Making research connections with social media

Academics across all disciplines are increasingly using social media to share their work. These networks’ global reach and lack of subscription fees makes them especially useful for researchers in the South, but the platforms also demand a different tone and mode of engagement than peer-reviewed journals and books.

INASP’s Communications Coordinator Sian Harris recently shared social media insights and guidelines with Sri Lankan journal editors and medical researchers. Here is an edited selection of her tips.

Why use social media?

Many researchers around the world are using social media to share their published research, as well as to discuss work in progress and their research fields more generally. Social media provides an informal and rapid way of communicating research. It can take months, even years, for a published paper to come out, but a researcher can tweet a link to that paper within minutes.

Sharing research via social media enables people to comment on and share research easily. It reveals research that people might not otherwise find and enables the researchers to connect with people around the world interested in similar topics.

In addition, use of social media can provide another way to demonstrate the impact of research. Emerging impact metrics – so-called altmetrics – complement the traditional approach of evaluating research based on citations in other journal articles.

Another reason for people to consider using this approach is that many other researchers are already doing so, some very effectively. Social media is increasingly becoming a place where research is discussed.

How to use social media for promoting research

The good news is that using social media is easy and free. Setting up an account takes only a few minutes. Three major websites to consider include Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. There are plenty of other social media channels but it would be very time-consuming to engage with all of them, so I suggest people pick one or two to focus on. Many social media accounts can be linked together. For example, Twitter can be set up to populate Facebook and LinkedIn automatically, which helps to spread a researcher’s reach with little additional effort.

Different social media and related services have different strengths and weaknesses. Facebook, for example, is good for sharing photographs and videos; they rank higher on Facebook’s algorithm so are more likely to appear on people’s news feed than text-only updates. Things like Instagram and Flickr are primarily based around images. Twitter is also sometimes used to share photographs and videos but is particularly good for very short pieces of text with a web link.

I’m going to share advice here particularly about using Twitter, although many of the points are also very appropriate for other social media channels.

Tweets can be up to 140 characters in length (including links). Some journals ask authors to write tweetable abstracts or titles (very short summaries of their work that can be tweeted). It is good practice to think about a short summary of the research being promoted that can fit into this character count.

Tweets (or other social media posts) should include a linkable DOI to your paper. They should also include the Twitter names (prefixed with the @ symbol) of relevant people, perhaps the authors and co-authors or other researchers that you would like to alert to your research. Keep your institution, potential collaborators and other researchers in your field informed about what you are doing by including their Twitter names in your tweet. Keep @INASPinfo informed about what you are doing too so that we can retweet research news linked with our projects.

Using hashtags (by typing the # symbol before a word or phrase) is a good way to highlight research for people who don’t know you but may be following a particular topic. It is also good to tie hashtags in with other things going on around the world, for example World Wildlife Day. This can enable engagement with bigger and more diverse audiences.

Be consistent about what you tweet about. If you primarily intend to use Twitter to discuss agricultural research, for example, then avoid tweeting too much about music or sport as these may not be of interest to your primary audience.

Social media is a two-way thing. Follow relevant people and hashtags to also keep track of trends in your research area, as well as news on policies and trends relating to research. Follow @INASPinfo @JOLsProject and @AuthorAID to keep track of INASP news.

Here are some tips for good tweeting:

1. Tweet titles and links to all the articles that you publish (published papers, blogs, reports etc.)

2. Tweet links to other relevant things (such as other interesting research in your area or articles about research trends in your country)

3. Tweet from conferences and meetings (using the conference hashtag)

4. Share photos relating to your research (be careful to check copyright issues and that any people in the photographs are happy for their image to be shared)

5. Use hashtags

6. Retweet interesting and relevant things

7. Reply to tweets

8. Mention other people in tweets (be aware that if you include their Twitter handle first, only they and your mutual followers will see the tweet)

9. Make lists to organize and keep track of who you are following

10. If you have more than one Twitter account be sure that you are tweeting from the right one

11. Feel free to share appropriate jokes … in moderation

12. Remember that tweets can be viewed by everybody, potentially forever

13. Never ever tweet when angry or likely to tweet something that you might afterwards regret

14. If in doubt, don’t share on social media

Monitoring social media

Once you start sharing research on social media, it is a good idea to follow the response. Check the notifications from your social media home page to ensure that you reply to any messages and see who retweets news about your research.

More formally, it is a good idea to track social media activity. Some journals platforms track social media engagement for the papers that appear in those journals. There are several tools that can help with this. Some universities also use such tools to track mentions of research at an institutional level.

The owners of social media accounts can also track ‘engagement’ using third-party, commercial tools or the social media site’s own (free) analytics tools. Twitter, for example, provides free statistics at analytics.twitter.com, while on a Facebook page you can track the traffic and engagement using the ‘Insight’ tab.

Tell us about your experiences

Do you have some advice to add to this list? Have you had good, or bad, experiences of sharing your research using social media? Leave a reply below, or join the conversation at #researchtweets.

Sian Harris
Siân Harris is Publications and Engagement Manager at INASP

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