Scientists and new media: overcoming a healthy skepticism

Commodore PET computers in use after 30 years after their introduction to the market. They were a very important part of my PhD dissertation as they controlled  the experimental setup. Alas! no internet connection available.

I started a Twitter account two months ago. Somehow during the process I became a Social Media evangelist that pesters old and new friends so they start talking about their science online. I successfully got one friend to open a Twitter account (and use it), and I got another friend to start using hashtags during meetings. And now I want you –yes, I am talking to you– to consider giving new media a try.

Most scientists understand the need to communicate their work to the public, either to help them take informed decisions in the public health and policy area, or to make sure the taxpayers learn the very important labor that scientists do with their money. A lot of my friends, including me, do science communication because it is fun, and because it is great to talk with people about what we love. But when I start telling my friends to put content on a blog or following people on Twitter I see in their faces “a healthy skepticism about return on investment of engaging in new media” as Liz Neeley of puts it (Check this post from Heater Reiff for more). I must concede that engaging your science online takes time, but is it worth it? YES! it is totally worth it.

The learning curve for social media is not too steep, there are plenty of online resources to start –including this Social networking for Scientists WIKI started by Christie Wilcox of Science Sushi— and the benefits are potentially enormous: Two weeks ago I was talking with another post-doc about opportunities to do some science outreach in Seattle. I was surprised to notice that I had so many local people to recommend, most of them I didn’t know before I started using my Twitter account and following the local community. On Twitter you can do several things:  learn about people with similar interest, learn what conferences are popular in your field, find new funding opportunities and get fast answers to questions to the community. More important, when you start building content you also start building relationships and name recognition. Who knows? Maybe a new scientific collaboration or your next job may come from Twitter.

There is more to new media than Tweeter or blogging. LinkedIn,, Google Plus, Storify, and Wikis are great tools that you may consider using.

For more reasons to start engaging your science online and for more information about the different resources available please go to the social networking for scientist Wiki, Have fun!

Update 10/30/12: If you want to start measuring your success with new media tools, you should read Online ROI: How to measure social media impact. This summary from Science Writers 2012 by Christie Wilcox is about the appropriate metrics to measure success in science communication, and the multiple tolls you have to do it.