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Social media tips and tools for scientists

Researchers discussing ideas for social media use in academia. Photo by Clara Howcroft.
Researchers discussing ideas for social media use in academia. Photo by Clara Howcroft.

Should scientists use social media for work purposes? What types of content can researchers put online and how can they make it reach even further? How to engage students via Twitter? How do you manage information overload?

These were some of the topics and questions we addressed in our workshop ‘Linking research and teaching with social media’. In this post, like in the session, I am covering the research aspect, whereas Dr Jeremy Pritchard talked about uses of social media for teaching.I have made my slides available online and the presentation is embedded at the end of this post, so I won’t go into details about it.  It addresses basic questions such as how to find interesting people to follow and make sure that people find you, or what to be aware of when using social media. It also explains the mysterious ‘hashtag’ and describes the different tools available to bring your science online, from blogging to audio, video or Facebook pages. The presentations were followed by a group discussion and here are additional links to resources not mentioned in the talks

If you are running a meeting or a lecture, projecting all tweets that have been posted under your specific hashtag on a screen is a great way to engage participants. There are free websites available to do this. Two examples are ‘Visible Tweets‘ and ‘Twitterfall‘. Just enter your hashtag into the field and maximise the browser window to full screen display.

It is possible to schedule tweets or Facebook updates.  This is useful if you for example want to plug your latest blog post or conference information. This way you can space updates out over a period of time and also post at different times to reach users in other timezones. When is the best time to post in order to reach many users?  Softwares like ‘Hootsuite and ‘Buffer‘ analyse online activity of your followers and advise you when to schedule your posts.  Buffer also comes with a browser extension which even adds a ‘buffer  re-tweet- button to your Twitter timeline. This means that instead of annoying people with blocks of tweets, you can add them to your ‘buffer’ and it will automatically release them at the times you specified.

We also discussed how short videos can be incredibly engaging and ‘sticky’ in peoples’ minds. Alun Anderson showed us a his newly released video in which he talks about his old friend – a tree.

Sarah Blackford showed us the out-takes of a video shoot for Fascination of Plants Day, produced by the ‘Laboratory of Plant Physiology and Biophysics‘. What are the characteristics of the modern plant scientist? You’ll have to watch to find out!

Of course, everyone who has watched our ‘Vacuole Song’ will know the concept of a ‘sticky video’.

On this note I would like to thank all participants for contributing to our session, and the AoB Blog for sponsoring the post-session drinks!


Below you’ll find my slides. I have also uploaded my hand-outs  ‘Social Media Tools‘ and ‘Discussion Prompts  to help approaching a scientific social media presence slightly more strategically.

Anne Osterrieder

Anne Osterrieder is a Lecturer in Biology and Science Communication at Oxford Brookes University, UK. A plant cell biologist, she loves the Golgi apparatus, lasers and cats. She has her own blog at Plant Cell Biology.

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