Lab Notes: Social Sciences

Using social media in your laboratory can help you collaborate while simultaneously promoting your research to interested colleagues around the world.

What started in the late 90s as a “social” way to connect with friends and family, social media has exploded into the habits of Americans’ everyday lives. Multiple social media platforms are relied on heavily to spread information in the worlds of entertainment, news, and politics, and they have become increasingly more popular and important to the science and research communities.

About 68% of Americans say they get some of their news from social media, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey. Facebook — which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary — is still the most popular, with about four in 10 Americans (43%) getting news from the platform. YouTube and Twitter follow as second and third most common with 21% and 12% of respondents, respectively, getting news there.

The reach and impact of social media is indisputable and remarkable things can happen when scientists adopt it into their regular lab life. Social medial offers the opportunity for researchers to share their work across the globe with just a few keyboard clicks. It is just not enough to publish peer-reviewed journal articles to gain an audience for your research. Having a presence on social media is key to keeping up with new findings, tools, and state-of-the-art trends—oftentimes months before they get printed.

Consider a social media presence as the first and most crucial step in branding your laboratory. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are excellent channels for strengthening an institution’s name and reputation. Every Fortune 100 company has their own Twitter channel, and most every science publication has adopted social media platforms to spread news at a faster pace.

Social media can give immediate feedback on your research and help find new collaborators and potential donors much easier than days of old. It has also turned the traditional methods of recruiting study participants on their head. Everything is faster, less expensive, and more effective when potential study enrollees can find you on social media.

Where Scientists Are Social

When it comes to building an online presence, four sites top the lists for scientists:

ResearchGate. With more than 15 million members, ResearchGate is the largest academic social networking site for scientists and researchers. The site’s founders claimed it their mission to “connect the world of science and make research open to all.” Members (it’s free to join) can share work from any stage of the research cycle, find research to help your work, and discuss publications with authors and other experts. Recently, ResearchGate and Springer Nature announced a pilot partnership to make 23 of the Spring Nature journals available to view and download on the networking platform without a subscription.

Facebook. Recruiting and engaging with the general public are often the most cited reasons why scientists develop a Facebook page. As the most popular platform, Facebook comprises member groups of a multitude of health conditions, geographic areas, and special interests. Labs also use their page to share photos of their facility and staff.

Twitter. At least 45,000 scientists around the world use Twitter alone, according to a 2018 Science Twitter allows for short — 280 characters max — messages with links to videos or articles. It offers real-time communication with a wide audience, and live-tweeting from conferences is increasingly popular, allowing attendees to deliver session highlights to interested colleagues and followers. Twitter followers can include journalists, journal editors, and members of the regular public who can increase your world reach in a matter of minutes. A recent editorial in Nature discussed how in recent years Twitter has grown as a free global platform to rapidly disseminate both published and unpublished research advances. “Circulating newly published papers allows for more exposure and has been linked to increased citations,” according to the article. “Twitter mentions are an important alternative way of rigorously tracking the non-scholarly attention a paper receives.”

LinkedIn. For scientists looking for professional relationships, creating a good LinkedIn profile is a must-do. LinkedIn has strong appeal across all age groups, and users can network to find new colleagues, post news links, advertise job opportunities, and use it as a directory to learn about the industry and the competition.

— Fauntleroy Shaw is a freelance writer based in Carmel, Ind. She is a regular contributor to Endocrine News.

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