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How Social Media Can Help Increase Your Citations – Guest Expert Interview with Jennifer Van Alstyne

How Social Media Can Help Increase Your Citations – Guest Expert Interview with Jennifer Van Alstyne

Your paper just got published (congratulations!) and you are unsure how and where to promote it? You are wondering whether social media can increase your paper’s citation count? Read my conversation about the potentials and pitfalls of using social media to promote your research with guest expert Jennifer van Alstyne, who is a communications strategist for academics. 

Hi, Jennifer, who are you and what do you do at The Academic Designer LLC? 

Hi! My name is Jennifer van Alstyne, @HigherEdPR on social media, and I help professors, scientists and researchers manage their online presence. Your online presence is what people find when they’re searching for you online. Some of the things that come up are social media profiles, personal websites, maybe an ORCID or Academia.edu profile, if you have something like that. My job is all about helping people use tools like that to effectively talk about their research online.

Why is it important for scientists to have an online presence — assuming you would say that it is?  

Oh, it is important! Perhaps it’s not necessary for everyone, depending on what your goals are. But for most scientists, for most people reading this, talking about your research online is an effective way to get more citations, and it’s a great way to have more people read and connect with your work. Even if they’re not citing you, just reading your paper might be a good reason to collaborate with you in the future or to talk with you about some kind of shared research interest. 

There are so many platforms that you can use, and you already mentioned a few. We have general social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, we have academic platforms like ResearchGate and Academia.edu, and then you can also have a lab and a personal website. Maintaining an online presence on all these platforms can feel overwhelming! Should scientists who want to have an online presence focus on certain platforms or should they be everywhere? 

I recommend focusing on a couple of platforms. I find when you spread yourself too thin by having profiles everywhere, it can make it really hard to keep them updated, and to make sure that you’re actually engaging with people on those platforms. So, I tend to recommend that most people just have one or two platforms for social media. 

Now, some of the places that you mentioned, the research-based networks are more profile-based. So, there’s not a lot of engagement that’s required. I recommend having multiple profiles, for example, ORCID, ResearchGate, maybe Academia.edu, definitely Google Scholar (Note from Anna: Here’s a recent blog post with suggestions for some powerful Open Science profiles that I recommend.) These you can update once a year, and it’s not going to take too much of your time.

But when it comes to those general social media platforms — the ones that can really become more of a time suck —, I really recommend spending time on just one or two platforms. And the platform that I recommend most for scientists is LinkedIn. And that is especially if you have maybe a little bit less time to spend on social media. LinkedIn is a static profile but you can also use it to connect with people in industry and with other researchers around the world in your specialty. It has a really powerful search, which means that you can find just the people you’re looking for and connect with them. So, LinkedIn is my top recommendation for scientists, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to spend on social media! 

For most scientists, talking about your research online is an effective way to get more citations.

If you’re looking to really reach people, connect with people, and talk with them on a more regular basis, maybe even daily, then Twitter is my top recommendation for scientists. If you want to spend time on social media, Twitter is a great place to engage in conversations. It’s a great place to connect for potential collaborations, and to network with other science communicators and people who are trying to do public outreach with their science and reach more people. 

If you’re younger, maybe in grad school, Instagram is awesome for scientists, but it’s not the best place if you’re not already into visuals or photography. Instagram is great for photos of your research lab or your workspace and sharing more information about what you’re working on, but probably not the best choice for most scientists.

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I can attest to that you really can spend a lot of time on Twitter. It is fun, and it is really amazing to see how much you can connect with people there. There are lots of interesting discussions and it has really increased my awareness for different topics, such as the persisting racism in science. 

Especially in science, I feel that kind of topic is something that can get traction on Twitter. People can see it pretty widely, and especially if it does reference a particular field, or sometimes a particular person. Those conversations can get started really quickly, and really tend to help people to have a voice or a community. 

If you’ve been on Twitter for a while, and you haven’t seen conversations like these, I recommend using Twitter search. You can type in a keyword that’s related to your field or you can search for a hashtag — Twitter search is also really powerful. You’ll pull things up that are recent, but you’ll also pull things up that are quite a bit older. And that doesn’t mean that those conversations and the people who started them aren’t relevant to you. 

That’s a good tip. I think that Twitter is a great place for people who are currently underrepresented in their scientific field. You’ll see that there are many other people out there like you! 

I personally don’t have much experience with LinkedIn, I’ve just dipped into it a little bit recently but it has made a really good impression on me. I remember that when I was a PhD student (I graduated more than 5 years ago), people used to say that LinkedIn isn’t so good for academics and that it’s more a platform for industry. But my perception is that that has changed. Most people I’m connected to are scientists or somehow related to academia. 

Yeah, I think it’s actually been a little bit of a misconception because LinkedIn is a place where a lot of people join when they’re an undergraduate. It’s something that they’re told to do pretty early on in their careers. Now, they don’t necessarily keep their profiles up to date, maybe they’ll go in every few years and update it, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not active on LinkedIn. So, it’s kind of a misnomer that a lot of scientists or a lot of professors are not on LinkedIn. Most of them are, they’re just not necessarily spending a ton of time there. 

LinkedIn is my top recommendation for scientists, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to spend on social media.

It’s a business platform, but it has become more social in the past few years. I think that’s probably the difference that you’re seeing, Anna. It’s more people talking, more people spending a little bit more time there and they’re putting a little more effort into their profiles. And now it feels like there’s more of a community there. 

