The hardest part of encouraging scientists to use social media is finding good data. Pew Internet is my go-to source for trustworthy information on how people are using social media.
Their most recent report on mobile messaging and social media asked 1907 American adults how they use the internet, social media, and for the first time – mobile messaging services.
The survey reminds us why communicating science on the internet and with social media can be so rewarding – there are lots of users.
85% of adults use the internet and 67% use smartphones. Of these “online adult users”, 72% use Facebook, 31% use Pinterest, 28% use Instagram, 25% use LinkedIn and 23% use Twitter.
The report also reminds us of the biggest challenge to communicating science on social media. It’s an ever-changing landscape with a lot of content to compete with. Much of that content is produced by professional communicators, who know exactly how to grab people’s attention with snappy headlines, interesting videos and cute animals.
But don’t let that put you off social media. Instead, find one channel that fits your needs and use it really well.
When you’re choosing which channel to start out with, you should start by deciding who your target audience will be.
If you want to connect with other researchers, go for Twitter. My own masters research into how scientists use social media found that Twitter is quickly evolving into somewhere for scientists to connect with each other, share resources and even collaborate. As you can see from the image above, it isn’t as popular as others. You may not find a large group here – but you will find a more interested one.
Facebook use has plateaued and some would argue that it’s private nature, including the need to be “friends” with someone before you can fully interact with them. works against the idea of scientists using it to communicate with the public. However, as we have seen from “I Fucking Love Science“, creating a page with engaging content can go far – certainly, Nanogirl has made good use of this function to engage with the New Zealand public. Personally, I use it to share and discuss science shared by friends and family. I also keep in mind that “Facebook is to conspiracy theories what oxygen is to fire“.
It seems the biggest growth is happening on Pinterest and Instagram – the number of online adults who use these services has doubled since Pew first started tracking social media in 2012. I personally always admired the Science Learning Hub for their excellent use of Pinterest.
There’s really no right answer when it comes to using social media to communicate science. No matter your purpose, remember your audience, and choose the most appropriate channel. That old saying less is more really comes to mind when it comes to social media.
I hope to follow up with a few posts exploring how other scientists and organisations use various social media channels to engage the public with science. But for now – I will continue to pour over this wonderful report!