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Using social media to engage with research end users

In today’s blog, Shonagh McEwan, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Advisor brings us highlights from the recent Knowledge Exchange Learning Lunch on ‘Using Social Media to Engage Research End Users’.

Social media presents many opportunities for academics to engage with users of their research. However, it can be difficult to know where to start. Dr Jen Ross (Co-Director for the Centre for Research in Digital Education, Moray House School of Education) introduced and chaired a panel of three colleagues with social media expertise who shared insights and practical tips.

Don’t be scared of it: just go for it!

Clare de Mowbray, Research Projects Officer in the School of Social and Political Science, has helped researchers and projects reach out to audiences on different social media platforms.  She advised researchers to really think through why they need to, and how they can, use social media in their projects. It is not about using social media to impress people, it is about using it to bring benefit and create change. In that respect, Clare encouraged researchers to go for it, without hesitation or worry.

Using social media takes time, and needs regular interaction, so Clare also encouraged researchers to be smart about how they use it. Picking one or two platforms – such as a blog and Twitter – can be a good start to build positive connections with relevant audiences who can also be future collaborators. Blogging and tweeting can be a powerful way to reach users of your research, as highlighted by Glimer, a research project in SSPS. Glimer has a website, newsletter, blog and twitter account that successfully shared research content with the project’s research users.

Bring your own personality to it and be playful!

Lucy Blackburn, a PhD student in Moray House School of Education and Sport, is a researcher who has indeed just gone for it on social media.  Lucy has a background as a policymaker in the Scottish Government, and this helped her define her audience and message with brevity and clarity. Lucy has used Twitter (@LucyHunterB) effectively as a ‘shop front’ for her research. You have to be concise on Twitter and if you choose, you can also interact with people who disagree with you. To be clear, this is not about engaging with abusive comments or responding to trolls, but having a genuine dialogue with people from different perspectives in constructive ways for your research).  This has helped Lucy learn how to make her case better and communicate with a far wider audience than she would have been able to reach without social media.

Interestingly, Lucy’s approach is to be playful and creative by using graphics on Twitter to link to research findings or arguments. She has tried out different things, and found that certain graphics are very effective in reaching relevant groups of people and organisations linked to her research. Visual tweets are far more likely to get interactions and retweets than text-only tweets, and with free, online packages like Canva and Adobe Spark they are simple to create.

Providing academics with a simple way to blog!

Our final panellist, Lorna Campbell from the University’s Academic Blogging Service, spoke about the University’s centrally supported service to help academics blog. She encouraged us to check out and see what other bloggers at Edinburgh are doing, and how they are doing it.  Lorna emphasised that using this service is simple and that it is maintained by Information Services, which means it is secure and GDPR compliant.

The benefits of academic blogging are:

–          Develops your writing skills

–          Develops reflective practice

–          Curates your professional identity

–          Helps you better connect with peers, locally and internationally

–          Useful way to disseminate your research

–          Brings your research to a wider audience

–          Great way to boost your citations! (Hint: refer to LSE Impact Blog on How to Write a Blogpost from Your Journal Article in Eleven Easy Steps)

–          Increases your exposure and potential impact

–          You can share your blog posts on Twitter and other social media channels to amplify your work and get fruitful conversations going

–          If you use the University’s blogging service, your content can be easily exported if you move to another position outside of the University

So going back to what Clare said at the beginning, don’t be shy – just go for it! Then you will have made that start.


More from this author

Shonagh McEwan

Shonagh McEwan in Knowledge Exchange and Impact Adviser in the KE and Impact Team in the Research Support Office.



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