Six Lessons I’ve Learned Helping Researchers with Social Media

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. And as academics and researchers, it means you’ll need to make use of it. Or make better use of it. Or make more use of it.

The most obvious example I can think of is demonstrating your connection to community through a large (1000 plus) social media following.

So, how can that be achieved?

Lesson 1 – Time

Short of buying followers – which I DO NOT advocate – the only way to have a useful social media following is to spend time on social media. Time lapsed (as in days, weeks, months, and years on a platform) as well as time worked (as in sharing, posting, liking commenting). Expecting a large social media following. Or deep engagement with your posts in the absence of spending time on the platform is like expecting researchers to know who you are without publishing articles or presenting at a conference.

Lesson 2 – Know your audience

This has two meanings. The first is to know who you want to engage with before you start on the channel. So, are you targeting other researchers? Are you targeting people in academia? Are you targeting high-school teachers?

Then, as your actual audience/following grows, get to know them. Take a look at their profiles. Like, share, and comment on their posts. Show you are interested in them. Just like you might get to know someone in real life, getting to know someone on social media is important for ongoing interactions. Just like at a conference you might talk to your audience, so you should also talk to your social media audience.

Lesson 3 – Do some research

I’m all for jumping straight in and learning by doing. And that is a form of research. But there comes a point when that is not enough. Indeed, too many researchers brush off social media platforms (or social media altogether) because of what they think or feel, not what they know. For example, researchers assume that being on social media requires giving up some or all of your personal life. That you must share personal stories. And that certain platform sharing personal stories is the norm. Firstly, sharing about your personal life is not necessary. Is not the norm (certainly not amongst the people I follow) and is not required for success. So, if you hear that a platform is good for something go and check it out for yourself. Look for people, and content that you like. Or people, and content that are similar to what you’d like to post. Is there lots of personal in there? Or just professional?

And, of course, research is not just for people starting out. It can be for established operators too. You might be venturing into a new research area. Or joining a new social media channel. Or thinking of using an existing channel in a new way.


Lesson 4 – Research your audience

One of the most effective strategies I have seen employed by a research/academia-led social media account was to make a list of the accounts they’d as followers. The accounts covered other universities, individual researchers, publishers of journals and books, key influencers (researchers, and non-researchers), and popular figures. This allowed the account managers (there were several) to create posts that specifically targeted these accounts. Posting content that was relevant to these accounts. It went beyond simply knowing their handle and tagging them in posts. The posts sought to create a meaningful dialogue – just like you might do for a famous person if you met down the street.

Lesson 5 – Ask for what you want

Implied in this lesson is knowing what you want. More than generic “more followers” or “more likes”. But that’s definitely a good start. If you want more followers – ask people. If you want more shares – ask people. The famous line, “Don’t forget to like and subscribe.” is not famous, and repeatedly used for nothing. It works. It reminds people to like and subscribe.

As a researcher you probably want more than likes and subscribes. I’m guessing you want article views, downloads, and citations. So, ask for them! You might also want funding for your work, so ask for it. You might want collaborators. So, ask for them. The more specific you can be, in all of these cases, the better. What do you want money or collaborators for? How much/many? When? How long?

Lesson 6 – Copy others

Copying others, on social media, is very common. But I’m not talking about plagiarising their content. I’m talking about copying their strategy. What accounts are similar to yours, and what are they doing? Do those techniques result in the outcomes you’d like? If so, copy the technique. Are they doing videos? Copy! Are they doing Pecha Kucha? Copy. Are they doing photos of people? Copy. Are they doing “meet the team”? Copy!

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).