Social Media and Science


It’s pretty obvious that I spend a considerable amount of time on social media. I’ve got a Twitter account, @ScientistMags, and I’ve got a public facebook page as well as this blog. I also work full time as a scientist and as a freelance science writer. Occasionally I do allow myself to sleep.

I do get asked why I do it. I do “it” because the internet is supposed to be a utopia filled with free factual information. It isn’t. There’s websites devoted to nonsense promising cures insulting scientists whilst using smoke and mirrors to present information disguised as science. This is why I do it.

I also do “it” because when I was growing up, I didn’t know of any scientists. They were all on television and were always busy in a lab. Now that I am a scientist, I know this is not true. You won’t be able to pick out a scientist at the local shops. They are well camouflaged wearing every day clothes or even busy wrangling an unruly child or two. We’re regular people. Scientists are people, and sometimes we get angry at the same things you might do like when a computer crashes while saving an important piece of work or are known to get swept up in hysteria and join queues outside Apple stores for the latest iDevice.

I’m part of social media because the most important thing I want to tell people about the science I do that above all, I’m someone with feelings, desires and frustrations.

Last week there was a discussion on Social Media and Science on Twitter hosted by Bridge8. I am so sorry I missed it. My Masters thesis is to do with science discussions on Twitter so I was rather frustrated not being able to take part. I said that would do a blog post on it instead. It’s not quite the same.

The questions are what framed the discussion last week.

  1. How do you measure the success your professional efforts in social media?
    I find it difficult to measure the success of my professional efforts in social media. I know things have gone well if I have conversations with people about the science news and topics I’ve posted. If things get passed on then that’s all well and good but I don’t know how well it was understood or whether it was because of the pretty picture.
  1. How important are metrics (eg no. of YouTube views, followers, FB Likes?) to you and your org?
    Let’s be honest. Who doesn’t like being liked? I think the importance isn’t just having lots of followers and likes. What should be important are the types of conversations and discussions being had with the people who subscribe to you. Are they ones that reflect who or what you are? Have they achieved a goal or aim?There is merit in awareness raising but this should be followed on with something. Activists and lobbyists follow on with a call to action. As an individual I let people know of events and things that they can be a part of that are happening. I share my visits to science centres, museums and libraries because I want to share my enthusiasm for them with other people. Whether or not this leads to people going to them, I don’t know but I do know that I get to talk to people about what it is I see in front of me. To me, that’s more valuable than collecting 100 more followers who don’t interact.
  1. How do know when you are #doingitwrong? (“failing” at social media)
    I know I am #doingitwrong when I respond to trolls.
  1. Are there things that turn you off? What should be “don’t do” advice for social media?
    Trolls are the very worst things that I encounter. This is different from someone who has a misconception. They tend to engage with a misconception and after a conversation has been established, begin to go on the offensive and attack. It’s incredibly draining and wastes time.The most important “Don’t do” is to treat social media as a broadcasting medium. It’s a communication medium and there will be a transfer of information between yourself and a lot of different people. In some cases, broadcasting works like for news services and emergency updates but when it comes to individuals and organizations, expect interaction from your audience and have a plan on what to do with it.
  1. Socmed > Twitter. Where else do you engage and why? What works?
    Twitter is great for quick updates. I use my blog for discussions longer than 140 characters. I have found that facebook has become an area where photos and visuals reign supreme.  I have different audiences and they interact differently. People use different forms of social media and tend to stay with the one they find most convenient or most interesting to them.
  1. What’s the most creative use of scicomms through social media you’ve seen? Or done!
    I love the Google+ hangouts. They’re really innovative. I haven’t taken part actively but have watched from the sidelines where a scientist interacts in real time with people from all over the world. Phil Plait aka @BadAstronomer has a weekly one which he promotes on Twitter. More information here.
  1. How much time would you spend on social media? How do you find the time?
    How much time do I spend on social media? A LOT. In numerical terms, probably around 20 hours a week.
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1 Comment

Filed under Master of Science Communication, Science, Science Communication in Action

One response to “Social Media and Science

  1. Pingback: Twitter Vs Susan Greenfield | Neurobonkers.com

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