Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How to Use Social Media to Communicate Research – And Why You Should

For those of you that are scientists – you want results, right? Cold, hard facts. According to Tiffany Fox, Public Information Representative at the Qualcomm Institute at the UC San Diego Division of the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology (Calit2), the field of social media is just too new to yield results that demonstrate its value for scientists.

However, there is evidence that the number of tweets a journal article gets can predict the number of citations it will have – that’s according to the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

In a recent seminar designed to instruct Electrical and Computer Engineering students in the art of using social media to communicate research, Fox spent time explaining why it is increasingly expected that scientists and engineers have a social media presence.

“When we say social media, what are we talking about?” asked Fox. “Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn, Pinterest/Instragram/Snapchat, blogs, Storify, and the like. These platforms have the potential to transmit information to a large audience quickly.”

The term ‘quickly’ might be an understatement – this comic by Randall Munroe explains how it is that tweets travel faster than an earthquake.

As useful as it is, social media typically gets a bad rap. Fox put up this graphic to illustrate:

With so much irrelevant information on the web, the question remains: Which social channels should I be on? It’s a matter of knowing your audience, says Fox.

A recent poll found that 65 percent of people under the age of 30 are getting their news from the Internet. In addition, a study found that the potential for an audience at a scientific conference is 10-fold less than for social media.

If we know that this is where our audience is, why don’t we use it?

But I don’t wanna, you say. For all of your excuses, Fox has a response:
  • Aren’t journals and conferences enough? How many times have you seen a copy of Nano Letters on someone’s coffee table?
  •  But that’s what journalists are for! Journalists can get it wrong.
  • The Internet is forever! So are print magazines.
  • Scientists are introverts. Social media is perfect for introverts – you don’t even have to leave the house!

What’s in it for me, you’re wondering. Fox has a number of answers for that as well:
  • Voice your thoughts and opinions…for free.
  • Keep up-to-date
  • Share info with colleagues
  • Be part of the larger conversation – not only that, you can sway it.
  • Control you professional visibility
  •  Boost your prestige
  •  Act as a public voice for science
  • Avoid the ‘blowback’ effect – correct false impressions
  •  It’s becoming an obligation – you seem really out of touch if you’re not using social media. In fact, I’d wager you’re doing science a disfavor.
  •  Ability to crowdsource
  • Invitations to write book chapters
  • Job offers/attract graduate students
  • Real-time conference/workshop updates
  • Increased paper downloads/citations
  • Potential for new fields of science

But, you say, I still don’t wanna! What if I’m wrong? Make a correction. What if no one pays attention? Not participating guarantees even less attention. What if someone yells at me? That means they were paying attention. What if my boss doesn’t like it? Work with your Public Information Representative to find out the rules.

Are you convinced? Good. Let’s get started. Fox offers these general guidelines for creating a profile on any one of the social media sites we listed at the beginning of this post.
  • Check to see your profile name’s availability
  • Search for doppelgangers and consider using middle initial
  • Have a profile picture of yourself – DO NOT use the school logo!
  • Try to keep the same name, profile pic, imagery and look across all your social profiles – we call these social skins, and it helps create a personal brand
  • For your professional profiles, be as transparent as possible about your affiliations
  • Include a Twitter bio, and tag @UCSDJacobs, @Calit2UCSD or @UCSanDiego

The “Staple” Update Strategy

Many people have a single type of update that they post regularly, such as a status update or industry news. In fact, Fox says, some people only retweet or share other people’s content. For every four staple updates, mix it up with a different piece of content.

Optimal Posting Frequency

: 2x/day
Twitter: 5x/day
LinkedIn: 1x/day
Google +: 2x/day
Pinterest: 5x/day
Instagram: 2x/day

Next Steps
  1.          Start using hashtags to search for keywords that match your interest
  2.         Follow people who are tweeting about those topics
  3.         Create lists to keep your feed organized
  4.          Adjust your settings

Here’s an example in practice. Say TechCrunch posts an article, and you just happen to come across it while browsing the Internet before you start your work for the day: “Ron Conway Says Each Engineer Hired Creates Four Entry-Level Jobs”

If you have:

10 seconds – hit retweet
2 minutes – retweet, and post to LinkedIn
5 minutes – all of the above and follow Ron Conway, then read some of his posts
10 minutes – all of the above and tweet “@RonConway, great insights in @TechCrunch today!”

30 minutes – all of the above and tweet “Hey, @RonConway, here’s how our tech could create jobs [insert link to a blog post you’ve written]

Social Media Best Practices

  •  Consider creating separate accounts
  • Don’t clutter up feeds with irrelevant info
  • Don’t over-post, make vague posts or complain chronically
  • Tailor your post to the medium
  • Ditch jargon, use metaphors, break down concepts – for blogs, use Flesch-Kincaid readability test (Microsoft Word)
  • Respect other’s privacy
  • Respect media embargoes, NDAs and ‘exclusives’
  • You are not obligated to accept friend requests or “follow” someone who follows you on Twitter
  • Comment, “like”, retweet, reply and otherwise be supportive
  • Try “hiding” and if that doesn’t work “unfollow” and “unfriend”
  • Use correct grammar!
  • To make social media worth your while, Fox has these tips:
  • Decide what your goals are and use targeted tools
  • Post when your readers are online
  • Use and search for hashtags (#engineering)
  • Optimize your paper titles for social media – people love lists (5 ways, 10 things, etc.)
  • Be selective – create lists in Twitter; change your settings or ‘get notifications’ for Facebook posts
  • Find what works for you

The ultimate goal is to create investment.
In the end, it all comes full-circle, Fox says. We are using social media to talk about science, and science to study social media.

Tiffany Fox will host one more workshop as part of her “Communicating Research: How to ‘Speak Science’ and Be Understood” series on May 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. The final workshop will be titled “Communicating with the Lay Public”. The workshop is free-of-charge and will be held in the Booker Conference Room (Room 2512), Jacobs Hall/EBU1, UC San Diego. You can register here.

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