So, part of this 23 things for research programme is to post about social media.
Facebook became a thing just as I was starting University. At that time it was limited just to University students, you had to assign yourself to a uni on signup. Hardly surprising - Mark Zuckerberg created it in his bedroom at Harvard. Its features were extremely limited at that time. You could make text posts and friends. I think you could post photos and make events too? Anyway, that was a long time ago. It's very different now. Facebook is full of STUFF. Mostly trash. Stuff to waste your time with. I think that pretty much sums up my opinion of Facebook.
But Facebook can be trained. Judicious hiding of certain posts (Humans of Tumblr can get into the sun) has left me with a feed of mostly intelligent people (and the few school friends I would feel a bit bad about getting rid of) and pretty pictures from photography groups. Suits me! And Facebook does have its uses. But for the most part, disseminating research is not one of them. Legit, I was going to say 'Unless you're Brian Cox' and link to his Facebook page, BUT NO, he's linked Facebook to his Twitter feed and uses it to complain about politics XD I mean, damn, if Brian Cox doesn't use it for disseminating research, what hope do any of the rest of us have?
Here's why Facebook is terrible for this (and let's face it, Facebook is for personal stuff anyway, why would you want to use it for work purposes?):
Reach is Facebook's fancy term for how likely a post you make is going to pop up on other people's Facebook feeds. Let me give you an example using my own Facebook page on which I dump all my art, photography and sewing stuff (I'm a massive nerd with too many hobbies, shhhh, don't tell anyone):
That orange bar at the bottom is how many people have seen this post, i.e. reach. My page has about 150 likes, pretty small change in Facebook terms. But I shared this post on my personal Facebook feed which increased the number of people who had seen it beyond that amount. Some of the posts I make on that page have a reach of just 43. So even when someone does want to see your stuff, by liking your page, Facebook doesn't always show it to them. There's a huge number of algorithmic factors that influences this, but in general, reach on Facebook is poor, because they want you to pay £££ to increase it.
Tl;dr, don't use Facebook to promote your research. It'll hardly reach anybody.
Moving right along, to Twitter. Twitter is the social media I use the most. I have a personal account, a professional account for orthoptics and for health science, and I also manage the account for the British & Irish Orthoptic Society's research group. Twitter, in my opinion, is great. The character limit cuts out so much of the rubbish. Best of all, if you don't give a damn about @EmergencyKitten or whatever else somebody is retweeting (the Twitter equivalent of Facebook sharing) on their Twitter feed, YOU CAN TURN IT OFF. You can just plain turn off individual people's retweets so they don't show up in your timeline. Bliss! Papers, blog posts, news articles, all easily embedded on Twitter with the same preview functionality as Facebook now. You can even mention (@name) coauthors if they have Twitter feeds and they'll get a notification. You can also syndicate your blog to your Twitter feed so posts are tweeted as soon as you post them.
There are lots of great accounts to follow, like the NIHR, academic health science networks, the research design service, and more. Because of the short character limit it's a great way of getting a quick digest of things from accounts you're interested in, and it's so easy for people to retweet and share your research.
The key with Twitter is learning to be concise without resorting to txt speak. You will look more eloquent using prose so stick to that as much as possible. Having the right app is important too. The official Twitter app is quite bloated with 'While you were away' and 'You might like' getting in the way of your timeline's chronological ordering and putting in stuff you haven't specifically chosen to follow. You can avoid this with third party apps such as Talon, Hootsuite, and Tweetbot if you have an iPhone. I use Talon and since switching to it after getting hacked off with the changes to the official Twitter app, I find I'm back to using Twitter how I used to.
One form of social media that I didn't see mentioned on the RDP blog was Reddit. This is a great time-waster with subreddits to suit every kind of interest, including science and technology. If you have a publication that's got a level of appeal to the general public then this isn't a bad place to drop it. Just be aware that people on Reddit vary in character from no-response upvotes to writers of 10,000 word essays on why your argument is terrible when they haven't even read it. There's an interesting blog on the topic of using Reddit to reach people with your academic work here
. I confess this is not something I've done personally - Reddit, to me, is like Tumblr and Facebook, in that you can waste hours of your life on there for very little gain.
ResearchGate is another form of social media that's worth creating a profile on. It comes up on Google a lot and anything you've had deposited on Surrey Research Insight that hasn't got an embargo on it can also go on here. Most people use it to spam other people with requests for full text papers, but there are some neat little features - firstly, you can follow ongoing research projects that people have chosen to put on there (chosen being the operative word, it doesn't cover everything). Secondly, the question and answer function can be a neat way of getting responses to research design or statistics questions from other academics across the world who are looking for something to do other than respond to the latest round of acidic reviewer comments on their paper. I've read quite a few interesting statistics discussions on RG. It's definitely worth a little bit of your time - just be aware there are plenty who make a RG account and forget about it, so your messages and article requests may go unanswered. It's great for getting your research out there and onto Google, as is Google Scholar. In my opinion every new researcher should have an account on RG and Google Scholar. It's free, and aside from needing to keep it up to date every few months, it's really not a big time commitment. Google Scholar isn't social media though, I just threw that in there as a freebie.
The last thing I'm going to mention is blogging. Here I am using Dreamwidth, because I frankly just could not be bothered with Wordpress or anything else that required a modicum of effort to set up and write into. I used Livejournal all the way through my University years, and before that, OpenDiary. I know what I'm doing with these platforms. Sure, I have used Wordpress in the past, and that's a much more well-known platform, but I'm not really doing this blog for getting my research known. Honestly, I would use Twitter for that. There are so many blogs on the internet. Most of them are completely obscure. To have a blog that gets visitors, you need it to be hosted somewhere that gets visitors. There are loads of bloggers out there, although these days they're called content creators when they work for big websites like Ars Technica, Gawker and so on. To do that, you need to put a hell of a lot of time and effort into generating content to become recognised and drafted onto the staff of those meta-blogs. It's far more of a time sink than the likes of Twitter. I have friends that have attempted to develop a career in video games journalism etc, via such blogs. They haven't been successful, even after having spent a lot of time on it.
I really enjoy writing. I think that shows in this post. Twitter doesn't provide opportunities to do stuff like this. But I also have other things I ought to be doing instead of writing this. Like my grant application due in less than 3 weeks. Writing blog posts takes a long time, especially to make them right, well-referenced and readable. Sure, a blog is for opinions, but if you are using it to communicate your research, you better make sure you have your facts straight too. If I were a full-time science writer, you bet I'd be putting more effort into this. But that's not my main job. I did National Blog Posting Month many years ago and I really struggled to post every day. In the end I managed about 23 posts of the 30 days of November. Blogging is a great way to think, because in order to voice your thoughts, you need to organise them. It's something I did a lot back in the day, but now I don't feel like I have the brain-space to do so as much anymore. Doing this post has been fun but has taken me a good couple of hours, spread across commutes, to generate.
So, that's a snapshot of my thoughts and opinions of social media for disseminating research. Twitter all the way, as far as I'm concerned. I haven't mentioned Instagram, Snapchat or Tumblr, because they're not really recognised platforms for that sort of thing, but yeah, they exist, you just probably wouldn't use them for research dissemination purposes. Especially not Tumblr. God. Perish the thought XD