Social media and the rise of mobile devices have changed the way we read and discover research. Some of the high-impact general journals now receive a substantial proportion of their online traffic from social networks, and more than one in 10 visits to the ERJ website comes from a mobile device.
For researchers and authors, social channels are an opportunity to boost the profile of their work, to explain it in less technical ways and to new audiences, to get immediate feedback from their peers and to discuss aspects of their scientific work that might not form part of their conventional published output. Journalists too increasingly make use of social channels, and creating a social buzz can be a route to mainstream media coverage. The setting is much less formal than a journal or academic conference, allowing for a more friendly, conversational tone. The ERS itself promotes its publications through a range of social media, and will engage enthusiastically with authors’ own efforts.
This guide will mainly concentrate on three ‘public-facing’ social media channels – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – with slight diversions into Google+, Wikipedia, Google Scholar, Reddit, blogging and image/video sharing services. There is, however, an enormous range of online social networks out there, some of which are aimed specifically at researchers – Mendeley, ResearchGate and academia.edu, for instance. Particular regions have their own social networks, too. If your work is relevant in China, it may be worth setting up an account with Sina Weibo; likewise, VK is very popular in some eastern European countries.
As this is a guide to social media and sharing, if you have comments or would like to add to it, please get in touch:
LinkedIn group: European-Respiratory-Society
Before delving into the potential of social media, a caveat: social media gives you a great deal of freedom of speech, but that brings with it potential for trouble. There are a few notes of caution at the end of this document, but please don’t let them put you off – social media has the potential to have a real positive impact on your professional life.
Social media is about conversation, but before you can start that conversation you have to engage people. Make sure your posts are concise and focus on what would be the most interesting aspect of your work for the audience you are trying to reach. If different portions of your desired audience are likely to be interested in different aspects of the work, there’s no harm in posting several different messages - just don’t overdo it. Remember, too, that these networks don’t exist in isolation: if you make a video abstract or write a blog post, you can embed it or share it across Twitter and Facebook, for instance.
Be prepared to engage! Posting on social media is effectively a call for comments and replies. You might get constructive comments, tough criticism, ill-informed nonsense or even spam, so be selective about what you reply to. But do reply to those you decide are worthwhile – you never know where a conversation might lead.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a response, though: lots of social media posts don’t generate any comments. But that isn’t to say no-one is reading them or even sharing them.
If you’re interested in whether others are talking about your article on social media or in the press, you can search for it online or, for ERJ articles, you can use the ‘Article Usage Statistics’ service, also known as article-level metrics, a link to which appears in the right-hand column next to the online article. This tracks a wide range of social networks and news sources, including most of those listed here.
Facebook (and Google +)
Facebook is a huge network, with more than 1 billion active users per month. It is more personal and less news-driven than Twitter, but many scientific organisations and publishers maintain pages. Posts can be as long as you like and can (and should) include links, images and video. You can choose whom you share your posts with by allocating your Facebook friends to ‘lists’. Before posting, make sure you have ‘liked’ the pages of the journal or publisher and your institution, and perhaps ‘friended’ your coauthors, and mention them in your post. That way they are more likely to see – and share – your post. People will then be able to comment on and re-share it.
Google+ works along similar lines to Facebook, in that posts can be as long as you like and can include images, videos and links. Google+ has ‘Circles’, which work in a similar way to the Facebook lists and allow you to define and share posts with different groups of people (‘colleagues’, ‘co-authors’, ‘friends’, etc.).
Twitter is another huge network, with 115 million active users each month. At its best, Twitter is a fast-moving, almost conversational, medium and the strict format can allow a surprising amount of personality to come across. Most journals, societies, institutions and publishers have a Twitter presence, and will often retweet posts about research they have published or sponsored if you mention them, particularly if your profile says clearly who you are. This is a good way to gain visibility on Twitter, and to build your own list of ‘followers’ who are then likely to see your future tweets. You can also bolster your Twitter reputation by following colleagues and prominent researchers, retweeting others’ interesting posts, tweeting about interesting papers you have read or ‘live-tweeting’ from academic conferences.
Tweets have a 140-character limit, but you can embed images or videos – if your article contains a figure that sums up the key finding, please include it! If you put a hash-tag in front of a commonly used word or phrase, it will show up in the results of searches for the hash-tag: for example, if your research is connected to asthma or COPD, write #asthma or #copd in your post to make it easily searchable. If your article is open-access, consider using the frequently-used #FOAMed (‘free open access medical education’) hash-tag.
If you’ve published in the ERJ or ERR, you have already written one tweet, which has been published alongside your article. That’s a good place to start.
LinkedIn (and Google Scholar profiles)
LinkedIn is more a career-focused network than a news-sharing one. This can make it useful for learning about new funding opportunities and connecting with old colleagues, potential employers and future collaborators.
Joining groups is an effective way to meet the people with whom you want to connect. Although groups do attract a degree of spam, they are a good place to start or join discussions on topics you are interested in. Groups can also be a good place to discuss clinical research that is likely to affect people’s day-to-day practice.
