Social media for researchers

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide an important communication tool for both academia and the wider community. The general public proactively seek out experts, informed opinion, quality news and discussion on these sites. Engagement with the wider community and the removal of institutional barriers are the key features of social media for researchers. Its conversational style encourages more open, proactive interaction and it also allows for informal professional engagement with colleagues across different disciplines.

Getting started: Twitter

Twitter is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read 140-character text messages, called tweets. Tweets can also contain links, photos and videos. A truly portable means of communication Twitter allows you to share news, information and ideas through a spontaneous, conversational medium that has tremendous reach.

On September 1, 2016 Twitter had more than 695,750,000 registered users worldwide with 115 million active users per month.


Visualization of social network analysis by MartinGrandjean (CC BY-SA, Wikimedia)

Why use Twitter for research?  Twitter can be used to share, disseminate and publicize your research; you can also use it to follow other researchers or particular areas of research interest. More than just a publicity tool, Twitter can be a means of networking and potentially collaborating with other researchers; it can even be useful for crowd-sourcing information, data or statistics. It’s also a convenient way of building relationships with people you perhaps met only briefly at a conference, but might not otherwise have kept in touch with.

How to get started

Create an account. This consists of your username, your real name, a profile picture and a short informative biography. Your Twitter username starts with an @ sign, e.g. @unilibrary.

Start following people: this is the basis of the Twitter network. If you follow someone you see their Tweets and retweets in your Twitter feed. Likewise, if they follow you, they see your Tweets. Look for people and organisations in your field; have a look at who they’re following and follow these people in turn if they interest you. You can always unfollow people or organisations if they cease to be relevant.

Try to keep your username short so that you maximise use of your 140 characters. If you start a Tweet with someone’s @ name, only that person, and people who are following both of you will see it in their timeline. If you want a Tweet to be visible to everyone following you, start your tweet with punctuation before the @ symbol: e.g., .@unilibrary or |@unilibrary. If you want a message to be private, send a direct message. Both parties have to be following each other to be able to send direct messages.

Your biography should be informative and prompt people to follow you. It should also give people an idea of who you are and what you are likely to be tweeting about. Provide a picture and avoid the default avatar.

Favourite tweets that you want to come back to explore when you have more time.

URL shorteners: to save characters URL shorteners such as can be used to share links without using too many letters or numbers, although Twitter itself now shortens most links when you post them.

Finally, Twitter provides a useful glossary of Twitter terms.

This is worth a read right away!

Mollett, A., Moran, D., & Dunleavy, P. (2011). Using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities. LSE Public Policy Group

It may seem hard at first to say anything worthwhile about one’s research in just 140 characters. Nonetheless, Twitter has become a surprisingly effective tool for connecting researchers with one another and with the broader public. Perhaps its strength comes from being about more than just broadcasting who you are and what you do; using social media as part of your research practice provides some much needed sociability to what is often a very solitary occupation. If you’ve never tweeted before, the ever-excellent Thesis Whisperer, Dr Inger Mewburn (@thesiswhisperer), has posted a superb presentation with thoughtful advice on how to use Twitter professionally; even if you’re a regular tweeter, it’s well-worth a read.

One of the other great features of Twitter is the hashtag #. This provides a useful way of tagging tweets that have a common theme. They can be very useful, for example, for conferences, either as a way of promoting them or as a way of live tweeting the salient points of specific papers. It can be a handy way of keeping abreast of a conference you were unable to attend. Hashtags can also be used to set up real-time chats; for example, the fortnightly Early Career Researchers chats (#ECRchat), or the #phdchats. These are usually held at specific times each week or month, and you can participate by tweeting your comments or questions with the appropriate hashtag. Take a look at the latest tweets to get an idea of the topics covered. You can save these hashtag searches for regular use.

Are you a regular tweeter and do you tweet your research? Do you need to read everything, or are you happy to dip in and out? How do you engage with your network of followers and participate in a conversation, rather than just using it as a channel to broadcast your own activities? Social media really comes into its own when used in combination with personal publication platforms such as blogs.

Getting Started: Facebook

Facebook is one of the most used social media sites, with 1,754,000,000 active monthly users. In Australia, there are 17,000,000 users.

Researchers can connect with this mass international audience through three key ways:

  1. Build your own personal profile.
  2. Create a page that aligns with your interest or represents an organisation.
  3. Bring together people via a group.

