Owing to the surging volume of published research and media content, it’s becoming harder for scientists to get their research noticed using traditional media channels. An effective way to cut through the noise is for scientists to share their research on social media, as this where people are increasingly directing their attention.
While not traditionally seen as a vehicle for dissemination, there are several benefits to using social media for research promotion.
Considering that scientific research is largely supported by government funding, scientists have an obligation to share their work with the taxpaying public. What’s more, science outreach can help ensure continued public support. Social media is an excellent platform for science outreach, as stories can quickly spread to wide audiences.
Traditional media channels tend to be a one-way communication, in which the conversation ends as soon as the story is broadcast. Conversely, social media platforms can facilitate continuing two-way conversations about research. Social media can also be used to share work with other researchers, and to find interesting papers and discussions that would otherwise be missed.
Facebook is generally the most suitable platform for public outreach given its enormous user base. However, Twitter is the most popular social network for scientific activities. Twitter has shaken off its tag as a platform to broadcast what you ate for lunch, and become a powerful tool for scientists to stay informed about the latest research and to connect with other researchers.
As many can attest, collaborations and research ideas and can often be traced back to serendipitous conversations around the communal coffee machine. Similarly, Twitter can be considered as a collection of “coffee machine conversations”, of which anyone can eavesdrop and contribute. Twitter can also be leveraged to build research networks, which can potentially yield future employment.
An emerging benefit of social media is how it can be used to rapidly assess research impact, which is often used by granting agencies to guide funding decisions. Typically, researchers have to wait years for potential citations to accrue to assess the impact of work. However, social media interest can be used as a proxy to assess research impact almost immediately after publication. In fact, we recently demonstrated that increased sharing of research articles on Twitter is associated with increased future citations.
For those new to social media, a number of guides for scientists are available online. While there are several ways in which researchers can share their work, all social media platforms use either text, images, or audio (or a combination of these mediums). Researchers should play to their strengths and use the medium that they’re most comfortable with, via the platforms their audiences are spending most of their time.
A common objection to social media use for scientists is that it’s time consuming. However, given the potential upsides, this arguably time well spent. Almost 90% of scientists already use social media for personal communication, so most are comfortable navigating these platforms. Of course, without restraint social media use can become an easy excuse to neglect your research, so it’s important to weigh up the costs and benefits of social media activities. If too much time is spent cultivating social media profiles, then scientists will have less research to share.
Despite numerous benefits, scientists are currently underusing social media for their work. As the public’s attention is quickly shifting from traditional to social media, it is critical that scientists are not left behind.