8 Steps to Communicate Scientific Research on Social Media


If you’re working on exciting research that you share with the world through publications and at conferences, you should also consider sharing on social media to reach a wider audience and help educate non-scientists. But regardless of the platform, it's always difficult to get your ideas across in a clear and coherent way, especially on unfamiliar social media sites. But don’t worry! Communicating your research effectively doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating! This article will walk you through the steps you need to take to successfully communicate your research findings on social media, whether you want to start science education programs like us, bring in passive revenue streams, or simply spread knowledge and awareness.

1. Know what you want to achieve

Before you even think about what social media sites to use, make sure you know exactly what you want to achieve with your posts. This will help you set up some goals and benchmarks so that once you start posting, you can measure your success. Do you want to raise awareness of your research? Are you trying to recruit new volunteers? Maybe, like us, you’re hoping that people will retweet a link about a new project or program so that it reaches an even wider audience. Whatever your goals are, write them down and be specific. The most common mistake that scientists make when communicating their research online is not knowing exactly what they want from it, or making assumptions about what others will want out of it—which means their content misses its target audience.

2. Define your target audience

If you aren’t already familiar with your target audience, think about how you would explain your research if they asked you. Next, dig deeper by asking questions and learning about them. What challenges do they face? What would they be interested in learning about? How can your work address these challenges? What additional education or professional development might help them understand your research? Try not to write from a scientific perspective; instead, communicate as though you were talking to an individual. For example, say dementia instead of Alzheimer's disease, and say parenting instead of infant cognitive development. Understanding who you are writing to, whether it be on Instagram or in Nature Journal, is the essential first step to scientific communication.

3. Get familiar with the platforms

If you’re new to social media, spend some time getting familiar with your options. Understand what they are and how they work so that you can effectively communicate science research. For example, if you’re targeting students or professionals in a specific industry, use LinkedIn. If you want to reach a wider audience, such as people who aren’t actively searching for science news and updates, Facebook is a better option. Twitter works well if you want short updates that are easy to digest but contain substantial amounts of information as well as links back to more details online. If your content is highly visual it might be best to stick with Instagram or Snapchat. Finally, TikTok, for the videophiles out there who consume nothing but moving images. Just remember that each platform works differently so there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to choosing which one(s) to use. If you start on one, find it doesn't vibe with you, just switch! Try another.

4. Create engaging content

In our culture, social media is used to sell things and showcase products. This can be tricky when you’re trying to get your research out to a general audience that may not care as much about your "product" as they do someone else’s. Before you start tweeting about your study, spend some time engaging with others in your field. Comment on their blogs and retweet them so they know who you are. Start up a back-and-forth conversation so that it’s more personal than just, "Check out my new study!" Having a dialogue with others will help you create more meaningful content and show off your personality behind all of those statistics. And as part of engaging with the community, engage directly with your audience as well! The best way to do that is by using their responses as inspiration for future posts. Sometimes your audience will have questions that you could address in a subsequent post or they may point out parts of your research that are not clear. Keep up a conversation and people will start following you because they feel like you’re speaking directly to them.

5. Keep it short and sweet

The number one rule of good scientific communication is KISS—keep it short and sweet (though I tend to like 'keep it simple, stupid' :). You’re not writing a novel, you’re trying to get your message across. Of course, what is long and sweet for a TikTok may not be as appropriate on Instagram. Regardless, clarity is king. Don’t try too hard to impress with big words or fancier metaphors than necessary - that just makes your point harder to follow.

6. Use images whenever possible

Images are important parts of communication because they help us process and understand information better. In science, images are a quick way to convey complex data that's hard to visualize. When communicating your research, always include an image if it helps your audience understand what you're talking about. Even if you're presenting at a conference or speaking with people face-to-face, there's almost always something you can show instead of just talk about.

7. Don't skimp on citations (yes even on social media)

If you’re worried about how your study, paper, or post will be received, make sure to cite related studies—especially those that conflict with your findings. By demonstrating you’ve done thorough research, it shows you understand what other scholars have done and gives credibility to your own article or post. You can even cite experts who might not agree with your findings as a way of showing respect. If they think something is wrong with your approach, citing them still helps defend against potential criticisms of how you presented results. And especially take care to avoid plagiarism by including citations on pages separate from where text appears.

8. Maintain authenticity

When it comes to communicating your research, authenticity matters. Be yourself. Share how you feel and don’t be afraid to show your human side. No one wants an emotionless robot—real people can connect with real experiences. As long as you’re genuine, you don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to communication. So before starting any conversations, think about who you want to talk with and what their expectations will be of you or your research team.

Finally, have fun!!! Social media can feel intimidating and the structure is developed to get into your psyche and stay there. But remember, it is also a direct line to non-scientists who have many questions about your work, and many more misconceptions. It is the duty of scientists to step out of their comfort zone and begin to engage with lay audiences to help educate and develop the next-generation of scientists.


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