PRACTICAL GUIDE 1

Science communication with social media – preparation

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Science communication in social media is becoming ever more important for researchers, especially for economists whose research findings often lead to political consequences and impact on societal action.

However, trusting merely to one’s guts when posting will often not produce the desired effects. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement has published a guide that takes academics through the process of planning for an effective online communication. We have condensed the key findings for you below. 

Benefits

Social media offer a particular opportunity for researchers who want to engage the public with their work. There are lots of benefits, including:

Reach: They provide a platform to engage with a wider group of people than can be met with at face-to-face events. They also enable those who work at remote locations to connect with the public.

Immediacy: You can engage with social media wherever you have an internet connection.

Dialogue: You can open up conversations with others to better understand how they are making sense of your research, or to input into your engagement ideas. It also enables audience-led discussion and debate – exposing you to other interests and ideas.

Community building: Social media can enable you to develop a community of interest around your research or connect you with communities who might be interested in your research.

Sharing: Talk about your research, interests, opinions, questions, events, jobs and other opportunities.

Improving research: Through collaboration and consultation, by listening to and learning from the views that others take of your research, and by hearing other points of view.

Gathering data: Both quantitative and qualitative data can be gathered through social media.

Raising awareness: Social media can help you with increasing your profile, networking, raising awareness of your research or project, socialising and keeping in touch with others. They offer the opportunity for an interested public to find out about your research.

Challenges

There are things you need to think about before you start!

  • Whilst the set-up costs can be small, the time investment can be large depending on your goals – so consider how you will build your social media activity into your existing routine.
  • Posting on social media does not mean that you will access the groups you want to engage with – you will need to work hard to make connections, and get noticed.
  • Not everyone will welcome your content, so make sure you have a strategy for dealing with any negative feedback or trolls.

That said, social media can be a truly effective part of your public engagement toolkit.

What do you want to achieve with your science communication?

If you want to work successfully with your toolkit, you need to answer the following questions:

  • What purpose do I want to achieve with online communication?
  • Who is the target group I want to address?
  • Which platform does my target group use?
  • What do I need to know about which channels?
  • How much time do I want to spend on reaching my goal?
  • How can I measure the communication effects successfully?

Social media can serve many different purposes. What do you want to achieve in your present situation?

  • I want to inspire people with my work, build understanding and stimulate curiosity.
  • I want to find cooperation partners outside the academic world. I also want to identify societal requests, and I want to know which aspects of my research field interest society.
  • I want to collaborate in research with other scientists to find out what we can achieve together.
  • I want to learn from others and I want to be able to see the world through their eyes. I want to understand the values that guide other people.
  • I want to support people to make decisions in their lives. I want to influence their attitudes or their behaviour.
  • I want to be a presence in my community and foster my career.

Who is the intended audience of your science communication?

  • Know your audience. Who are they? Think about their age/ gender/ location/ interests.
  • What can you find out about how your potential audiences use social media? Once you know you can develop your plan accordingly.
  • Information on the demographics of people using specific social media platforms is available. Whilst much of this information is provided for those who work in marketing, it is still useful – so make use of the available information to choose an appropriate platform for your potential audience.
  • Consider where you can share your content to engage these audiences – you will need to go to them. Do not expect them to come to you.

Engage your audience

  • Social media are a great place to share content. Make sure that your content is of high quality and shareable.
  • Content should be succinct, easy to read, free from jargon, and stimulate curiosity and/or action.
  • Consider what interests your audience. Why will they care about your research or project?
  • What do your audience value? How do they currently behave on social media? How can you link into their interests?
  • Consider where people with shared interests are engaging and go to them.
  • Make sure you consider cultural, ethical and religious sensitivities when framing your content.
  • Tell people at face-to-face events how they can connect with you online.

Your social media presence

  • Consider who or what you are representing – yourself as an individual, your research group, your project, your institution or all of these! Keep in mind that you will represent all of these things in some way in your online engagement.
  • Depending on your aims you need to decide if you wish to separate your ‘personal’ profiles from your professional ones. This can differ from network to network. It is better to decide how you want to organise this before setting up any accounts and to check the privacy settings on any existing profiles.
  • Experiment and reflect. See what works with the audience you want to engage with.
  • Link up to others, especially if there are other experts in your field already active on social media. Connect with your institutional/grant funder social media accounts. It is likely they will have a large audience and might be able to support you to grow yours.
  • Be generous. Share good content relating to your aims, even if it isn’t yours, but try to comment on it in interesting ways.
  • Don’t forget the social part of social media – it’s about interaction with people. You need to be involved and be active regularly to be part of the community.
  • Social media is unpredictable. Your plans might not turn out as you expect. Experiment with different approaches.

Date: March 2021
Questions, comments and notes are welcome at open-science@zbw.eu



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