Social media is a powerful tool for promoting your own work and interacting with your research community – so get yourself out there!
Guest contributor Steve Hurst
If you have a question about deer or goat behaviour, then Dr Alan McElligott is your go-to guy. His research on the evolution, ecology and communication of large mammals, particularly ungulates, has seen him appear on a diverse set of media outlets, from the BBC to Modern Farmer and countless others.
When Alan’s latest co-authored paper ‘Intrasexual selection drives sensitivity to pitch, formants and duration in the competitive calls of fallow bucks’ was published, his first thought was to contact his institution’s press department, but his second – like an ever increasing number of researchers – was to expand the reach of his work beyond the usual scientific community through social networking sites.
Last year a survey by Nature found that nearly 50% of researchers have a professional presence online and, of the subset of scholars who said they ‘regularly visited’ social media sites, 37% visited Twitter daily. Alan uses Twitter and likes to engage with other people who are interested in his work. He found that following key figures, publishers and organizations in his field, sharing relevant content and weighing in on points of discussion is great way to build bridges: “Social media is really good for reaching networks of like-minded scientists, building research collaborations and even making friends”.
But it’s not just Twitter he uses to get the word about his research out. As well as a personal website to update, there are his professional profiles on ResearchGate and Mendeley. Alan thinks ResearchGate in particular is “really useful for other researchers to find my papers and vice versa.” In fact, the results from our survey show that 36% of researchers regularly share their own work on ResearchGate and 39% on academia.edu– and this number is growing. ResearchGate say that 10,000 new researchers arrive every day.
Being stretched for time is clearly a problem for many researchers: 46% of our Nature survey respondents said they should probably be doing more to promote their own work – and with so many online profiles, you might think that Alan expends a lot of effort keeping them all up-to-date – but this is not the case: “After the time taken to initially setting up the pages, any updating is quite fast”, he says.
But what are tips and tricks of social media, and what are the pitfalls to avoid for researchers dipping their toe into the social media waters for the first time? “Think before you tweet” says Alan, “but go ahead and do it! You can minimise time costs with careful planning – and it’s definitely worth it to get research your outputs to a wider audience.” There are lots of resources out there to get you started – Nature Publishing Group and Palgrave Macmillan provide an Author Tips page that’s full of useful advice.
Are there tangible gains to be made by having social media presence? “Yes”, says Alan, “it may even bring about a good opportunity that might have otherwise been missed – for me it has led to research collaborations and even grants.”