Thing 10: Using Social Media to Promote Your Research
Social media can be a powerful tool for networking and raising your research profile. Its conversational style fosters open, informal professional connections and enables engagement with broader communities of interest. In this post, Andrea Hurt and Lisa O’Sullivan introduce the ‘big three’ social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The way that researchers use social media is constantly evolving. These channels provide platforms to help build a public presence for you and your work. They can also help combat the sense of isolation some research students feel. Many research organisations also have own social media accounts, which often aim to present a more personal side to a corporate face. Whether it’s your own social media account or an institution, the primary function is to build relationships.
Firstly, consider why you are interested in social media and who you hope to engage with. Are you focussed on raising your own profile or creating a community? Do you hope to connect with others within your subject area, build more interdisciplinary connections, or share tips about the research process? Understanding your “target audience” will help you decide which platform(s) to use and when, how, and what you post.
That Thing you do: integration into practice
With its 280–character limit, Twitter is a great platform to use to hone your skills in describing your interests in a succinct and engaging way. It’s probably the best social media platform for generating conversations and keeping up-to-date with what’s happening in your discipline or interest area.
Your academic status is not important on Twitter; you can use it to follow researchers or share and publicise your own work. You’ll also find many institutions using Twitter as a key promotional tool for their work. Perhaps most powerfully, you can use it to connect with other researchers and build a community.
Tweeting only when you have something to say, creating a consistent presence, and responding to others on the platform can all help you build your presence. Start by following people and organisations in your field and have a look at who they’re following as well. Using videos, well-known hashtags, and live tweeting events of interest can also be useful ways to get your content noticed.
Twitter allows threads to link longer stories together; but remember that each tweet can also be shared by itself, so make sure your tweets make sense in isolation. Remember that you will be tweeting to a global audience and be aware of cultural and linguistic differences.
Twitter Analytics can help you see the impact and reach your tweets are having, as well as information about your followers.
What others have tried
Some examples from the UniMelb community demonstrate the kind of identities you’ll find on Twitter that straddle the professional and personal in different ways:
- @indiglang The Research Unit for Indigenous Language. This Academic Unit shares news and resources based on their research. No named contributors.
- @UniMelbscicomm The Science Communication Unit, with individuals identified and both students and staff contributing content.
- @UnaMcIlvenna Dr Una McIlvenna, Senior Lecturer in History “who writes about – and sometimes sings – songs about public execution from the 16th century to the 19th century”.
- @MelbournePollen Information channel, with pollen Counts and forecasts for the Melbourne area.
- @Kobotic Research Fellow in Digital Ethics, tweeting about her research and personal interests (including dachshunds).
Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Australia, with 16,000,000 monthly active Australian users (May 2020). Its popularity, ease of sharing information, and ability to create a space for conversation means it’s a channel for engagement and interaction. Don’t assume that the general public won’t be interested in accessing your research and sharing your interests! A surprising number of people love to hear about the nitty gritty of doing all kinds of research. Rather than boosting your personal profile, consider Facebook for creating audiences in two key ways:
- Create a page that shows your area of interest or represents an organisation.
- Bring people together via a group.
- Facebook Live offers real-time video streaming, enabling viewers to comment and ask questions.
- Facebook Stories enables photos, videos and posts that will only be visible for 24 hours, but can be archived later.
- Facebook Events helps promote talks, functions, launches, exhibitions or any public event. It allows followers to register interest and Facebook will remind people as the event gets closer.
- You can measure your impact and success in different ways: the number of likes, the number of conversations generated, and the quality of interactions. If you’re running a Facebook page, you will have access to Facebook Insights, which is their free analytics service.
- Facebook also has a Research and Outreach area, providing fellowship opportunities, research collaborations, research awards and visiting opportunities to work on projects.
What others have tried
Originally designed as a photo sharing platform, Instagram is now the third most popular social media channel, with 9,000,000 monthly active Australian users (May 2020). Instagram also allows for video sharing in your feed, via Instagram Stories, and through the new IGTV app.
Images lend themselves to storytelling, drawing the viewer into the work you do. Some accounts focus solely on research or a specific subject, while others blend the personal and professional. The visual diary aspect of Instagram allows followers to see all elements (work, study, social, family) of your life. And remember that humour can be a great way to get people to engage with your account.
- You can choose a personal or business Instagram account.
- Following people is a good way to start seeing how other people are creating content for this platform. You can also follow specific hashtags – and start using them in your own posts. This will make you more discoverable.
- If you have other social media accounts, it’s good to try and keep your usernames the same, especially for business accounts.
- Fill out your biography – it should be short, informative, and give people an idea about who you are and what you’re likely to be posting.
- Instagram is now owned by Facebook, and introduced an algorithm overriding the original chronological order of posts. Here are some tips on ensuring your posts get seen.
- Basic analytics, called Insights, are available with the business account, giving information on followers and engagement and impressions on your posts.
- Instagram has introduced sponsored posts; find out more about Instagram Ads.
What others have tried
Be realistic about what you want from being on social media, and the time you have available to build and maintain a consistent presence.
Decide on the boundaries of your social media presence: some people are comfortable posting professional and personal news from the same account, while others prefer to keep them strictly separate. You may have accounts representing you, your research, or your institutions’ work; in each case, the content you post may have a different tone and focus.
Be aware of etiquette around tagging others and posting information or images that might infringe on others’ privacy. Also be conscious of your personal liability for any material you post or share.
While social media posts can feel ephemeral, remember that once something is on the internet it can be difficult to erase. Many recruiters now openly search candidates’ social media accounts, so be thoughtful about what you post, especially on a platform like Twitter where posts can easily be shared and taken out of the context you intended.
- This guide from Newcastle University explored why you might want to use Twitter during your PhD and supplies lots of useful links to Twitter lists and discussions about academic tweeting.
- URL shorteners such as https://bitly.com/ or go.unimelb save characters and can be used to share links without using too many letters or numbers.
- A useful “myth-busting” piece from UNSW provides advice on personal liability when posting on social media platforms.
- This guide from the University of Sydney summarises more of the other social media platforms available and some of their strengths in helping you promote your work.
- Altmetrics can measure the impact of mentions via social media. The Library has a guide explaining how to use alternative metrics software. The University has more information about terms of service for social media, and discusses academic freedom.
About the authors
Andrea Hurt is focussed on outreach and the user experience. People and spaces are her priority as the Senior Librarian, Library Services and Spaces in the Baillieu Library. With over 30 years’ experience, she has grown up in academic libraries. Andy is a lover of social media, digital communication, and spends a lot of time on Instagram. She is also the Library Social Media Coordinator. Andy is currently studying a Master of Communication with a specialisation in Digital Media.
Lisa O’Sullivan trained as a historian and has worked in archives, museums and libraries, particularly those relating to the cultural history of medicine and the natural sciences. In her current role she focuses on engagement and outreach for the Archives and Special collections of the University. She lurks on Twitter for most of her personal and professional news.
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