Social media has transformed the way people learn about science and interact with scientists. Notable scientists, such as Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson, have well-established presences on a variety of social media platforms. This has changed the landscape of science from something done behind closed laboratory doors to something that the average person can learn about and even participate in. However, unlike peer-reviewed publications, the content on social media is not screened or vetted by anyone, making the potential for false or misleading information to be spread just as easily as accurate information.
Searching any social media platform can be easily accomplished via keywords, hashtags (#hashtags), geographic locations, user names, company names, and events. Hashtags are a powerful tool for aggregating posts/news/topics, especially if they are tied to a theme or event (e.g., #ascbembo18). All social media has the potential for being used for public outreach, scientific and policy discussion, and link sharing.
Here we offer a few examples of popular social media platforms that can be used for disseminating news about science.
MultiMedia Social Media (images, text, URLs)
Facebook is a free platform that can be used by individuals, interest groups, and/or specific organizations (e.g., labs or research groups). Individuals or members can share updates and information via text, links, photos, and video (including livestreaming), all within the same interface. Although the primary purpose of Facebook is connecting with friends and family, many people use it as a news source and for following topic interest groups. Connecting on Facebook requires that one accept friend requests from individuals. One must possess an individual profile to administer or manage groups or pages on Facebook. Anyone can follow a page of Facebook; groups on Facebook may require that members meet certain criteria to join. This platform can also be used to create and manage event invitations. Facebook permits people age 13 and older to create profiles, page, groups, and events. Example: https://www.facebook.com/IFeakingLoveScience/
Twitter is a free individual user platform that allows members to share messages and URLs under 280 characters. It can also be used to share information from a group or organization (e.g., for a lab/research group), but would require shared access. Twitter allows users of any age to create a profile. Twitter tends to attract more users who are public figures or companies that are developing a brand voice. Unless a Twitter feed is set to private, any user may follow any other user on Twitter. You must follow each other to send and receive direct messages. Example: https://twitter.com/neiltyson
Many people use LinkedIn when they are job hunting. However, a LinkedIn profile can be a way for you to promote your research, explain science, meet collaborators, and get the word out about you and your work to the public. Much like Facebook, LinkedIn supports text, photos, and video sharing. You also have the opportunity to write longer form, article posts on LinkedIn.
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Image-Based Social Media
Instagram is an image-based platform that allows users to post 1-10 photos/videos at a time with text captions. Images and videos are stored within a feed/profile and are shown in chronological order. Instagram also has the option to create stories that only appear on a user’s profile for 24 hours. Live video is possible, but is only visible to followers while livestreaming. Extensive photo editing functionality allows for optimal image sharing. Recently, Instagram was acquired by Facebook and cross posting is available. Historically, Instagram has been used by individuals, especially those in the visual and creative arts, although it could be used by labs or research groups. Unless an Instagram feed is set to private, any user may follow any other user on Instagram. You must follow each other to send and receive direct messages. Example: https://www.instagram.com/armanilab/
Snapchat is a highly personal image and video-based platform that allows users to send photos, short videos, and text. This platform is distinct from other platforms because photos are only shown for 1-10 seconds (videos are up to 30 seconds) and are subsequently deleted. Geofilters can be added to your photos based on your location. If you are in a location for an event (such as the ASCB/EMBO meeting, for example), you can add photos to your “story,” which anyone in that location can view. Search on Snapchat is by username or phone number. Geofilters and photo editing allow for transient and interactive content. Snapchat also has longer form programming and even episodic shows. It also has a lot of advertising. Example: StyledbyScience, TheDodo, PopularMechanics, mic
Pinterest is an individual user platform that allows users to aggregate and curate content in one place. Content is represented on user pages as images, but serves as a link to blogs, photos, videos, etc. Pinterest is often and widely used to link to DIY websites for crafting, home design, fashion, recipes, etc. Many users follow artists, makers, and popular content curators via this platform. Search is based primarily on topics and search terms, but also by username. Example: https://www.pinterest.com/sciencepenguin
Flickr is a professional way to share high-resolution images. It is an image- and video-hosting website that allows users to share photography, art, and videos. It also provides a web services suite and is used widely by photographers and bloggers to host/store content they will embed in blogs and/or social media posts. One may follow anyone on Flickr unless their account is private or password protected. Flickr is often used as a source for freely available images to include in presentations; however, it should never be assumed that any image on Flickr is free to use. Refer to the license type the creator has set for the image and give credit to the creator. It has been used widely as a historical photography resource and as a platform for secure photo sharing. Search is based on photos/content, people, and groups. Example: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nihgov/albums
Video-Based Social Media
YouTube is one of the oldest video-based platforms that allows individuals and organizations to upload, view, rate, share, add to favorites, report, and comment on videos. Users can subscribe to other users and channels. Content includes video clips, TV shows, music videos, short and documentary films, audio recording, educational videos, etc. Universities and other research institutions often use YouTube for educational and/or PR purposes. Although there is a pay version of YouTube, the free version contains advertisements. Search on YouTube is based on channel, username, video name, topic, and general search terms. Example: https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse
Vimeo is a video-based platform that provides high-quality tools for hosting, sharing, and streaming videos. Unlike YouTube, Vimeo attracts more users producing professional quality video and videos are not interrupted by advertisements. It is free to watch many videos on Vimeo; however, payment is required if you wish to upload more than 5GB of video per week. Vimeo also contains a library of high-quality stock video for purchase. Search is based on username, video name, topics, and general search terms. Example: https://vimeo.com/channels/sciencenewsorg
Blogs can be considered part of social media. Blogs can be an outlet for public outreach, lab news, and comments. Typically, a blog gives an individual user a platform for long-form writing and content sharing. A broad selection of websites and formats allows for creative freedom and personalization. Blogs can easily be used for a lab/research group. Blogs are welcoming to all ages and professions. They are easily searchable via standard web search, RSS, etc. Some of the top free blogging platforms include Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, and Medium.
Reddit for Science Communication
Reddit is a huge forum discussion platform with as many topics as you can imagine. While there are some dark and creepy corners on Reddit, the science topic “subreddit” known as r/Science is well moderated. There are many people interested in science engaging on Reddit and it might be worth your while to see what they are talking about.