What made you want to start using social media for science communication and how did you start out?
I’d been toying with the idea for ages after following lots of SciComm accounts on Instagram and twitter, but I kept doubting myself. I wasn’t sure what I could add to the space! It wasn’t until the first lockdown due to COVID, where I wanted to do something productive, yet fun with my time that wasn’t my PhD work. I decided to take the plunge. There was so much misinformation about COVID appearing in every corner of the internet and that made me really want to talk about science online.
I initially created a blog and just used Instagram to promote it. My first blog post was about how challenging it was for PhD students during the pandemic and what that means for the future of science (https://bethology.co.uk/2020/04/13/research-and-covid-19-what-does-this-all-mean-for-phd-students/). I used the blog as a bit of an outlet during an extremely challenging time, but it wasn’t until I started following more science people on Instagram, I realised there was this huge scientific community on there.
People were breaking stereotypes, debunking myths about science and doing a PhD, while others were simply documenting their journey. It really inspired me to get more involved in the Instagram science scene. I started sharing my experience and journey as a scientist during the pandemic, but I really wanted to challenge myself by writing about science online to a wider audience. I wrote a blog post about covid-19 and platelets which was my first ever bit of online SciComm writing (https://bethology.co.uk/2020/07/24/covid-19-platelets/). I was so nervous clicking that share button but I’m so glad I did. It was well received and gave me the opportunity to write for other blogs. It made me think “oh wow I CAN do this and there is a place for this”.
I’ve also made some amazing friends through sharing my journey and connecting with people like me. Some of which I’ve met in real life which has been great. Since sharing my PhD journey online as well as communicating science, it’s created lots of opportunities such as presenting at online conferences about science communication, working with brands to promote their science related products and collaborating with some amazing science influencers! It’s given me much more confidence in my writing and communication skills, which has ultimately made me improve as a PhD student and scientist.
Top tips for anyone interested in using social media for science communication
- Be clear and concise
- Don’t assume your audience knows all the intricacies that you do but also don’t “dumb it down” as it can become patronising, this is tricky but the more you do it the easier it becomes
- Understand your audience, you can gain this info through social media analytics but also by asking them directly
- Show your personality and get creative
Benefits of different platforms – which is your favourite?
I really enjoy Instagram, I like the visual and creative aspect of it and within Instagram itself there are so many features, it’s essentially like a mini blog and YouTube channel all rolled into one. In the last few months, I’ve gotten into YouTube as a way to talk about topics more in-depth, to show what it’s like to be a PhD student and pass on the things I’ve learnt during my academic journey.
Reels, stories, photos – what is the best to create an engaging post?
Reels (short form videos) are kind of where it’s at, right now! People like short-form content, I enjoy making them, they can be fun and can be super engaging, but I do think there’s still a place for photos/infographics and longer form content. It really depends on what it is that you’re trying to achieve, if you want to disseminate information, I’d say photos/infographics are great whereas if you want to give top tips or create quick, relatable content then Reels are great for that. You can also engage with your audience via Stories to show your personality, there’s lots of features built into the Instagram platform to increase engagement.
What is the best way to grow your following?
Connect with people and be social, it’s called social media for a reason. I was shy initially and I didn’t want to “bother people” but everyone has been so nice. How can you expect people to engage with your content if you don’t engage with others? Be authentic, find your niche (or niches), try different styles of content, and see what works for you. It’s trial and error.
Any general advice for science and social media?
- Credit & reference appropriately
- Experiment and find what works best for you
- Engage and connect with people
- Use free tools like Canva or Visme to create infographics – you don’t need to be a graphic designer to create awesome and engaging content.
- Think about why you want to use social media, is it to network? Is it for SciComm? Do you just want a separate space on the internet for science related stuff? Understanding your reasoning for wanting to use social media can really help when it comes to creating and sharing content.
- Don’t wait until what you’ve written/created is perfect, it won’t be and that’s ok. It’s a work in progress and even if you inspire just one person to go into science or have taught one person something new it’s worth it!
- Take social media breaks, it can be easy to get sucked into being on social media for ages because of the community aspect of it but it’s not healthy to be on it all the time. I try to limit my time on Instagram by using app limits on my phone.