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The importance of social media presence

Having a presence on the Internet and social media is very important for scientists: watch Lydia Gil discuss more.
It is important that researchers are present in social networks because nowadays, along with videos, they are the main source of scientific information used by citizens who get informed about science on the Internet. And it is also important that researchers disseminate their science in social networks because we live in the era of opinion and in the era of misinformation. One of the positive aspects of the arrival of the Internet and social networks to our lives was the democratization of access to knowledge. In fact, with just one click, now we are able to access to enormous amounts of information. But unfortunately, sometimes we are unable to discern between what is true and what is a lie.
There is a lot of noise on the Internet and social networks are riddled with hoaxes. In fact, the nutrition field is one of the areas where more hoaxes are generated. It is estimated that one out of three hoaxes circulating on the net are about this topic. And when we talk about the Internet we do not only refer to Google or social networks, but also to messaging applications like WhatsApp. These hoaxes, besides being peculiar,
are quite dangerous: “vaccines cause autism”, “smelling lemon prevents cancer” “McDonnald’s fries are the remedy for baldness”. For real, scientists, we actually need you in social networks, perhaps today more than ever.
According to a study on the consumption habits of Spaniards, the main means to learn about food and nutrition are blogs, forums and social networks. The truth is that there are a lot of very interesting blogs on the field of food, I invite you to take a look at Aitor Sanchez’s “Mi dieta cojea”, Beatriz Robles’ “Seguridad Alimentaria con Beatriz” or Mario Sanchez’s SefiFood. And at the level of social networks I invite you to check “Real Fooding”, an Instagram profile that has more than half a million followers.
Obviously, researchers are present in social networks because among the millions of users that we are worldwide, they must necessarily be there. The problem is that the use they make of popular social networks such as Facebook or Instagram is often limited to a personal use. And this is not a local trend, a trend at the Spanish level, but rather it is an international trend. And the truth is that it is being a real challenge to convince researchers of the benefits that participating in social networks can bring them. There is a study of 2017 which states that only two percent of the researchers who are present in the Web of Science has a Twitter profile.
The Web of Science is one of the main international scientific databases. The sample of this study consisted of more than twenty million profiles, so it is a fairly representative sample. Why is this study focused on Twitter? Because Twitter is the favorite social network of the scientific community worldwide It is where researchers feel more comfortable to converse and share their research, and also surely because it has been proved that the researchers who participate actively in this social network can obtain an academic performance, which means an increase in the number of their citations.
It should also be underlined that there is a certain difference between researches according to their age, since younger researchers tend to disseminate science in social networks in a more natural and spontaneous way than researchers who are a little older.
The main social networks
to get informed about science here in Spain are: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Facebook is the preferred social network to learn about science, and it is also the most used social network in the world. It is said that a third part of the planet has a profile on Facebook. Twitter is the second most used social network to get informed about science, and it is also the favorite social network of the scientific community internationally. On Twitter, the threads are highlighting that much that there are those who have called them the new blogs. Instagram is the third preferred social network to get informed about science. It is known as the network of emotions.
It is the most important social network among youngsters, especially its stories, those ephemeral contents that only last twenty-four hours. And of course, if we talk about video, we have to talk about the social network par excellence, which is called YouTube. And if we talk about video and we are talking about strategies in social networks, we have to say that strategies have to go through this format, since it is estimated that currently more than eighty percent of the traffic on the Internet goes through video format.
Without strategy there is no paradise. And even though there are no magic formulas to succeed in social networks, one thing that is basic and essential is to have a strategy. To show us, first of all, what we want to achieve, to whom we are going to address, where we are going to participate, because it is not necessary to be in all social networks, what kind of content we are going to share, because we have to adapt them to each platform. Each social network has its own times and its own languages. And above all, it is important to evaluate the results.
We can do this at least once a month with the same data provided by the platforms in their statistics sections. Without strategy there is no paradise, and the truth is that there are people who are doing real wonders with very simple things, but very effective. That is the case of “Sin Azúcar” a photographic project that aims to raise awareness about the amount of sugar we consume when eating industrial products.
The idea of the project is very basic: they photograph the industrial product next to the amount of sugar it contains in the form of sugar cubes. The photography is very beautiful because that is what they are looking for, to provoke a visual impact. They simply say that they have tried to replicate the marketing techniques used in the food industry.
Some of the good practices recommended
in social networks are: to standardize your image, both at the photography and user name level. If you are an institution, it would be interesting that you include your logo. If you are a personal profile, upload a picture of yourself, if possible not that one of when you were on the beach having a beer, but a more professional photo. It is important that you use the same username in all social networks, so that people can find you easily. If you are starting a project or want to change your username you can use the “Namecheckr” tool, which will show you if the name you want to use is available on every social network.
Use hashtags, hashtags allow us to group conversations on the same topic. Hashtags can be used in all social networks, and they will also help to maximize the impact and reach of your messages. Hashtags can be general, such as “Comunicaciencia”, a hashtag that tries to group all the conversations about scientific communication in Spanish. Or they can be specific hashtags like “Mujeresdivulgadoras”, a personal project that discovers female protagonists of scientific divulgation. Take advantage of the mentions and tagging of the users that all social networks allow to make, because with this you can also reach more people and maximize the impact of your message. Remember that the visual makes the difference.
Therefore, it is important to use all multimedia contents: images, videos, gifs, emoji… Be careful with what you publish, make a responsible use of social networks. And remember that publishing in open means that the information will be indexed by search engines. Always, check all the possibilities when setting up your privacy, it is important to take care of it. And above all, try to find your own style, which has to be well defined, as the style achieved by the great disseminators of nutrition’s field, such as Gemma del Caño, Julio Basulto, Boticaria García or Miguel Lurueña better known as “gominolas de petróleo”.
One of the main challenges is to understand that social networks are here to stay. In fact, they have been living with us for fifteen years. Social networks have completely changed the way we communicate and share information, they are very powerful platforms that allow to eliminate any kind of frontier between scientists and citizens. They also allow messages to get viral. However, these virtues often become their main defects. Currently, one of the challenges of our century is to stop the spread of false information. And it has been proved that false information is shared more and gets viral much faster than true information. It is estimated that in 2022 half of the information circulating on the net will be false information.
And this is a real drama. Obviously, the solution has to come from different sectors, but one of them is called education and encouragement of the critical spirit.

Why should scientists be on social media?

The internet is flooded with scientific news – both fake and real. This is one of the reasons why scientists should be part of the scientific arena on the web – yet, only a small percentage of them do that.

Different social networks cater to different audiences, but Twitter is the most popular between scientists and science communicators. When tweeting, hashtags are an important tool to raise your visibility. This includes using hashtags as #SciComm, as well as other ones more specific to your topic. Some popular science communication accounts, such as @iamscicomm, are rotation curation projects – which means that different people take them over for a limited period of days, contributing to the output of the account and gaining its visibility and follower base.

A different idea is to blog about science – even if the role of blogging declined with time, Medium blends social media elements with blogging and social journalism. It is regularly used to post opinion pieces, how-tos and essays, and it can play a role in your social media strategy, both as a young researcher or as an experienced science communicator.

As we will discuss in the following steps, having a strategy is crucial to communicate science, even on social media: having in mind your audience, keeping a consistent image and having a clear goal in mind will help you plan your actions and increase their effectiveness.

What we would like you to do

  • Tell us more about your strategy
  • Do you use social media to talk about science?
  • Do you engage in discussions on forums and sites such as Reddit, where science news can draw thousands of comments?
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Science Communication and Public Engagement

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