Easy Social Media Strategy for Researchers: Giving, Simplicity, Sticking with It

Social media for researchers and scientists: it’s predictably confusing.

Why? Because so many smart people are doing something a 12 year old can do better.

They’re overthinking it. They’re getting all scientific about it.

Social media is at best a free and powerful instrument to advanced your science and increase your reputation. Even when done half-heartedly it can get you some attention.

Dr./Ms./Mr. Researcher – you’ve to try really hard to do badly at social media. But there are some good ways to go about it.

An online publication recently asked me my thoughts on this topic. I told them, but I wanted to expand the view a little here. I mean hey, if it’s easy for a 12 year old, I think a PhD will be just fine.

Social Media for Researchers: You’re Not Failing

When I’ve done seminars on manuscript writing and on PR, I’m often asked about social media because

  1. I’ve managed SNS accounts for a number of tech and academic companies and
  2. almost every researcher under age 50 has tried it, and most have failed, or at least they thought they did

When I dug deeper, I found some had tried Facebook, some did a blog, some were aggressively taking part in online forums. They all thought it was social media. And most of them felt they wasted their time.

The truth is: none of them failed. They just didn’t find the right venue and voice.

Find the SNS for You, Actually Find a Couple

It’s up to the researcher to find a combination of outlets that they can maintain and that will keep their interest over the longer term. This is because the most common pattern is:

  1. Sign up for social media (however you define it, but most people seem to think it starts and ends at Facebook and Twitter)
  2. Post on a wide range of topics ranging from research-related to politics to pics of today’s lunch
  3. stop posting because there’s no immediate tangible reward and it takes too much time

Well, that’s how a lot of people do use social media for their personal lives. But it’s not how a researcher should use it.

If I were to write Dr. Adam’s prescription for an engineering researcher who wants to use social media, it would be:

  • Choose 1 or 2 key social networks from among the popular general platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Weibo (for Chinese audiences), etc.;
  • Choose 1 general research-oriented social network, such as ResearchGate or Mendeley
  • Choose 1 or 2 focused sites; so if you’re an engineer, try LabRoots and Element 14, or GitHub for software engineers

The specialized ones will naturally be easier for you to find your place in because you’re among immediate peers. Learn the ropes on posting and manners. And dive in.

For the others, start more slowly. Find some other researchers (in any field) to follow, and see how they do it. Identify 2-3 key research themes and focus all your posts on them.

Consider yourself a broadcaster in those 2-3 areas. Establish yourself as a thought-leader, but also help others in the same and adjacent areas, and even others who have no clue about what you’re doing.

Use the SNS the Right Way: One Size Does Not Fit All

Consider the strengths of the media and how people communicate.

If you use Facebook, keep your posts short and very conversational, and attach images and video as much as you can. If you’re on Twitter, use hashtags wisely and be sure to follow and retweet generously.

On LinkedIn, join key communities, share helpful links and thoughts, and publish a couple of thought pieces on its platform.

On Instagram, you’re visual, so show pictures of your work, tables and figures, short videos of you and your actions and thoughts.

On YouTube, well, video, obviously, and longer – but don’t talk down to people or talk like a lecturer, and generally keep them within 30 minutes, if not 15.

On All Platforms: Give First, Expect Nothing

Be human and accessible in all cases.

Yes, you want to promote your research. You can do that. But you have to give as well. In fact, you should give at a much higher rate than you publicize yourself.

Publicizing yourself is a lot like sales and marketing. If no one wants what you’re selling, they’ll ignore you. They may even be offended.

But if you support those who may have interest in your work, offer them value, show them you care about the community, then you can expect support for your work.

Keep in mind that it’s social, so you’re looking to help people even more than you’re looking to promote yourself.

  • Be generous with your thoughts.
  • Don’t be critical unless criticism is invited.
  • Make your language accessible to non-specialists.
  • Share a lot.
  • Give value and expect nothing reciprocal; life isn’t fair but helping others usually brings good things.

Suffice it to say, be careful about sharing any intellectual property, ideas under development, copyrighted works, and anything you’re not both comfortable about sharing and in which you’re confident of your ownership.

And check your spelling and grammar as best you can, but if you’re not a native English speaker, write in English as well as your mother language, but just be sure you use the right terms. You’ll usually be forgiven for little language mistakes.

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