Post-Doctoral Research Associate, University of Reading
Social media of choice: Twitter
What made you want to start using social media for science communication and how did you start out?
As scientists, we spend a lot of our time trying to distil our research into papers, talks or posters, so that we can report what we have found and what it means for the research community. Given that most research at UK institutions is funded by government or research charities, we also have a responsibility to explain what we are doing to the public that ultimately pay for it. In some ways this is much harder than writing a research paper- how do you distil your complex hypothesis into a few sentences, whilst maintaining accuracy?
I started using Twitter to talk about science back in 2017 and it was a real challenge to condense a message into 140 characters (thankfully now 280 characters!). I use Twitter to promote my research, public engagement events, highlight conference experiences and interesting papers. Tweeting to raise awareness and sell tickets for Pint of Science events taught me the importance of condensing messages into interesting concepts and it certainly took a while to get this right. I try to stick to three short statements and provide links so that people can find out more.
Top tips for anyone interested in using social media for science communication
- Go for it! The lifetime of a tweet is probably only a few seconds, so if you start with a dud, you can try again. You’re probably not going to go ‘viral’ (maybe one day something will). That being said, there is not an ‘edit’ option on Twitter, so proof-reading before hitting Tweet is essential!
- Start with what you know – If you’re new to Twitter start by following people that you know or work with and expand from there. Maybe you just read a cool paper and the author is on Twitter – give them a follow and maybe you can connect. Not sure what to send as your first tweet? Why not start with an introduction to yourself – who are you? what do you do? what might it mean?
- Use hashtags. Think of these as the key words that go with your tweet (e.g. #Thrombosis, #BloodClotting, #COVID19, #SciComm). This increases the likelihood that your tweet will be seen by people interested in these topics. If you’re using more than one word in a hashtag, capitalising each word improves accessibility for people that use text-to-speech software (e.g. #TweetingIsGreat rather than #tweetingisgreat).
Benefits of different platforms – what is your favourite?
For science communication I prefer to use Twitter, as it is open and provides a forum for discussion and networking. During the COVID-19 lockdown(s), Twitter helped keep me feel connected and expanded my professional network, as opportunities to meet and engage with researchers across the globe have emerged. For example, I was fortunate enough to connect with Kellie Machlus (@TheClotThickens) in late 2019, which lead to me helping with her hugely successful #BloodAndBone seminar programme. I have found that chatting to scientists on Twitter has been a great way to break down some of those formal barriers, that we may experience in person (maybe because you can send the message and then hide from your phone for a few hours!). I have attempted to use other platforms to disseminate work but I think Twitter remains my favourite. Facebook is more a space to keep up to date with what family and friends have been up to and Instagram is still a mystery to me…
What is the best way to grow your following?
When you decide to use social media, it is important to ask yourself what your target audience is. Do you want it to be a personal or professional account? Personally, I took the decision to go hybrid. I think that it is important to break down some of the stereotypes of what a scientist is and to be able share real life experiences. This has helped boost my following through engagement with research communities but also science communicators and LGBTQ+ researchers and groups. If you want to grow your following, the best place to start is by following people/topics that you like. Most people will follow you back and then you start to see new/different content on your feed, which will lead to more connections.
How did you become an ISTH twitter ambassador?
These days, I also Tweet on behalf of The Platelet Society (@PlateletSociety) and Platelets Journal (@PlateletJournal), which require different language to tailor information to general and specialist audiences. In addition, I was invited by ISTH (@ISTH) to become a Twitter ambassador for their 2020 and 2021 congresses. These are great roles that have come about as part of my involvement with the #BloodAndBone seminar and expanding my network. For the ISTH Ambassador gig I have the wonderful Dianne van der Wal (@DianvanderwalDr), who runs social media for JTH (@JTHjournal), to thank as she put my name forward.
Any general advice for science and social media?
Read before you tweet, don’t feed the trolls, try different formats or content and, most importantly, enjoy yourself!