Science communication is currently on the up. As rebellion against the increasing distrust of science stemmed from bigoted and ignorant leaders, scientists are turning to social media – the real voice of the people. It is a great space to educate and enthuse about science, especially to the younger generation who are growing up with social media as a huge influence.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. As your following grows it is important to stay true to your message and not just “do it for the likes”. With Instagram and its changing algorithms it is a constant battle to stay “visible”. It’s also extremely hard to not become solely focussed on numbers (followers, likes etc) and release posts that are not true to you - or even damaging to other people.
So here I will discuss 10 ways of making your social media engagement successful, responsible, informative and fun, without losing YOU and your message.
This is my number one, because if you are having fun your viewers will have fun. At the end of the day, people go to social media in their downtime, they don’t want to feel like they’ve gone back to school. Showing that science can be fun is a BIG part of science communication. So many people think science = boring because in school it is often taught in a very dry and tedious manner. If we can show the fun side of science, we may be able to encourage more young people to pursue science. Also – most importantly – you can have fun doing it! A great example of an Instagrammer doing just this is Darrion (@lab_shenanigans) – he does hilarious videos making light of things and people in the lab. He does so in a charming, non-offensive way that if you’re a scientist makes you go “OMG SO TRUE *laughing emoji*” or a non-scientist a massive “LOLLLL!”. He has 28.5k followers – go figure!
It is very, very obvious on social media when people are trying to be someone they are not. They might be trying to copy someone they like or have seen to be successful, which is fine, BUT I believe the joy of social media is the variety of people you get to encounter. So BE YOURSELF. Bring out your personality, your quirks, your intelligence and your hobbies. The reason a lot of people do science communication on social media is to show these other sides of them as a person, not just as a scientist. You are unique, but people will see parts of themselves in you, and there is nothing more lovely than building networks on these shared interests and personalities. So bring them out! People will love you for it – trust.
3.Know your audience
Make sure you understand who you are talking to – this will help you to direct and focus your posts to what your audience will enjoy (but ensure you keep to what you enjoy and what you think is important too!). On Instagram, your Insights on your profile (under the three lines on the right-hand side) can tell you what your audience is like – for example the age range, gender balance, locations (broadly!). It can also tell you when they are most active – so therefore the best times to post. Again, try not to get too obsessed with these (NOT healthy), but use it to slightly tailor how and when and what you post.
4.Talk to your grandma
If you decide that part of your science communication is to explain science – whether it be concepts, methods or problems – be clear and concise. The way I like to start these posts is by imagining I am explaining it to my grandma, who left education when she was 15. Now, I love my grandma, so if I was trying to explain something to her I would never speak to her in a patronising or condescending way. So, neither should you when doing science communication! There is nothing more off-putting than feeling like someone is talking to you like you are stupid or beneath them – people will simply swipe on!
It is important, however, to remember that not everyone knows what you know. When you are an expert in your subject, and you work surrounded by other experts, sometimes this can be difficult. But it is a skill, and practice makes perfect. Some of my best posts have been when I have used analogies or similes (for example, a T cell receptor presenting a cancer antigen is like in The Lion King when Rafiki holding up Simba to all the animals…!). This brings up an image in the readers mind, which allows them to relate potentially complex concepts to things they already know.
5.Use all forms of social media
Ensure to utilise all forms of social media tools. Too often, it’s easy to get stuck with what you are comfortable with. However, this can quickly get boring – not everyone wants to see a black and white photo of a tip box every day! People like variety! Remember to use different forms of media – photos, videos, LIVE videos, slowmo videos, timelapse videos (all the videos), voice notes, boomerangs…even just plain writing sometimes goes a long way! If you feel comfortable, use the “story” part of social media (Instagram/Facebook) – this allows you to share small things here and there for 24hr. These are good for images, quick videos or sharing awesome things from other people.
6.Show your day to day
People are nosy. This is the reason we all love social media! So share your everyday activities as a scientist. What you may think is normal or every-day may be super interesting to someone else. I mentioned the “story” function in the last section – this can be an excellent way of highlighting parts of your day, whether it’s #Mondays sad face, pictures of your baby cells or simply boomerangs of pipetting things. Allowing people to view your every day will bring you closer to your followers – just be aware of how close you allow them to get!
7.Show your REAL day to day – the good, the bad and the ugly
In a world of Facetune and Photoshop, it is nice to be real on social media. However, this can be tough. No one wants to promote their failures, or show their spotty, flawed face in an environment that is inherently polarised to the beautiful and successful. But the online world is shifting. It has been realised that this filtered life is not healthy – exaggerating peoples’ feelings of low self-worth, inadequacy, anxiety and depression. Celebrities like Jameelia Jamil (@jameelajamilofficial) have started revolutions against the non-imperfectionist vibe of social media, starting inclusive spaces like @i_weigh. They recently managed to ban weight loss and cosmetic procedures being advertised on Instagram. People are now sharing their #nomakeup selfies and their stories of mental health difficulties proudly, which is amazing.
So do your part in not just showing the “perfect” parts of #laboratorylife – share your laboratory blunders, tell people about your struggles, don’t use a filter on every photo you share or only photos where you have perfect hair and makeup. After all, it’s important for people to know that research isn’t as simple as shoving some chemicals together and *bing* there’s a kick-ass cancer-busting drug.
Social media is called social media for a reason – GET SOCIAL! As well as sharing your stories, get interested in other peoples’. Find and follow a variety of scientists, see what their life is like, ask questions and learn about stuff that is not your expertise. This is one of the many joys of science communication on social media – you can learn new things every day! You can also connect with people within your field of interest, which could also help you to make future collaborations. Finally, ensure you are friendly and open with your followers – you may be their inspiration for future study or even just increased trust or interest in science.
9.Share your views
As a social media communicator, it’s important to share your views and opinions. If you choose to state an opinion, firstly ensure that you believe 100% in what you are saying. Do not just follow the crowd. Hearing and understanding a variety of opinions is a great part of social media, and we want to hear what YOU think not @mropinionated123. Secondly, if you are making a comment on a matter that is potentially controversial or contentious, THINK. Give yourself a few minutes to think what the effect of your comment might be – could it hurt someone else? Will you regret saying it later? If the answer to either of these is yes, think about how you can get your opinion across in a thoughtful and inclusive manner.
I recently started a mini-campaign on Instagram called “Don’t be a digital d*ck” which I began after becoming tired of harassment online. I was very wary of publishing this, as I didn’t want to be rude or hurtful, so it took me a good week to decide what to do. After lots of conversations with other women (and men!) who were feeling the same I wrote down exactly how I was feeling, read it multiple times, waited a few days and then posted. It was extremely empowering as I not only shared my opinions and frustrations, but also those of others who also wanted to speak out!
Nearly every week I hear/see “sorry I haven’t posted much recently, I’m super busy, I’ll be posting a new blog/video/photo really soon you guuuyyssss!” (I am also very guilty of this!). Remember: you are doing this as a fun, extra thing on the side of an extremely difficult and time-consuming job. We all know the pressures of being a scientist, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do a post every day like a social media iNFlUenCeR (what even is this?!). For the most part, you are probably not being paid for doing science communication, so you are doing it simply to show the world your love (and potentially occasional hate…!) for science. Keep your priorities straight and your mental health in check. DO NOT STRESS if you are too busy for social media – we will always be here when you return.