On November 15, 2021, I had the privilege of hosting the ASCB webinar “Building your brand on social media.” The event consisted of short and informative presentations by four expert panelists, followed by a lively discussion session, with the virtual audience peppering the panel with questions about how to use various social media platforms for networking, how to how to avoid common pitfalls, and how to resist the temptation to spend too much time checking Twitter.
Three of our speakers were mainly focused on how to make productive use of Twitter, which is emerging as a major forum for informal science networking and communication. Maitreyi Das, from the University of Tennessee, spoke on the topic of building a personal brand on Twitter and on how to use the platform to promote your own work. Das pointed out how useful Twitter can be as a platform for scientists to publicize their work directly. This tool can be especially beneficial for women scientists and scientists from underrepresented minority backgrounds, who are at a disadvantage communicating their work through journals and conferences, according to recent studies1,2. By allowing users to take control of communicating their own science rather than relying on traditional forums, Twitter helps to level the playing field for the communication of scientific findings.
Both Das and our second speaker, Erin Goley from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, suggested reflecting on how you want to be seen online, and behaving consistently with that vision. Whether you want to be seen as a tech wiz, a supportive colleague, or an activist, one of the main ways to establish your social media personality is to advocate for issues that you think the field should be paying attention to. Advocacy can take many forms, from “retweets” of content that you think merits amplification to drafting your own original content. However you choose to draw attention to topics that are important to you, Goley emphasized the importance of being respectful. Although it can be fun to be glib online, there’s no point in a scientist’s career where it is beneficial to make lots of enemies.
Finally, Andrew Moore, a postdoctoral fellow in the Lippincott-Schwartz lab at the Janelia Research Campus, gave us tips on how to set up a social media account that strikes the right balance between fun and professional. All of our speakers praised the informal nature of interactions on Twitter, where you are just as likely to see someone post a figure from their research paper as to see a photo of their pet cat. Moore talked about experimenting with posts about different topics – both scientific and personal – and using likes, retweets, and engagement stats to determine which posts are of interest to your particular Twitter community.
Our final speaker, Milka Kostic, the program director for chemical biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, gave us a crash course in how to use LinkedIn as a scientist. Kostic described the ideal LinkedIn profile as a constantly updated, interactive resume, a page that you would want someone to click on to learn what you are about. Unlike Twitter, LinkedIn is not the place to post photos of your pets or updates from your kid’s soccer game, it is a much more formal virtual space. Kostic also gave advice on how to use LinkedIn to find community through joining “Groups,” and how to research the job market through looking for job postings and strategically snooping through profiles of individuals doing jobs that you think might be interesting to you. LinkedIn in particular has been confusing to me throughout my career as a scientist, so I found Kostic’s comments, both during her presentation and during the ensuing Q&A session, very helpful.
The Q&A session following the presentations by our panelists was interactive, informative, and occasionally amusing. Questions ran the gamut from demystifying the confusing etiquette of social media (what does it mean if someone doesn’t accept my invitation to connect on LinkedIn? And what do I have all of these connections for anyway?), to clarifying traps to avoid when using social media professionally (what are the most cringey things you have seen happen on social media?).
If you missed the webinar but still want to learn more about how to be a scientist on social media, check out the recording of the webinar3 or two recent ASCB blog posts by Dylan Burnette4,5 about why Twitter, in particular, can be useful for scientists, and how to mine data from your Tweets to boost engagement with your content and, hopefully, reads of your papers.
3 Recording available (for ASCB members) at: https://www.ascb.org/ascb-meetings/building-your-brand-on-social-media/
About the Author:
Ross Pedersen (Twitter: @RossTAPedersen) Is a postdoctoral fellow in Yixian Zheng’s lab in the Department of Embryology at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Baltimore, Maryland, where his research aims to elucidate the pathway governing nuclear lamin assembly following mitosis.