By adding your publications to your LinkedIn profile, and connecting to current and past co-workers, you can use LinkedIn as a way to meet potential new collaborators. You can also create a personal profile on Google Scholar, and link your publications to it. This allows anyone who finds one of your papers using the Google Scholar search engine to see a list of other relevant publications and citation information.
A video summary of your work can be an engaging way to introduce your findings and guide people to the full article. Depending on your expertise and confidence, your video could take the form of a direct-to-camera speech, a slide show with a voiceover, an animation or any other format you wish. A good place to look for inspiration is the BMJ, which makes use of ‘video abstracts’ for research articles – see http://www.bmj.com/multimedia/video/collections/video-abstracts.
A range of video-sharing sites are available, including YouTube and Vimeo, and once you have uploaded your film to one of these sites, you can share it further through most of the other social media mentioned in this guide. Should you wish to create a video abstract of an article you have published in an ERS publication, we will be happy to help you disseminate it, subject to the editors’ approval.
Blogging (and Medium)
Blogging is a somewhat different beast to most of the other social media discussed here. A blog post about your work might take the form of (for instance) an informal editorial putting it in context, a background piece on your reasons for carrying out your study, or a discussion of the process of carrying out the work. Blog posts should be engaging, thoughtful pieces that add something to the work you’re discussing.
As important as what you write is where you publish it. Maintaining your own blog, via Blogger or WordPress for instance, requires an ongoing commitment to writing regular posts and publicising what you’ve written. Alternative solutions include setting up or writing for a departmental or institutional blog, or finding an existing blog for your subject and asking to write a guest post. Several national and online newspapers offer blogging sections and may be interested to hear from you if your area of research is being discussed in the news.
Medium is a blog-esque site for writing on any topic. There is no commitment to frequent posting, or even to writing more than once, and the site is curated by editors. Medium will also publicise selected posts via its own social media accounts.
Wikipedia is one of the most successful ‘social’ sites there is, and as an information source it has extremely high visibility. Just think how many Google searches feature a Wikipedia link in the top two or three results. If your publications have advanced human knowledge, then making sure that Wikipedia reflects that advance is a good way to tell the world – and to make sure the credit is given correctly.
You can edit Wikipedia pages anonymously, but to create a new page you will need to set up your own account.
Reddit describes itself as ‘the front page of the internet’. It’s a somewhat anarchic, but extremely popular, service for sharing text, images and weblinks. Reddit is divided into multiple ‘subreddits’ covering almost every topic imaginable. Posts become more or less prominent based on votes from the community. Reddit is perhaps not the best place for serious scientific discussion, but there are subreddits devoted to respiratory therapy and nursing, for instance.
Pinterest (and Instagram, Flickr)
Photo-sharing services such as Pinterest, Instagram and Flickr can be useful if your research produces a high volume of interesting images. Flickr in particular allows you to make a range of download sizes and licensing arrangements available to others.
Social Networking for Scientists: the Wiki
The Blog That Peter Wrote’s How to Use Twitter
John Launer’s The Age of Twitter
The General Medical Council’s Doctors’ Use of Social Media
The Royal College of General Practitioners’ Social Media Highway Code
The British Medical Association’s Using Social Media: Practical and Ethical Guidance for Doctors and Medical Students
The American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards’ Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships
The Canadian Association of Research Libraries’ Alt-Metrics in Context
Holly M. Bik et al.’s An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists
Note of caution 1: Personal versus professional
Social media and mobile devices have blurred the boundaries between personal and professional life, and there are plenty of examples of people who have lost sight of the line entirely and got into serious trouble. This poses particular challenges for physicians and teachers, who are bound by strict standards of confidentiality and professional conduct.
In practice, this means being very aware that anyone could end up reading what you post, and of the privacy settings on your social media account. Some networks allow you to restrict visibility of particular posts, while others have blanket settings. Some allow you to create a ‘corporate’ page, perhaps for your lab or research group.
In ‘Useful resources’ above, we’ve collected some professional organisations’ guidelines on social media use – please do read these. Your own professional organisation may also be able to advise you.
Note of caution 2: Publishers’ copyright
Before reposting whole articles to social networks, please check your publisher’s copyright policy – there may be limitations on what you can do, and publishers are likely to prefer you to direct people to the ‘version of record’ on the publisher’s website. Where content is behind a pay-wall, they may even be willing to give you a time- or usage-limited ‘toll-free’ link to the published version of your article.
• The ERJ copyright rules can be found here.
• The ERR, Breathe and the European Lung White Book are published under Creative Commons licences that allow you to share articles as you wish (only for non-commercial purposes), although we would prefer you to link to the free version on our website.
• If you have written content for a ERS Monograph or another ERS book, please get in touch.
Note of caution 3: Networks’ conditions of use
It’s generally worth checking the conditions of use of any social network. They generally allow the network and its users to make fairly wide-ranging use of your posts and any other content you upload. This is necessary to enable the social network to function (Twitter, for instance, adds some explanatory notes - https://twitter.com/tos), but do make sure you’re comfortable.
This document does not represent legal advice. If you are unsure whether something is appropriate to post on social media, please consult your employer or professional body.
This page was updated on 1 September, 2015