Academic conversations are increasingly taking place online, so how can you make sure that your research features positively in them?
According to Altmetric, a research output is mentioned online every 1.8 seconds, so if you don’t want to perish as a researcher, you need to think about how you are going to promote what you publish. Having a strong social presence and making your research information accessible and shareable are key strategies for ensuring that your work gets noticed and disseminated online. But it doesn’t stop there! You need to continue to track how your research is shared and by whom and nurture this valuable network if you are to firmly establish yourself as a expert in your area. Follow this practical advice to make the most of social media and altmetrics to identify yourself as the creator of your research outputs and maximise their reach within academic circles and beyond.
Establish a strong online profile
In order to partake in online knowledge exchange, you need to be present on the key social networks. The role of Twitter within academia is now firmly established, so if you haven’t entered the Twittersphere yet, you should seriously consider it. Tweeting is an efficient way of sharing links to articles and driving traffic to websites or blogs, and is becoming common practice at conferences and events. Other sites for you to contemplate include Mendeley, ResearchGate and Academia, all well-established social networks for researchers. If you want to forge relationships with industry professionals, take a look at LinkedIn, which is steadily raising its profile in Higher Education too.
If you already have publications, take ownership of your profile on Google Scholar and make it public so that it will appear in search results. Even if you have a presence on your institution’s website, it is worth establishing your own personal webpage or blog which you can use as a hub for your different profiles. Or you might want to consider using ImpactStory ($60 per year), an altmetrics-focused repository where you can upload various products of research and integrate your online identities. However, while it is important to be visible online, be careful not to spread yourself too thin and end up with “profile fatigue”!
Whichever sites you sign up to, aim for consistency in your choice of username and profile image across your online profiles to avoid any confusion. Make sure that you claim your Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCiD) which is a persistent identifier that will distinguish you from other researchers and ensure that your work is attributed correctly to you. You can also use your ORCiD profile like an online CV by adding professional information and linking it to your other profiles. Don’t forget to include your Twitter handle and a link to your main online profile wherever you can, including your email signature.
Make your research accessible
A key strategy for boosting the impact of your research is to make it as accessible as possible. One of the simplest ways to do this is to publish in open access (OA) journals as you are allowing your work to be immediately available online without any financial barriers. You can widen your audience further by converting research outputs into a format suitable for non-academic audiences, for example, by reproducing a paper as a blog article. Blogging is also an excellent way of generating early interest in your research without having to wait for a publication to be accepted.
As well as papers, you can make other products of your research available online – consider uploading datasets to DataHub or publishing code on GitHub. Adding slides to SlideShare or publishing video content on YouTube will increase your online visibility and allow you to disseminate your findings in a comprehendible format. To reduce the burden of managing your various outputs, use a repository like Figshare to host all your work in a central location and make it easy for others to discover, share and cite. Connected Researchers have a comprehensive list of digital tools if you are looking for something specific to develop or manage your research outputs.
Create shareable content
Social media posts that contain videos or images are much more likely to get shared, so start thinking about how you can present your findings in an engaging way. Add captions to photographs, or use tools like PiktoChart and Venngage to quickly create eye-catching infographics. If you need something more sophisticated, there are a wide range of data visualisation tools available that you can use to present data in an innovative manner. Or you could give your research a personal touch by producing a video of your ‘elevator pitch’ or by creating an animation explaining your conceptual framework. Try Office Mix for a simple way to produce interactive online videos using PowerPoint.
Storytelling is an excellent way to add shape and meaning to your data and help convey the potential impact of your findings. Start by answering a question like: “Why does this research matter?“, then capture your audience’s attention with a diagram, photo album or infographic. Reveal a startling fact, connect your audience with a specific emotion that will motivate them to take an action, or take them on a narrative journey using imagery or video content. Telling the story of your research will captivate your audience in a way that blunt facts and figures cannot, encouraging them to respond and share your content with their networks.
Track your reach
Once you’ve got people interested in your research, it is important to keep track of who is engaging with your content and how they are reacting to it. ImpactStory can identify mentions of your work on a range of social networks and Google Scholar will uncover any citations of your articles. The Altmetric Bookmarklet allows you to view article-level metrics for publications and you can set up email alerts to receive updates if articles you are interested in are mentioned online. You can also create Google Alerts to monitor the Web for references to your work or create searches in TweetDeck to identify relevant Tweets.
While the relevance of altmetrics to research impact is still being debated, they can provide important insights into how your research has been received and who it resonates with. As Roberta Kwok pointed out, “Altmetrics enable scientists to see ripples generated by their research that might otherwise go unnoticed.” Find out what altmetrics are available for your publications and use them to identify which channels your work is being disseminated over and to highlight influencers that you hadn’t previously considered. Take some time to uncover and understand your audience so that you can tailor future content to align closer to their needs.
Nurture your network
The best way to grow your online network is to engage with individuals from within and beyond academia. Joining relevant groups on Mendeley, Facebook or LinkedIn, or participating in Twitter chats can help to get you and your work noticed. Start a conversation with your network by asking a question or reach out to someone who has shared your work or whose work you admire. Make sure you respond promptly to any questions or comments and thank anyone who posts positive reviews about content you have shared.
Using social media for knowledge exchange and to maintain relationships with key stakeholders could potentially enhance the impact of your research and will boost your online profile. Becoming a networked researcher will involve some effort but it will afford you the unparalleled opportunity to promote your research, gain valuable feedback and interact with diverse audiences. As competition for academic positions and funding intensifies, you can’t afford to be a digital wallflower!
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Has social media helped you as a researcher? Please share your experiences in the comments!