Publishing a research article in a peer-reviewed journal is a colossal act of deferred gratification, wherein the academic researcher undergoes a rigorous process of generating an idea, working out a scientific method, securing institutional permission to conduct the research, analyzing the results, formulating and writing a manuscript, submitting the article to a rigorous peer-review process, and then revising the article based on peer critiques. If and when the publisher approves the article, there is a brief sense of reward (for a process that was started, sometimes, more than a year earlier) before the administrative aspects of reviewing proofs and paying publication fees, wrapping up copyright forms, and so forth, kick in. This is an onerous task—one that academics are expected to carry out one or two times per year as a part of their academic responsibility. Through this process, it is understandable if the researcher loses track of the original intent—sharing their research with the scientific community. Journals are the means to sharing an idea with the larger scientific community, but by no means does the process end when the journal ultimately publishes your article.
The reader of today is very different from the reader of even 10 years ago. For the most part, since then, journals have moved entirely online; some journals still offer print versions to subscribers, but that is not the norm anymore. As with anything online, this means that your article now competes for attention from a reader who is bombarded by the online world. Adding to this challenge is the idea of a “social media bubble,” where our news and information are heavily curated and filtered by complex algorithms. How do you promote your research to effectively reach a larger audience on social media platforms? How do you “work the algorithms” to ensure that your work pierces through the social media bubble? It is impossible to adhere to an exact formula for optimally promoting academic research on social media. In this article, we offer some ideas and suggestions that have worked for us.
About half of all people in the world use social media.1 Facebook and YouTube have 2.603 billion and 2 billion monthly active users, respectively. Instagram and Twitter have 1.08 billion and 326 million monthly active users, respectively.2 Having such a massive audience at our fingertips can be an opportunity to increase the impact of our research. It can also be intimidating—most academics have little or no formal training to optimally leverage social media tools. In addition to promoting the research per se, social media platforms offer the prospect for self-promotion. For doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty, social media could provide the opportunity to increase visibility, learn about job opportunities, find new collaborators (within and across disciplines), and, in general, cast a wider net.
Do Your Research
It is important to read about how each platform works and to educate yourself on the audience demographics of each platform. Each platform has its own lingo and communication strategies (not to mention layout updates), so it is important to learn how to craft your messages. For example, on Twitter, tweets are restricted to 280 characters; on Instagram, without an interesting photo, people scrolling may not take time to read your caption.
Understanding each platform’s audience demographics is important for deciding where you’ll share the messages and the language that you’ll use. For example, most Instagram users are between the ages of 13 and 29,2 whereas Twitter has a very large and thriving academic presence (#AcademicTwitter).
One place to start is by reading your institution’s social media policy. These policies often provide detailed guides on messaging do’s and don’ts.
Be the Brand
Self-Promotion Versus Institutional Promotion
Once you understand the platforms, audiences, and your institution’s guidelines, it is important to consider how you want to “show” yourself to your audience. Think about your brand, your voice, and tone. Keep the voice of your messaging consistent so that your followers get to know you. One consideration is to determine whether you want your brand to reflect your personal and professional lives, your research lab, or your institutional account.
Build your network intentionally. Think about who you want to follow you. Engage, like, and comment on other people’s posts. A challenge is to be interesting and conversational, despite the rigidity of the platform.
Formal Press Release
If you want to coordinate a press release for an impactful paper, it is important to leverage the communication team at your institution. This leverage may be at the level of your school or university. You will need to have an idea of the publication date and embargo, so the process should begin right after you submit the proofs. The communications team often drafts a press release (working within the journal embargo). If the communications team sends the press release via “distribution sites” (e.g., EurekAlert!; https://www.eurekalert.org/), then you are likely to have “hits” from the mainstream media. If the press release generates sufficient interest, media outlets may ask you to provide quotes, do interviews, or participate in podcasts. Prepare in advance by having “sound bytes” ready that succinctly summarize your research in a layperson-friendly manner. This coverage can be listed on your CV and often provides a reviewer (e.g., someone looking through a tenure case) an idea about the larger scope and impact of your research.
Kudos, Blogs, Podcasts, and Layperson-Friendly Summaries
Peer-reviewed articles are meant to be rigorous and meaningful to a subject expert. However, the larger impact of the research often gets lost to the broader audience. There is now a concerted effort by journals to require authors to provide “highlights” for the article and to make the abstract broader in appeal. In addition, journals are also engaging platforms such as Kudos (https://info.growkudos.com/) that provide toolkits to increase the impact of a research article.3 Using Kudos, researchers can provide layperson-friendly summaries of their work and link those summaries to their published articles. Blogs and podcasts also offer venues to articulate the “big picture”—venues that are friendly to a broader audience.
Best Practices for Advertising on Social Media
What to Advertise
- Highlight the wins, such as when a new article is published or when your postdoctoral fellow gets a tenure-track job.
- Study recruitment flyers.
When to Advertise
- Share your news as close to the posting date as possible.
- Post about your article at times when people are more likely to access social media.
- Repetition can be useful (e.g., publish a follow-up “ICYMI” post).
- Give notice about an event or presentation, and remind people frequently.
How to Advertise
- Keep the language simple.
- Use photos.
- Use university or institution branding.
- Use hashtags and @ mentions to increase visibility.
- Post frequently.
Use a Social Media Management App (e.g., Buffer, Hootsuite) as a time-saving strategy to easily share your posts across multiple social media platforms. Social media allows more people to hear your voice, but social media posting takes time. It takes time to craft messages, read your feed, and respond to comments and questions.
Stay Up to Date
It is important to stay up to date on what is relevant and popular. As an example, something that is well-known in your domain of research could end up creating quite a frenzy on social media (e.g., auditory illusions4 such as “Do you see a blue dress or a gold dress in this picture?”; “Do you see Yanny or Laurel in this photo?”). Scientists are often interviewed and are asked to provide explanations. It may be reflexive to be a tad cynical (“Seriously, we have known this for years!”), but you will find that leveraging these “pop-frenzies” can help promote your research—and the field as a whole.
With the advent of social media, there is a need for alternate metrics of engagement and impact. Altmetric (a platform that measures qualitative data that are complementary to traditional, citation-based metrics) allows measurement of the article’s “digital” impact and quantifies the level of engagement through what is known as an Altmetric score). Altmetric scores reflect the larger digital engagement with your article. It also reflects the concerted effort by the author(s) to promote the article on social media. The Altmetric score is automatically available on the ASHAWire platform.4
Here are some important things to remember about Altmetric scores:
- Be patient and consistent with your posts: It takes time to access more people and also to get others to see, respond, and interact with your brand.
- Pay attention to the platform’s analytics to determine when others engage most with your posts. Some of the social media management apps collect data for you, too.
- Respond when people engage you—even if their engagement is negative. If you do not feel comfortable responding to a comment or message, ask your university’s or institution’s communication team to provide assistance on how to craft an appropriate response.