Choosing a Social Media Channel

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of social media channels. All doing different things for different people. Now, you might be on several as an individual. Hootsuite data says each person has about 7 social media accounts; but does not differentiate that into accounts on different channels or several accounts on a smaller number of channels.

Or you might not even be on one. 

Regardless, you might be faced with a choice of “what social media channel should I use for my research communication?” 

With that in mind, here are some thoughts and questions to help you make that choice.

1. Understand your preferences

Most channels tend to focus on one type of communication. For example: Podcasts – audio. YouTube, TikTok – Video. Twitter – text. Instagram – images. Facebook – text, video, and images. So, knowing what you like to produce is an important starting point. If you don’t like the sound of your own voice, it can be hard to start a podcast. If you hate how you look on camera, a newsreader style for video content is not useful either. But, if you love to write, then maybe a blog platform is better than Twitter – especially if you struggle to be succinct.


You should also consider if your work, and non-work life should be on social media. And if the answer is “Yes” – then how should that happen? In the same account or separate accounts. There’s no right or wrong response to this. But, I’d say:

  • Include – You are one person. With one life. Diversity creates interest. However, it can also “dilute” your content or overall message.
  • Separate – Sharing kids’ achievements or food or pets just doesn’t seem right. So, you’ll never post that stuff. EVER! However, this stuff gets people seeing the real you.
  • Parallel – The best of both worlds. Create 2 accounts on the same channel, or 2 accounts on different channels. Keep one personal and the other work. However, it can make for a bit of a schizophrenic social media experience for you. Always swapping between accounts or channels. And there might be people who want to follow both versions of you.

2. Understand your goal

Do some scenario planning. Pretend we are 5 years from now. What would your social media presence be like and what would it be doing for your research? Would you be getting lots of likes and shares? Or would you have venture capital firms lining up to give you money? Or has a company bought your research, and you’re entirely off social media now? Or perhaps you’ve become an expert that non-experts turn to for advice. 

If not scenario planning, at least understand your preferences. Do you want to commercialise your research findings or activity? Have you committed to engaging a wider audience as part of a grant or proposal? Do you want more citations? Do you want to see your findings implemented widely?


3. Know your audience

When I present this information, I usually separate this into 2 parts. The first is to think about your ideal follower. What are the things, events, likes, and dislikes that describe them. In business, this is sometimes called buyer persona. As a researcher, you’re probably immediately turned off by the idea of a buyer persona. So, instead, I like to call this an avatar. The representation of a particular group of people, or even one person who you’d want as a follower. It is not the strictly correct use of the phrase in social media. Regardless of your preference, you need to list the traits of your audience. Age. Gender. Location. Education. Interests. Likes. Dislikes. It often helps to think about an actual person that you know, and would like as a follower, and list their traits. Most likely, there are HEAPS of people out there who match. And by creating the avatar you’ll be able to better target your future content to them.

The second part is to then think about their social media preferences. Given what you said about your ideal follower – what content do they like to consume? What channels do they use? Where to they consume this content? What are they hoping to gain from being on social media? In a very broad sense, you can see answers to these questions in the We Are Social Report 2021In very general terms:

  • Twitter, ResearchGate → other academics.
  • LinkedIn → non-academic partners.
  • Facebook → everyone (general public); but good for engaging special interest groups (including special interest research groups).
  • Instagram → younger audience; general public.
  • TikTok → (much) younger audience; general public.
  • Reddit → enthusiasts.

But it is very much a case of looking at these different platforms to see if you can find your audience. For some people, this’ll mean trying to BUILD an audience. For others, it’ll be a case of searching within the platform to find likely followers or content similar to what you will post. Either way, it WILL require creating an account. But don’t stress, you can delete it later on. 

If you are not sure who your audience is or who you want them to be, do some investigation. Who are the researchers citing your work? Whose work are you citing? How do these authors share their work? Does any of that appeal to you?

4. Filter

With all of this you should have several lists:

  • The type of content you prefer to create;
  • Your intended aim for using social media; and
  • The traits of your ideal follower, including their preferred:
    • Social media platform;
    • Social media content; and
    • Use of social media.

These lists should provide a guide for what channel you should be using, or what channel you should work on next.

5. Start!

Although you can choose a car to buy, without test driving it, you wouldn’t buy a car having never driven a car before. 

The same is true of social media. The only way you’ll really know if a channel works for you, is to have a go. The only way you’ll know if it is easy or hard to create certain types of content is to have a go. The only way you’ll know if people like your content is to have a go. Don’t be afraid to give things a start knowing you may close your account later on. Don’t be afraid to create something knowing you will delete it. 

Start with the bits you find easiest. So, if a specific channel stands out to you – join that one. If a certain type of content just seems “easy” to you – join the channel best suited to that content.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He, in collaboration with Jane Anderson, has built the only LinkedIn program for research translation. He has taken that approach and delivers high quality practical advice to the education, research and government sectors in the use of social media for academic and career progress. He is driven by the challenge of helping researchers make use of practical tools for greater impact. He knows social media and how make it work for research.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email ([email protected]) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).