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In the last few years social media has dominated headlines. There are growing concerns about how it impacted election results, it has started discussions about privacy and its spawned documentaries like the Social Dilemma which have revealed the sinister methods social media companies use to keep you staring at your phone. On the other hand social media has let us stay in touch with relatives during a global pandemic, read inspiring animal stories that can warm your soul and, when used correctly, can be a platform to bring about positive social justice.
Over a decade ago when a scientist published a new paper the only people who would read it were your colleagues in the field, undergraduates writing a literature review and the family you proudly emailed it to. Now, social media lets us share our publications and achievements to even more people. We also have the opportunity to make connections and start collaborations that might not have happened otherwise. Social media can be an incredible resource for a scientist who wants to spread their work, network and become a member of the scientific community.
To make the most of social media you have to be willing to put a bit of yourself out into the online world. While it can be challenging and social media feel somethings feel like a dangerous place to be – especially in the current social and political climate – it’s not all bad. Like anything that humanity develops social media can be a tool used for different purposes; in the wrong hands it can be damaging but when used wisely it can be incredibly rewarding. As a scientist the main way you promote your work is at in-person conferences. But for the foreseeable future conferences will be done digitally, so why not try promoting your work on social media? To convince you of that, here are three reasons why you should start using social media to promote your scientific work (rather than using it to find the latest Bernie Sanders memes).
Finding a community
Being a scientist can be incredibly lonely. Long hours in the lab, drafting a manuscript in front of a computer, using the limited spare time you have to stay up to date on the literature. All of these are very solitary activities. A little solitude can be a good thing, but too much and it becomes loneliness. The whole point of social media (at least initially) was to encourage socialisation. Whole communities have grown on the internet and if you can think of a topic odds are you will find a community dedicated to it. Science is no exception. There are groups dedicated to PhD researchers, chemistry enthusiasts, and science communicators. Almost every field of science has some presence on social media. In a time when we are still being encouraged to socially distance finding an online community who share your interests is a valuable resource.
Don’t just consume – create
Social media doesn’t have to be something you use to waste 5 minutes while you wait for the microwave to finish re-heating leftovers. Instead, it can be a creative outlet – a place to promote your own creative nature. People use twitter to promote their own blogs, advertise their side hustle and share hilarious science memes. In 2020 I used twitter to set up a yearlong challenge, I weighed one item every day and posted an image of it to twitter for the whole year. Consuming other people’s content can be fun, but social media is more fun if you create your own content. I’m not suggesting that you go out and try to make every post a viral sensation or try to become the next big YouTube star. But everyone has something that they want to put out into the world, even if it is just a terrible science pun.
Self-promotion isn’t about bragging
The word self-promotion can sound icky at first. It might bring to mind sleazy businessmen trying to smooth talk their way into a job they don’t deserve. That doesn’t have to be what self-promotion means. When done well it can be about highlighting what you are good at and having enough confidence in yourself to know that you have something to contribute. It can feel like a thin line between self-promotion and bragging. This is especially true on social media where people already try to create an image of their “best” selves. But tweeting out a paper you wrote, talking on LinkedIn about a recent achievement or telling people about a presentation you are giving – none of these falls into the bragging category. All you are doing is highlighting something you are proud of. And there is no shame in that.
A final word of caution. If you do decide to get involved in social media be aware that the internet has its dark sides and at some point, you will come across some negativity. I am in a privileged position of being a cis-white male, so I am the target of almost no personal criticism or hate. Thankfully there is a growing community who are trying to drown out the hatred that exists online. Bastions of hope and positivity can still be found in places like the LGBT+ and BLM communities. So, go out and find a community that you can be a part of and go promote yourself. Because if you don’t, who will?