Should Scientists have Social Media?

This blog will also be posted on the Pretty Brainy website

Social media has only become a recent phenomenon in human civilization, being a couple of decades old. Before social media, people stayed in touch through phone calls, letters, telegrams, and even stone tablets. While social media has evolved into its own ecosystem in our society, questions still remain about who uses social media and why. Groups like scientists, politicians, and businesses all use social media for many different reasons, yet they all use it to bring their work more publicity. Scientists having and using social media brings about more complications because this group of people are trying to better our futures and are using every retweet and like to do so.

A 2014 study surveyed approximately 587 research scientists to evaluate their motives for having social media. The majority of the research scientists (78%) fell between the ages of 21 to 38, making them part of the more social-media-savvy demographic. Out of those surveyed, a high percentage believed that using social media could raise awareness and increase enthusiasm about scientific research. A smaller subset thought that being active on social media could lead to better funding,

These are only a couple of the reasons scientists use social media. Other reasons include: practicing talking to the media, practicing science communication skills, inspiring future scientists, or even better-educating non-experts. While all these reasons sound beneficial, it’s important to keep motives in perspective. A different study in 2014 found that researchers who interacted more with the media over social media were more likely to be cited than researchers, not on social media. This suggests that social media may play a competitive or negative role in increasing the number of citations for a specific researcher. Additionally, scientists who are on social media can seem more outreach-focused toward the public, which could skew any opinions on potential funding. While there is no research to validate this theory, anecdotally, it seems to already be happening.

Yet, social media can also have some benefits if scientists use these channels. Many experts have found that social media forces scientists to step down from the isolating “ivory tower” and have direct conversations with the public. Social media also encourages dialogues between scientists and non-experts and can help build connections for future research or excitement about science as a whole. This can help to break down barriers of who is involved in the research process, as well as the stereotypes surrounding scientists.

So, which social media channels are popular for scientists?

Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular channels for scientists to use is LinkedIn. Having approximately 297 million members, LinkedIn provides an online space for scientists to successfully network or find researchers with similar interests. Many have found potential job candidates, subjects for interviews, or developing partnerships in LinkedIn to be a benefit to their research.

The more surprising social media channel that is popular for scientists is Twitter. Twitter is a large hub for researchers and scientists to network. In fact, Twitter is especially beneficial for scientific conferences, where participants can follow the hashtag of the conference.

Social media provides researchers a way to share their research in an informal setting with the public directly It can highlight scientists from a wider range of backgrounds and perspectives than previously expected. Social media offers new conversations, avenues to STEM careers, and role models for future scientists. So, do scientists need social media? Most likely, yes.

References:

“A Scientist’s Guide to Social Media.” 2014. Www.science.org. 2014.

Enago Academy. 2017. “Are Scientists Using Social Media Effectively?” Enago Academy. February 8, 2017.

Jarreau, Paige. 2020. “I’m a Scientist and I Want to Use Social Media. Now What?” Hindawi. March 21, 2020.

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Kenna Castleberry

Kenna Castleberry is the Science Communicator at JILA, a partnership between NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder. www.kennacastleberry.com