7 tips for scientists to succeed with social media

Social media has become more than sharing pictures online and connecting with friends. It’s now a vital tool for career advancement.

Panelists from the “Engaging with Social Media” session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Thursday shared their best practices using social media in science.

Here are seven ways scientists can help get ahead with social media:

1. Develop “intentionality.”
Don’t join social media because someone told you to. Start out thinking what you want to get out of this and head towards that goal, said Maggie Koerth-Baker, a science editor at BoingBoing.net. Creating goals can help give the user a reason to be present.

2. If you don’t have to be there, don’t be.
“This is the most important thing you have to understand about social media: You don’t want to force it,” said Koerth-Baker. Social media communities can sense inauthenticity, so it will be obvious if a user does not want to be there, she said. Choose your social media platform wisely. If there is not a reason to be there, don’t be.

3. Be a storyteller
People relate to people, said Kim Cobb, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology. She blogs her research, but combines it with photos and humor to create a personal perspective.

“My blog has become a medium for me to expand on these wonderful adventures I have and the science behind them, the people behind them, the struggles, the successes,” she said.

4. Use Reddit for more than just memes.
Reddit is like a bookmarking site to share links of things a person finds interesting, said Koerth-Baker. Reddit involves more than bookmarking fun links. It’s a community.

“It’s a place where you can earn a lot of public trust, earn a lot of interest in what you do and get people to really understand what you do in a way that you don’t have access to those people in any other platform,” she said.

The site has a section called “Ask me anything,” where users can ask whatever questions they want to ask. Koerth-Baker said she’s seen many scientists use this as an opportunity to share their work and engage with the public.

5. Don’t obsess over numbers
“I don’t watch my analytics much,” said Danielle Lee, a biologist and postdoc at Cornell University. She said she sometimes uses Tweet Reach, which allows users to track how far a tweet or topic went, but otherwise she does not concern herself with how many followers she has.

“You’re never going to figure out what makes something go viral,” Koerth-Baker said. Don’t work for the analytics, remember your goals.

6. Be patient. This is a process.
The panelists agreed: It’s not as simple as joining and instantly having hundreds or thousands of followers. This is a process that can take months and years.

Koerth-Baker advised people to search for key players who tweet about the topic in which they are interested. Then follow those people and retweet them to create and build connections.

7. Be visible and active
Post a lot and post often to keep your name in the spotlight, Lee said. When Lee first started her blog, she posted two times a week and did regular features to gain followers.

“Content is king,” she said, so publish routinely.