When I left the world of academic research for a career in science communication, I never expected that a large part of my job would involve formulating tweets or analyzing engagement on Facebook. Ten years ago, social media was at best an afterthought for many academics and at worst a condemnable distraction from “real” work.
The world of communication has shifted dramatically since then. Social media has become an integral component of most research institutions’ communication strategies, and social media management has become a legitimate full-time career. As a science communicator working for and with academic institutions, developing effective ways to increase the impact of research via social media has become a central part of my job description.
For academics who want to engage with their peers and the public, social media is increasingly the place to be. There’s growing evidence that sharing research publications on Twitter and other platforms correlates with increased citation rates and helps researchers engage with wider audiences. I’ve seen firsthand how savvy social media promotion can generate discussion, boost readership and lead to spikes in Altmetric scores and citation rates. Robust communities for sharing and discussing science have grown up around hashtags such as #sciencetwitter and #scicomm. Important conversations about the culture of academia and research are launched on social platforms as part of movements like #BlackintheIvory and #ShutdownSTEM.
Unfortunately, posting a link to your latest research and leaving it at that isn’t likely to make any waves. Successful social media requires planning and commitment. At Footnote, an organization that helps academics increase the impact of their research through better communication, we put a lot of effort into understanding how to use social media effectively -- and it involves much more than simply writing a pithy tweet (though that definitely helps).
Social media is a process, and the post itself is just one juicy ingredient in a larger social media sandwich (I love to think of things in terms of food, so you’ll have to bear with my metaphor). The post may be the centerpiece -- the fillings, if you will -- but to make a great sandwich, you also need good bread to hold everything together and the right toppings to achieve optimal flavor.
Over the course of this three-part series, I’ll explain how to build a delicious social media sandwich, starting with the bread (planning), followed by the filling (posting) and finally the toppings (evaluation). These steps are all the more important in the competitive media climate of 2020, where people’s attention is dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and a handful of other issues such as racial justice and the U.S. presidential election. Despite these challenges, with the right ingredients your ho-hum wheat toast approach to social media will transform into a mouthwatering BLTA (or whatever your favorite sandwich happens to be).
We hope this series empowers you to take steps toward increasing the impact of your research and ideas via social media. If you’re hungry for more tips on how to build your own mouthwatering social media sandwich, please join us for our upcoming free webinar on social media strategy. At Footnote, we believe that for research to have a wider impact, it should reach beyond the halls of academia to educate, inform, influence and excite a broader audience. Social media plays a critical role in finding and connecting with that audience -- and in learning from them yourself. Are you ready to take a big bite?
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where we will dive into the hows and whys of sharing about research to social media.
Kristen Weiss is a scientist turned science communicator who is the social media manager at Footnote, an organization that collaborates with the academic community to increase the impact of their research and expertise through better communication.