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Four Steps to Use Social Media to Promote Your Research

According to the National Research Council, effective science communication requires assembling researchers “with knowledge relevant to decision makers, translating that knowledge into useful terms, establishing trusted two-way communication channels, evaluating the process, and refining it as needed.

If you’re like me, you had two reactions to this: 

  1. This sounds great! I agree.
  2. But how does one actually do these things?

Communication strategy is a critical part of the development of your research. In this and upcoming blog posts, I’ll endeavor to demystify some of the stranger parts of publicizing your research, beginning with maybe the biggest bear of all: social media.

The good news is, all effective social media strategy requires is following four simple steps, which I’ll outline here.

Step one: find your goal

Your social media identity works for you. Like any good boss, you should give it some guidance. Start with questions: What do you want to accomplish by sharing your scholarship online? Prospective employers, funders, partners, colleagues and mentees may all view your social media profiles and platform presence as a statement of your intentions and goals, as well as a compilation of your scholarship. Is your social media content measuring up to this standard? Articulate why you are pursuing and sharing your research in a sentence or two, and see how your social media profiles compare to your goal.

For example: The goal of our Asking Different Questions project is to “change STEM and the knowledge those fields produce by changing research agendas.”

Step two: define your audience

Don’t be afraid to speak to your people. The more specific and clear your research and expertise niche, the more success you’ll have in the long run promoting your work. Join the platforms frequented by people to whom you look up. Who cares about the things you care about? Where are they posting?

For example: FRI primarily uses the Twitter platform, because of the strong academic contingent. Others on campus who wish to speak to a younger audience tap into the popularity of Instagram.

Step three: develop messages (just a few)

The messages you share on social media should reflect data and insights as well as solutions. Make sure to develop a message that is forward-looking. What vision do you have for your field/industry/area of expertise, or for how that field interacts with society, or with science? It is that positioning toward the future that gives information urgency online. Use social media to inspire and entertain people on their journey to embracing and (eventually) sharing your ideas.

Second, remember your audience, who you defined in step two. Center what you both care about, and develop messaging around that. Build trust by only sharing messages that align with your goal and your values, and that speak to your audience. 

Step four: now, execute!

Doing is arguably the hardest part. Bad news: there is no try. There are no options for sharing your work on social media other than getting started and sharing your work on social media. You must do, not try.  Inventory your resources. Your skills, networks and talents can all contribute to your success. Try not to leave any out.

For example: If you’re a gifted cook, incorporate recipes into your social media, no matter your scholarship subject matter. Have fun, be a whole person.

Keep it simple. This matters for a bunch of reasons. Perhaps the most important is accessibility. What are accessible images on social media? Simple ones, without too much text on them, that have full ALT text descriptions embedded. Avoid images that are overly designed, or complicated, or are not viewable on a mobile device. 

Successful social media marketing inspires and delights. Experiment, play, and create. Start right away. Flex your quirks, trust your goals, and find your people online. These are the real “tricks” of social media, and you’ll find these guiding principles (rather than some exact formula) are what successful social media leaders have in common.

Next time: more on setting your goal, and why researchers might want to share their work to begin with.

Cynthia is the communications manager at FRI.