with other scientists in your field — for example, add colleagues you meet at conferences to your online network — or engage members of the public who are interested in your work.
  • Use networks to collaborate with others. By starting conversations and creating an online presence and identity, online communities can help you and your research.

Despite differences in format, all social media share two important characteristics. First, content is created or co-created by users of the platform. Second, users can interact and discuss content with others. These characteristics, which appear to have democratized communication, are particularly interesting because comments and interactions can act as cues for interpretation of information. The tone of comments may impact a reader’s interpretation of the original content. Consider these social media platforms, among the many available:

Facebook: Currently the most popular social media platform in the U.S. and worldwide. Of Americans who use the internet, 71 percent are on Facebook, and 65 percent of adults globally are on the platform. You have the ability to engage through various means, including:

  • Start a page or group for your department, lab, or research group.
  • Post updates and elicit feedback from group members and see where the conversation leads.
  • Add a social plugin to your other online pages to help you and others share your posts for a cross-platform experience. For example, announce a new blog post on Facebook and Twitter so that your contacts there know where to go for more information.

Twitter: While usage is only slightly above 20 percent of the population (both U.S. and worldwide), Twitter has become a prominent social networking site for science communication. Follow researchers you know to see how they engage online, and find content to share and explore. Tweet about updates to other platforms (such as your blog or website) to provide maximum exposure. Use hashtags to make sure your posts are located by relevant searches. Remember to start and continue conversations with other Twitter users to create dialogues, not just one-way dissemination of information.