Social Media for Researchers
Eisen Lab, UC Davis Genome Center
February 7, 2014
“Social media refers to the means of
interactions among people in which they
create, share, and exchange information and
ideas in virtual communities and networks.”
Social media tools & their uses
Professional Proﬁles (Public info about your job & achievements)
Professional Website – What you should maintain AT MINIMUM. Necessary
to curate your own Google Search results! Register your own domain and
install the Wordpress platform using your web hosting service – easy to use
with many ﬂexible layout options.
– My example: http://www.hollybik.com
Google Scholar – Keep track of your publications and citations. Also allows
you to get literature recomendations based on your research interests.
– My example: http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=armU0SkAAAAJ&hl=en
LinkedIn – Potentially important for job applications where HR departments
pre-screen candidates. Update occasionally (major milestones or new jobs),
but for scientists I’ve found no need for regular engagement.
– My example: http://www.linkedin.com/proﬁle/view?id=68993705
Communities for Scientists – Academia.edu, ResearchGate, Mendeley; you
may decide to use these too. But beware of having too many proﬁles to
Social Media tools & their uses
Short-form (more ephemeral, minimal time investment)
• Twitter – messages <140 characters, can post
thoughts, soundbytes, links, pictures, videos.
• Facebook – personal proﬁles (pictures, status updates,
etc.), groups and “pages”. But people can be wary
about privacy settings (not accepting friend requests
professional colleagues, or eschewing Facebook
• Microblogging – Tumblr (photos, quotes), Pinterest
(visual ‘pinboard’ of images)
Social media tools & their uses
Long-form (more longevity, but more time investment)
• Blogs – independent (e.g. a free Blogger/Wordpress
account) or linked to an established blog network
(Scientiﬁc American, Nature Network)
• Video content – Youtube. Catchy visuals can be more
eﬀective than long written pieces. Diﬃcult and time
consuming to achieve high production quality.
• Podcasting – iTunes. Another diﬀerent media form.
Also can be just as time consuming to produce as
How do I start?
• Deﬁne your goals
– What do you want to achieve?
• Deﬁne your audience
– Who do you envision talking to? Other scientists
(inside/outside your discipline)? Journalists?
Educators? The general public?
• Choose speciﬁc platforms which help you achieve
– How much time do you want to invest?
– What medium is best for conferring your message?
– Professional Networking – Build your “brand” and reputation
by connecting with colleagues
– Content curation/creation – Blogging about research, linking to
and amalgamating media sources, e.g. news articles, videos,
– Community building - Particularly relevant for niche topics or
– Increasing the visibility of scientists (and branding them as
– Cutting out the middleman - scientists can communicate
directly with interested members of the public. Conversations
are also archived for future reference (dependent on platform)
a Tweet, dissected
Primary ways I use Social Media
• Blogging about my own publications – provides a
reference for journalists, disseminates my research
• At Conferences/Meetings/Workshops - taking notes
• As a personalized information ﬁlter – staying informed
of grants, research opportunities, new papers
• As an excuse/motivation to expand my knowledge
and develop writing skills – blogging about marine
genomics research at http://deepseanews.com
• Tweeting soundbytes from talks – taking
notes, disseminating conference content
• Discussing talks with other audience
members (and remote participants) during
• Networking - interactions on twitter can
introduce you to new people, and also serve
as icebreakers before you meet other
conference participants in real life
Tips and Guidance
• Scientiﬁc beneﬁts can result
– new collaborations
– research funding
– interactions across the boundaries of your discipline,
– increased eﬃciency (e.g. obtaining PDFs, getting
quick answers to questions)
– obtaining samples or leveraging others’ ﬁeldwork
• Online interactions will BROADEN your real life
Tips and Guidance
• Social Media requires an initial time investment
– Setting up accounts, exploring features, connecting with others
– OK to initially observe and "lurk”
– Explore diﬀerent tools and decide what works best. Consistent
use of fewer tools is better than spreading yourself too thin.
• Don't be afraid to ask for help
– There are many established and friendly communities online
where people are always willing to help
• Social Media will save you time in the long run
– Provides ﬁlters and customization for information
– Many existing tools for aggregation and cross-platform
synching (see last slide)
Perils – external perceptions
• Perception and reputation in research
– “When do you have time to do science?”
