Science and Social Media: Best Practices Inspired by NASA

Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook are all platforms that can be used effectively by scientists to engage the public, and each other. Social media outreach can increase article download and citation rates. One study found that tweeting and retweeting on Twitter can increase citation rates by up to 11%. And, of course, social media can also be an effective way of engaging public audiences. While there are many ways of disseminating this information, social media has the potential to reach large audiences when properly used. But if you’re new to social media, you might not quite know what “properly used” entails. We here at PESC recommend the following best practices:

Best Practices for Social Media

  • Know platform conventions. Facebook isn’t Twitter, and Twitter isn’t Instagram. Take the time to get familiar with the rules of the road for your chosen platforms.
  • Take advantage of engagement features. @reply, comment, like, and favorite. Merely broadcasting your message is never an effective way to build a following.
  • Images, video, and other media are always better than text alone when posting. Media drives engagement, increases retweets and likes, and builds your audience.
  • Present a wide array of scientific topics, when possible. You’ve got your area of expertise, of course, and that’s what you’ll focus on most. But a wide audience wants a wide variety of information.
  • Try making online tools interconnected – i.e. linking tweets back to the main website.
  • Have a little fun! Seriously-a recent study of academic twitter posts found a few (not overly) personal tweets mixed in with the science actually increases trust in social media audiences.

@NASA: A Twitter Case Study

With over 21 million followers, @NASA is a useful model to see these best practices in action.

A quick glance at their Twitter feed indicates that pictures will always be worth more than 140-characters. In fact, per Jane Stecyk’s (2015) #TweetTip blog, photos drive engagement up over 300% per post. In the week this article was written, @NASA posted (with photos) about Louisiana’s Wax Lake Delta, Saturn, the Earth’s magnetic field, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, and more. While NASA has an obviously specific focus, they still post about an array of topics. @NASA also makes excellent use of Twitter engagement features like @replies and #tags, leading to expanded reach.

NASA also releases blog posts telling their readers of changes that had recently been made in response to tweets and emails they had received. One of those changes was adding a ‘share’ button to stories on their website, Twitter, and other social platforms. This accessibility will result in more people seeing more of their content, as indicated in the chart following the story “Chandra Finds Youngest Nearby Black Hole (Nov. 15, 2010).” Finally, @NASA’s delivery is more relaxed than one might expect from a science-related social media account. In this context, exclamation points are a welcomed sight, and stories that just appeal to wonder are as suitable as those that discuss the melting ice caps also being studied. Briefness, while important, must not take precedence over approachability. These practices help @NASA stay relevant.

References

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). 2010. NASA.gov: Behind the page [Internet]. [Cited 12 February 2017]. Available from https://blogs.nasa.gov/nasadotgov/tag/social-media/

Steyck J. 2015. #TweetTip: use photos to drive engagement [Internet]. [Cited 10 February 2017]. Available from https://blog.twitter.com/2015/tweettip-use-photos-to-drive-engagement

Contributors: Kristiana Perleberg