It can be a great opportunity to start conversations, gather data, and consult a potentially very wide audience. It can also be a very cost efficient way of connecting with your audience, at a time that suits them, and you, over a long period.
Using social media can serve a number of purposes for your public engagement:
- Reaching specific audiences. People with shared interests tend to be easy to reach via social media, by connecting to existing communities in this way you can hope to target very specific groups.
- Fostering interaction. Social networking in particular, lends itself very well to interaction and audience participation. You can get people to do the leg work for you - if you grab their attention, or set them a challenge, they will forward your questions or links to their friends and followers, thereby disseminating information and gathering data rapidly.
- Running large-scale participation projects. Social media can offer more direct, real-time, networked ways to collaborate, and is becoming an important component of most citizen science initiatives.
- Marketing projects and events. Social media can be used to develop networks that can help to quickly and effectively market projects and events to key target audiences.
The world of social media can be a daunting place. It’s important to carefully plan how social media can help your public engagement and to consider how to use it responsibly, safely and inclusively.
- Think carefully about purpose.
- Consider how much time you can commit.
- Go to your audiences. Do your research, find out which social media platforms will reach your intended audiences.
- Use social media yourself. Work out how you interact with different platforms, how others use them, and how you can make them work for your purpose. The way people interact online changes frequently, so becoming an active user will help you to stay up to date.
- Be short, punchy and informal. Write in first or second person, rather than the more formal third person used in most reporting and academic writing.
- Include links and images. The great thing about the web is the potential to create links to further information. Keep it short and let the links do the explaining for you. Use eye-catching imagery to grab people’s attention.
- Try to make it fun. Most people go online for entertainment purposes, so keep it light.
- Above all be prepared. Social media is not for everyone, and you can come across negative comments, intimidation and online abuse.
For more tips about how to engage, and help to find out if social media is for you please explore these additional resources:
What works: Engaging the public through social media
A co-developed guide from NCCPE, public engagement professionals and researchers, produced November 2018.
Social media for academics
A book by Mark Carrigan (2016), which provides clear guidance on effectively and intelligently using social media for academic purposes across disciplines, from publicising your work and building networks to engaging the public with your research. It is supported by real life examples and underpinned by principles of good practice to ensure you make the most of social media.
Using twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities
A presentation from the LSE public policy group: a guide for academics and researchers. This guide shows you how to get started on Twitter and how Twitter can be used as a resource for research, teaching and impact activities.
How to… Use social media to connect with knowledge users
This introduction, from Chris Berry, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer in SPS, at the University of Edinburgh, is full of practical tips on how academic researchers can use social media to connect with knowledge users and other academics.