Integrating social media into researcher careers

Social Media apps
Following my post on measures of success on social media I read a paper on 'A critical evaluation of science outreach via social media: it's role and impact on scientists' published on the F1000 website which is well worth a read.

The authors come to a similar conclusion my previous blog post, that the measurement of social media success needs to reach beyond simple number metrics in order to fully understand how beneficial (or not) social media channels are to academic researchers for outreach and their careers.

The paper suggests three important elements which would allow the integration of social media for outreach (SOSM) into a scientists career which are:
1) It must be valued (by research funders and by universities)
2) It must be measured (the jury is still out on what this would look like)
3) It must be manageable

I agree with the three elements but would also suggest that the efforts on social media must also feedback into the research to be truly useful and sustainable. If benefits are not received from an activity then they are less likely to continue.

At the moment, until we know how to measure value, I think universities could help researchers explore if social media networks do have benefits by better supporting and integrating researchers and research groups who are undertaking online engagement. At the moment individual social media accounts are often disconnected from institution accounts (which generally have large audiences) and exist in isolation. I think bringing them together could help raise the profile of all involved and gain bigger reach of scientific outputs and discussion. This would also help create case studies and potentially wider sharing of best practice of online engagement - which can span across research disciplines.

Research funders and institutions need to be more supportive and comfortable with individual researcher voices too, particularly on networks such as twitter. It is extremely difficult to build audiences and networks without inputting a personal voice and I think this could be a barrier to using online methods of engagement. A level of trust is required between the two is needed for this this to be a success also.

I learnt from the paper that studies in the USA have shown that female scientists are more likely to be involved with outreach activities than male but that female scientists are less likely to participate in online engagement.

The paper doesn't really explore the nature of why scientists choose not to engage online, beyond citing surveys that state a lack of time as the biggest factor. I suggest that a lack of knowledge about how to engage online and/or a attitude of 'why bother' when the benefits are yet to be understood and widely recognised. There also needs to be wider discussion about the fear of online engagement. Careers have been damaged through social media networks and many cases have been widely reported in mass media.

If you are interested in reading further how researchers are using social media networks at the moment this Nature survey makes interesting reading.

How to cite: McClain C and Neeley L. A critical evaluation of science outreach via social media: its role and impact on scientists [v1; ref status: awaiting peer review,] F1000Research 2014, 3:300 (doi:10.12688/f1000research.5918.1)


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