Researchers and academics tend to view social media as a personal indulgence, a diversion from work. But social media platforms can be one of the most effective ways to promote new research and academic pursuits. So how does one bridge the gap between the formal world of peer-reviewed papers and the world of likes and comments? Here are five things to try out.
1. Be an Active User
The first and maybe easiest step in getting comfortable promoting research on social media is being an active user.
If you’re already on Instagram or Twitter or any other social medium, you’ve already got a leg up. Many of the things that regular social media users do anyways will help you promote your work. This includes everything from commenting on other research-related content to making your posts dynamic and interesting for increased attention, to simply liking posts in related fields of study or following topical hashtags.
What you’re doing by engaging in “normal” social media activity (if there is such a thing) is multifold. First off, especially for those less comfortable with social media, it’s important to get a feel for each platform and their unique style of content, tone, and post frequency. When promoting research on social media, you don’t want to come off stiff, blabby, or generally out of place.
Second, and more importantly, you are developing a network of people, pages, and user habits that will all help you in the long run. The more people follow you, the more people will read the research you post about. The more you comment on other content, the more likely it is that someone comes across your page just by seeing its name. If you have a good conversation with a science blog’s editor on Twitter, it’s possible that you can share future work with them to get featured. You never know which connections may help you down the line.
2. Get Colloquial
Obviously, the language of research papers, scientific work, and technical manuscripts is not what the average Facebook user is used to seeing in their feed. But this puts any researcher looking to bridge that divide in a useful position.
Much of what makes the world of academia and research inaccessible to the general public is the language and format. This is understandable — journals and other publications have strict formatting and style requirements for submissions. But social media presents an opportunity to translate research into science stories that the wider public would find interesting and digestible.
Make sure that any research articles you post on your social media platform of choice contain an engaging caption, or a colloquial summary, maybe even a question to spark interest. Try doing a series of posts, maybe on a weekly basis, condensing recent research into plain English; this could be any interesting articles, not necessarily your own original work. Of course, make sure to credit the original researchers and get all your facts straight.
In this sense, academics and scientists can become both content curators and translators of their specific field engaging with the wider public. Doing this effectively can result in a large following and a more informed and receptive audience for future work.
3. Open a Dialogue
Say that you’re posting on your platforms semi-regularly, sharing other people’s work, and presenting your own research in a colloquial, engaging language that should appeal to a broad audience. What else is missing from here?
Yes, users, friends, and “followers” expect to receive content from you, but they don’t just want a one-way stream of info every day. Social media users value engagement and interactivity; this means you need to enable more active input than just liking, commenting, and retweeting.
There are several simple ways to achieve more user interaction. On Instagram, try running polls on your story regarding the topic you’re discussing, then link to it. For example, new research on the Pacific Garbage Patch could be prefaced by a poll about how big users think the Patch might be. Similarly, you can ask users to comment on your posts or tweets in some way related to the subject of your post.
Another great way to engage an audience (and something that the research field needs more of) is doing a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) or having your Twitter or Instagram followers tweet at you (or post on their story and tag you in) their science or research-related questions. This will not only make them engage with you and have you function as a valuable and entertaining resource, but also direct all their followers to your page.
Becoming more open to a two-way dialogue is both entertaining and rewarding, personally and from a traction perspective, and should be a major tool in the arsenal of anyone looking to promote research on social media.
You may be wondering why this section gets an exclamation point.
Because that’s how attention-grabbing visuals are versus text. Humans are beings of language, but we’re also visual beings. In the fast-paced landscape of social media, a good graphic will beat a big block of text every time. Even dynamically placed text that’s made into a block graphic is more effective than lines of words.
So how does this play into promoting research? Well, if a majority of your social media presence is going to be about presenting cutting-edge research published as long and dense technical papers, you may need some visual aids to help out.
Try graphically representing a key stat from the research paper you’re promoting. If you’re completely inept in all things Photoshop and graphic design, consider teaming up with a designer friend to get the job done. Alternatively, you could try sketching a graphical abstract by hand and uploading a photo of it for a unique and DIY vibe.
5. Spend Some Money
Investing money into promoting research on social media may not sound like the most creative idea, but it’s very effective, and necessary if you want to get your content out to the largest possible audience.
What you can get creative with is where and how to invest your money. No one wants to take big losses on advertising, especially when engagements with the advertised material do not lead to direct purchases or other commerce.
Make your money count by creatively targeting your ads to people who have liked specific related research topics. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram have integrated analytics and ad targeting capabilities that can suggest receptive audiences and target markets.
Another way to boost reach is by relying on the celebrity endorsement effect. How about partnering with influencers and brand ambassadors? You can hire brand ambassadors through national staffing agencies or directly through social media platforms, and they provide a much more flexible and organic option than standard advertisements. Followers of social media personalities are usually a very devoted fanbase and a simple shout out to your account or description of the research could go a long way.
In Conclusion To promote research in the social media age, researchers have to get familiar with new ways of communicating to a broad audience. Start by being an active user in an authentic way, engaging with content that is in your research field and learning what grabs attention and what does not.
Get comfortable and efficient at paraphrasing scientific and academic work into more colloquial language that is engaging and accessible without being patronising. There is a demand for plain-English summaries of complex ideas: just look at magazines like Wired and the like.
Next, build a habit of opening a dialogue with your followers, letting them contribute questions, opinions, and other constructive interactions with you. A two-way relationship, and one that other people can contribute to, will enrich both your content and the enjoyment of other users. Using striking visuals and clean graphic design can also make you stand out in the busy social media landscape, so don’t rely too much on text.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to spend a little money in the process, as long as you use it creatively and wisely. Try partnering with influencers or running very specific targeted ad campaigns for a receptive demographic; you’ll be impressed by the results.
Freelance Writer, Editor & Social Media Strategist, Columbia University, New York.