Should you tweet?
Giles Yeo | Opinion
The Medical Research Council (MRC) recently asked me to speak at their annual gathering of senior fellows about the use of social media to promote their research and to engage the public.
While what I said was, by and large, well received, I did face significant resistance – ‘What a waste of time!’ – ‘We should be focusing on our research!’
Social media, while not for everyone, can be incredibly effective IF used appropriately.
For instance, I have a Facebook account that I use for posting pictures of family vacations or which wine I might be enjoying of an evening. However, trying to push out a scientific message between images of sandy beaches and glasses of Merlot is, I would suggest, not particularly effective.
Rather, my preferred professional social media platform is Twitter. I tweet ONLY ‘in character’ as an obesity geneticist, but include broader issues that influence me as a scientist, such as ‘Brexit’. I don’t tweet anything personal. This is absolutely crucial, because you are not Stephen Fry or Taylor Swift. You want followers who know your ‘brand’ and are interested in your science.
The problem of course, is that you need followers. So how to begin?
'Social media, while not for everyone, can be incredibly effective IF used appropriately'
All the major journals, funding bodies and learned societies have Twitter accounts. My strategy was to start by ‘following’ as many that made sense to my ‘brand’ (e.g. Nature Genetics, MRC, Society for Endocrinology etc.). These organisations tweet on a very regular basis to publicise events, publications and funding calls. I ‘retweeted’ as many of these as appropriate. These organisations need relevant followers who will be receptive to their tweets so, after a time (and furious retweeting), they will follow you back.
By this time in your tweeting career, you may have a following comprising a few friends, colleagues and family members. The difference in being followed by an organisation like the MRC, however, is that they have more than 27,800 followers. So if you tweet about your new publication to your meagre 78 followers, but it gets retweeted by the MRC or a similarly sized organisation, your tweet to 78 people gets broadcast, in an instant, to an audience of tens of thousands. Some of those MRC followers may well follow you back! And so on and so forth.
You do have to invest a little time to build a relevant group of followers. But if you, like me, use Twitter on your phone, then you can tweet anytime and anywhere, and tap into the true power of Twitter – its incredible ability to amplify a message. Just always be mindful of your ‘brand’.
Science Committee correspondent