• Aimless interactions or misdirected goals
– Lots of information on the internet and its
easy to get overloaded with diﬀerent tools
and lightspeed conversations
– Distraction potential – wasting time
The Importance of Metrics
• Online tools give us metrics to track the impact
and dissemination of online content
– Data is critical for quantifying impact and reﬁning
the use of online tools for researchers
– Data will also be necessary for promoting
acceptance in academic circles; metrics dispel the
perception that online activities are a “waste of
time”, e.g. in job searches, tenure review, tracking
– ImpactStory - http://impactstory.it
– Website statistics – StatCounter, Google Analytics
Bik HM, Goldstein MC (2013) An Introduction to Social Media for
Scientists. PLoS Biology, 11(4):e1001535.
• Privacy Issues
– My rule: never post sensitive information online
(home address, phone number, etc.)
– Even email is not private! E.g. a notorious and
contentious point for Gmail…
• Legal and Copyright issues – posting your journal
– Applies to slides you post too; I use SlideShare to
post my talk slides, and have to be careful with
pictures (attribution of all sources, making sure
pictures are Creative-Commons licensed). Flickr has
a good search tool for CC-licenced pictures.
• Accepted ways for scholars to promote themselves –
university vs. personal websites
– Maintain both; even senior PIs usually have their own
external lab webpages. Link to external site on Univ. page
• When is it OK to share? How to avoid being scooped?
– Argument that some online activities make it less likely to be
scooped (e.g. manuscript preprints). Transparency =
– I think it’s a personal decision about how much/when to
– Remember, conference talks are “public” – people taking
notes (or pictures) of your research at meetings
• How to advertise your social media accounts?
– I usually put Twitter handles on talk slides, posters,
nametags, and across online professional proﬁles
• How to avoid being “stuﬀy” in your online persona
without being too “goofy”?
– Give it some thought: What are you personally
comfortable with, and also unwilling to do?
– Experiment! Try diﬀerent tools and approaches until
you ﬁnd a combination that works. It’s a long-term
• Advice for Shortcuts and Time Management?
– Automate social media as much as possible – plugins
that push blog content to Twitter, Facebook; Tweet
schedulers like Buﬀer help with time management
– Limit your social media use so it doesn’t cut into
research time – e.g. 10 minutes in the morning, lunch,
and evening. I write blog posts in 30-min increments of
• How do I get more followers?
– Be patient: it takes time
– I’ve found that tweeting at conferences is one of the
best ways to get build followers
– Make a commitment to post regular content and
engage with online conversations
• Why should researchers use social media?
– You may be missing out – many important
conversations happen online (e.g. genomics, where
most cutting-edge research is unpublished, or available
as blog posts, manuscript preprints)
– A way to distinguish yourself – I think a track record in
social media will have long-term beneﬁts for grant
applications (e.g. broader impacts), and job prospects
General Advice/Guidelines for Blog posts and Tweets
– Evan Bailyn, author of “Outsmarting Social Media”: #1 commandment for
building an online presence (a brand, your professional reputation, or an online
community)? Create excellent and unique content, frequently: ideally every
– Shorter blog posts are often better (400-500 words) – easier to produce on a
regular basis, & some arguments that they get more readers. People have
limited attention span on the internet (that’s why BuzzFeed is so popular..).
– At Deep-sea News we aim for mixed content – from quick video/picture posts to
long, in-depth posts (>1000 words). Pictures are always eye-catching and break
up written text.
– Group blogs can save time – less pressure, but blog activitiy also gives you
motivation. I blog at too many places, but actually blog most at Deep-sea News
(group blog – I always think I’m letting down the group if I don’t contribute for a
while). Other people can ﬁll in during hectic times (travel, career transitions).
– Tweeting – usually to advertise an event I’ll tweet far in advance (at 1 month, 2
weeks, 1 week before), and then more frequently just beforehand (1 day, 6
hours, 1 hour, when event starts, & just after event ﬁnishes). Tweets get buried
quickly, so promoting at diﬀerent times means diﬀerent people will see/share it.
• Twitter Management Tools – TweetDeck,
• Feed Aggregators – Feedly for Blogs and
RSS feeds (e.g. new journal articles)
• Mobile Apps – Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Most companies oﬀer dedicated apps
across iPhone/iPad/Android devices