Effective Use of Social Media in Science

According to a 2018 Pew Research Center Survey, the majority of Americans are users of social media. Nearly 68% of American adults use Facebook and 73% of American adults use YouTube. Scientists are no exception to this trend and have started to embrace using social media for a variety of purposes. In addition to using various platforms for personal reasons, a 2016 study in PLOSOne indicated that many more scientists are starting to use platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to share scientific content. In particular, the study found that Twitter usage is becoming more popular among scientists to interact with peers, to communicate directly about science to the public, and to stay informed about current scientific topics.

Like any form of communication, effective use of social media requires thoughtfulness and strategy. On March 13, 2019, CaSP held a small workshop on how to professionally use Twitter for scientific purposes. The workshop was lead by Kaine Korzekwa, a science communicator in UW-Madison biochemistry department and alumnus of the UW-Madison Life Sciences Communication program.

In this workshop, Kaine shared some useful strategies in constructing effective tweets, which are listed here:

  • Identify your audience (peers, public, etc.)
  • Start constructing a tweet without worrying about length, then edit after.
  • Write concisely
  • Framing a tweet as a question can increase engagement
  • Options when sharing content:
    • Summarize the piece you want to share
    • Provide commentary
    • Quote a part
  • Add useful and relevant hashtags (e.g. #microbiome, #phdlife)
  • Accuracy: be truthful, but give up on getting all the details in
  • Most important: learn by doing and enjoy the process

Kaine also shared some of the pitfalls one can encounter when using social media. Such pitfalls include inactivity, hacking, and attack by trolls. To minimize the risk of pitfalls, Kaine recommends social media users have a clear communications strategy. Such a strategy should identify the objectives of the communication as well as the logistics, such as a schedule for new content and a crisis plan (i.e. a plan of what to do if you something unsavory happens to your account, such as getting hacked or accidentally sharing incorrect information). Finally, Kaine provided advice in dealing with trolls. The best practice is to be professional and not give any attention (e.g. ignore, or respectfully disagree and interact no more).

The strategies learned in this workshop to use social media effectively and to mitigate potential setbacks will hopefully ease the transition for researchers to informally share their science with a wider audience.