Twitter is often the first post of call for academics taking their first step in what could be a long and fruitful journey into scholarly communications and public engagement. On the surface, Twitter provides easy access to potentially large audiences where debate and dissemination take place. The time investment can be fairly low but so can the returns as it can take quite a while to build up an audience and not all academics master the nuances of communicating in short bursts on the web so easily. Below, I want to discuss three other ways academics and research support professionals can get involved in sharing research across the web.
Writing for The Conversation and other media sites
The sheer amount of published research means it is quite unlikely you will get a call from the BBC or Sky News for an impromptu interview about your work. However you can approach a number of platforms to see if they would be interested in you writing something for them. A good place to start is The Conversation, where journalists and academics work in tandem to write articles (around the same length as this one). If your research is a hot topic and trending then you are more likely to get accepted for publication and therefore timing is of the essence. You may be concerned about switching from an academic style of writing to a more informal style, but fear not as the journalist will help you with that transition. A useful tip is to frame your research under the five Ws - who, what, when, where and why.
Ask yourself these five questions:
- Who is involved in the research?
- What is the research about and what does it set out to achieve?
- When is the research taking place? When will we find out the results?
- Where is this research taking place? In the lab, in a hospital, in a field?
- Why are you undertaking this research?
If you frame your work along these lines, you will start to have the foundations of a lay summary and something that a journalist can work with. It is essential that you check any final submissions to ensure that you are happy with it and that they have not been changed in any way to alter the context of your piece. In time, your articles may gain attention of bigger media organisations, who could contact you to talk about your work.
Hosting a Reddit AMA
Reddit is arguably the most underused, highest profile, web platform that an academic could use to communicate their research. This might be because it seems like the Wild West of the web and has not been without its controversies. Yet Reddit ranks higher than Twitter in the Alexa Internet Rankings and has 22 million subscribers to The New Reddit Journal of Science. Reddit’s Ask Me Anything function is exactly that, you can create a post around your expertise and ask people to ask you anything. Originally, The New Reddit Journal of Science had their own AMAs, but they ceased operations due to the lack of engagement, for reasons that were beyond the site hosts. Since then, AMAs have continued to run on the main AMA pages and can include a myriad of topics. This may seem a little off putting, but in reality this is how Twitter works - lots of disparate conversations taking place across one platform, you just need the right filters to make better use of them. Reddit’s AMA has over 19 million subscribers, so if you pitch your AMA properly and it’s of interest, you may get a lot of attention. As with an article for a blog, it is important to have an eye catching but simple title for your AMA. Plan ahead and create a strategy and do your research around previous research focused AMAs. Remember that timing and audience are important as much of the conversation may take place after you have finished work with a lot of Reddit users based in the U.S. So if you wish to engage with them, ensure your Reddit AMA does not start any earlier than 2pm, as you’ll want to maximise your engagement.
Wikipedia’s reputation as a second rate encyclopedia are long behind them and it has become the global platform of world knowledge. The current version has over 51 million article entries in over 300 languages. It is an encyclopedia built upon evidence, much of which links to peer reviewed, academic research. If you are an academic reading this, there is a chance that your work has been cited on the platform. If not, and you think your work is notable enough to be included, you have the option to edit any applicable Wikipedia entries to include citations of your research. These citations won’t amount to any changes in your h-index or the impact factor of the hosting journal, but that’s not the point. It will help the public understanding of that topic and will gain possible attention to your research. There is also a chance if you have been cited that the citation links back to a paywalled journal. In that case, it undermines the purpose of Wikipedia’s purpose of delivering free knowledge to the world. So you may wish to edit the citation to also include a link to an Open Access version of the research. As with Reddit, there is a learning curve and netiquette that needs adhering to, so do your research on how to edit Wikipedia before jumping in and upsetting one of the many editors.
Effective research communications do not happen on just one platform but across many. They should form part of a wider communications strategy or campaign. The overall aim is to generate an ongoing visible thread that generates impact and interest in your work. Platforms like The Conversation, Reddit and Wikipedia all have different aims but can potentially produce quick wins. Twitter are the seeds that are used to spread your research, and they will over time gain attention and will attract interested audiences, but if you want to attract new ones you will have to try different methods.
About the Author
Andy Tattersall is an Information Specialist at The School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) and writes, teaches and gives talks about digital academia, technology, scholarly communications, open research, web and information science, apps, altmetrics and social media. In particular, their application for research, teaching, learning, knowledge management and collaboration. Andy received a Senate Award from The University of Sheffield’ for his pioneering work on MOOCs in 2013 and is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Andy was named in Jisc’s Top 10 Social Media Superstars for 2017. He is also Chair for The Library and Information Association - Multi Media and Information Technology Committee. Andy edited a book on Altmetrics for Facet Publishing which is aimed at researchers and librarians.