During my five month sabbatical, I was mentored by social media entrepreneur. During these months, I’ve observed almost all of his social media interactions, critiqued as many of his social media posts as possible, and read the interactions written by his adoring fans. In a little over a year, I have grown my Twitter followers from 250 to almost 2500 people. Of course, this is a long way from his 110,000 Twitter followers and his 120,000 Facebook followers, but I am slowly but surely on my way to becoming a public intellectual like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson!
As a professor, I never thought about engaging extensively with people outside of the academy, especially virtually. My primary method for disseminating information to date has been in journals or at disciplinary conferences. This means that my research findings are most likely to reach those who possess Ph.D.s or have access to the wealth of knowledge found in college classrooms and libraries.
Although I love adding to the body of knowledge in my field and being a professor in the academy, I realized almost a year ago that I was overlooking a group of people who I might never meet on my college campus (i.e., people who live in remote areas or those who have no interest conversing with a Ph.D. holder, a professor, or an engineer). To accomplish my research dissemination and STEM advocacy goals, I decided to step up my social media game. These efforts have resulted in new opportunities and in my connection to communities that I might never find in my Indiana community.
Photo by Tom Eversley via themuse.com
Below are some of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned about social media. Although I can’t guarantee that these tips will garner you a verified Twitter account (look it up!), I can guarantee that these tips are some of the best ones that you will get for free.
(1) Make people want to be you or do what you do.
Yes, this sounds vain and absolutely terrible, but it works. People often want what they don’t have, and they love to live vicariously through others (think self-efficacy theory). If you don’t believe me, look at the number of people watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Many people sit on the edges of their seats measuring how similar or how different their lives are to those who are labeled celebrities.
Where we get this wrong in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields is that we present bland facts to the public, or we don’t present anything at all. Remember, a picture of a beaker by itself isn’t sexy, so please don’t put one up when you talk about your research. Also, don’t display a picture of yourself looking tired and crazy. Yes, STEM fields can be difficult, and yes, you may have been working in your lab for 20 hours, BUT we don’t have to look as if we’ve been tortured in our social media posts. Present your most appealing and intriguing self to others, and watch what happens!
(2) Create relatable content.
Although professionals can post links to their research articles or can post pictures at conferences, every post does not have to be professional. Consider starting a blog that presents more than one dimension of your life. If you are married, this might be a picture of you and your partner. If you enjoy outdoor activities, tweet a photo of you before your next half-marathon. Express language about how you are feeling or about your vulnerabilities at that moment (e.g., being nervous or excited). Regardless of how you present this personal content, post something that shows that you are a living, breathing human who experiences positive (and sometimes) negative emotions.