If you’re new to Facebook, spend some time ‘lurking’ and looking at other professional groups and profile pages: are leaders in your field on Facebook? Are there pages and groups devoted to your research area? If so, consider joining and making contact. If not, perhaps you’ve found a gap to fill.

  • Consider the difference between a page and a group; which would be more useful to your work?
  • Consider the pros and cons of making a group public or private. For example, making a teaching group private would allow the students to engage more deeply with their peers without worrying who else can see their participation.
  • Is Facebook more valuable to you as a place to build your public research profile or as a place to build or join networks?

Reflection & Integration into practice

  • Don’t assume that the general public won’t be interested in accessing your research and sharing your research interests! Even the nitty-gritty.
  • The visual, up-to-the-minute and interactive nature of Facebook enables you to take people to your field trips, behind the scenes at your department, and so on. This is where you can lead people to knowledge as a curator or expert in your field.
  • Immediacy: Facebook alerts users to interactions in real time via ‘notifications’.
  • Facebook also offers a space for mentoring, a place where researchers at different stages of their careers can interact both socially and professionally.
  • Large-scale, online courses, such as MOOCs, have faced challenges with creating a cohort experience for students. Facebook Groups has proven to be a successful method of bringing online students together.
  • You can measure your impact and success in different ways: the number of likes, the number of conversations generated, and the quality of interactions. If you’re running a Facebook page, you will have access to Facebook Insights, which is their free analytics service.
  • Thanks to smartphone apps, social media platforms such as Facebook are an extremely mobile way of maintaining groups: location and access to a computer becomes irrelevant when users connect to Facebook using their smartphone.
  • Facebook enables you to create private and public groups; both enable you to network, teach and build communities.
  • The sheer mass of people using Facebook opens up options for your research; for example, local field work can be expanded to include other locations and groups.

Examples of professional Facebook profiles and groups

Individual profiles
The Thesis Whisperer
Col. Chris Hadfield

Interest or Organisation
I F*cking love Science
Research Group – ILWS CSU (Institute for Land, Water and Society)

Try this

Create your Twitter account. Search for some like-minded Twitterers, follow them and post a tweet yourself.

Find out how to set up a Facebook Research Profile using contact lists on Lucy Wickens’ Using Facebook for Networking & Research

Discover the online impact of your research with ImpactStory. Track buzz on Twitter, blogs, news outlets and more: we’re like Google Scholar for your research’s online reach. ImpactStory is an OpenSource website that allows you to track the impact of your publications on a wide range of web-based interaction tools, eg., Delicious, Facebook, Mendeley, SlideShare, to name but a few.  You can create a permanent link that can be embeded onto your Website. Requires a personal subscription. Find out more about creating an ImpactStory profile .

If a tweet is retweeted by another user, these statistics are often collated by services such as ImpactStory.

You don’t have to tweet to use Twitter, many tweets include hashtags relating to pertinent topics.  You can follow these hashtags and keep up-to-date with current conversations on a topic.

You can include your Twitter handle in your email signature in Outlook.

Explore further

Social Media Statistics Australia – April 2017

1. Facebook – 17,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users (steady)
2. YouTube – 15,200,000 UAVs
3. – 5,200,000
4. Instagram – 5,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users (FB/ Instagram data)
5. Snapchat – 4,000,000 DAILY Active Australian Users (Snapchat data)
6. LinkedIn – 4,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users approx
7. Tumblr – 3,800,000
8. WhatsApp – 3,100,000 Active Australian Users (30% increase since 2015)
9. Twitter – 3,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users approx
10. TripAdvisor – 2,600,000
11. Tinder – 2,400,000 Australian users (my estimation)
12. WeChat – 2,000,000 Monthly Active Australian Users approx – (my estimation)
13. Blogspot- 1,500,000
14. Yelp – 1,500,000
15. Flickr – 490,000
16. Pinterest – 280,000
17. Reddit – 100,000
18. MySpace – 80,000
19. Google Plus – 60,000 Monthly active Australian users approx – (my estimation)
20. RenRen – 50,000 Monthly Active Australian Users approx – (my estimation)
21. StumbleUpon – 39,000
22. Weibo – 20,000 Monthly Active Australian Users approx – (my estimation)
23. Foursquare/Swarm – 11,000
24. Digg – 10,000
25. Periscope – 9,000
26. Delicious – 8,000


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