And for scientists, when it comes to connecting with potential funders, with potential organizations that could collaborate with your research, with government and NGO agencies, this is the best way to do it. It’s much more effective than Twitter and it really means being able to connect with someone in that professional light. It doesn’t mean you have to be totally professional in all of your communications or in all of your posts, but it does mean that people are expecting that if you do message them, it could be about something like that, which is a little bit different than how people tend to approach Twitter.

So, there are lots of things we can do on social media and that also means that we can spend a lot of time there. Especially with Twitter. You can get sucked in following different conversations, different trails. But many of us are becoming more conscious about the time that we’re spending on social media. How do we find balance? 

It’s really easy to spend a lot of time on social media and the engineers that designed the platforms, they did it with that intention. They want us to spend as much time as possible, essentially, so they can get more data on our behavior and how we use and interact with different types of content. 

That being said, there are things that we can do to help limit our time on social media and it starts with asking ourselves, “How much time do we want to spend on social media?”. Are we happy with the amount of time that we are currently spending? And for most people, the answer is no. 

If that’s you, there are apps in your phone that can help limit how much time you spend on your social media apps. That’s one thing that could help. I tend to recommend that if you’re struggling with endless scrolling on your phone, and you’re always checking notifications, honestly, just delete the apps from your phone. You’ll feel so much better, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to check on your phone, you can always log into the mobile version of the site. Deleting the apps from your phone or turning off all of the notifications are a great way to stop yourself from maybe checking so often. 

Or when you find that you’re stuck in that endless scroll, I like to set myself a little limit. I say that if I haven’t responded to a conversation or had a meaningful engagement in the last 10 minutes, it’s time for me to get off. I have that rule for myself and it’s worked very, very well compared to other things. 

For Twitter specifically, though, there’s one little tip that a lot of people don’t talk about, and that is turning off retweets for the people that you follow. It’s very easy to get sucked into conversations that are tertiary, that aren’t even necessarily with people within your network. I tend to turn off retweets for the people who retweet the most, so that the conversations I do want to see don’t get lost in the noise. It’s not that I don’t want to see their retweets, it’s that I want to see what they’re actually saying. I want to see their conversations. That makes a huge difference for me on Twitter.

That’s such a good idea. I didn’t know that you could do that on Twitter! I also really like your 10-minute engagement rule. When we are just scrolling endlessly and not engaging, we are likely not getting out of social media what we came there for. 

A lot of people don’t necessarily know why they want to be on social media, or they may have known when they joined, but they don’t know now. So, if you’re reading this, now’s a great time to ask yourself, why are you on social media? Are you spending the right amount of time there for yourself? 

In my work, I help scientists to write high-impact papers. The writing itself, of course, is a very important part in that process. It will probably require most of the scientist’s or academic’s time to get the paper published in the journal that they want to get published in. But once it’s out there, they want people to see, read and cite the paper. How should an academic go about promoting their paper once it has been published? 

I think that promoting your papers, once they’re published, is great. But the better thing is actually to start promoting your paper before you publish it! Now, I know a lot of you scientists are going to say, “Well, I have proprietary information in my paper.” That’s okay, you don’t have to share that. That is a little bit more specific than what I’m talking about. Letting people on Twitter or on LinkedIn know that you’re writing a paper in a particular field, that it’s something that you’re working on, is a great first step. Because it means that by the time your paper is published, people will come to expect that there’s a paper coming from you. And then when you share that your paper is finally out with the link, they’re going to click it. It’s going to make them way more likely to click it, to read it, and to engage with it in a meaningful way — the kind of meaningful way that leads to citations, that leads to sharing it with other people, that leads to reading the entire paper, not just the abstract. 

I’ve never thought of that! That’s such a good idea to talk about the paper before it is actually been published. To kind of tease it a little bit, or maybe also to start a conversation about the particular thing you’re working on. 

Yeah, there’s actually a lot of things you can talk about naturally, before your paper is published. From the first time you have your idea, to when you actually start writing, when you’re working on your data sets, when you’re starting to edit or to revise. You can also post about it when you’ve decided to submit it. Actually, people love that type of post — it gets really high engagement. If you’re like, “Oh, I’ve just submitted my paper, wish me luck.” Another really popular post is if it gets accepted, or if it gets rejected. Honestly, both of those outcomes will result in a really high engagement post. Sometimes people will suggest another place if your paper has been rejected. So there are all sorts of ways that people can engage with your writing before it’s even published. 

That’s true! I see many people who come on Twitter or LinkedIn, whenever they get a new paper published, and they just put a link to the paper and that’s basically their only promotion. I really like that you say that instead, we can take others on the whole research and writing journey and share every step in the process. I think that is actually the beauty of social media — that we can be more open about everything that is involved in writing and publishing a paper, which is all too often a black box. 

No, it isn’t talked about so much. And I think that Twitter is a great place to engage in those conversations. People are really empathetic. If you have something that was maybe on the negative side to share, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing to share on social media. In fact, you may find that people have gone through the exact same thing you have, and that they’re able to commiserate with you in a way that maybe your friends and family cannot. 

Now’s a great time to ask yourself, why are you on social media?

You’re right, Anna, it’s so much work to write a paper and to get it published. That is the majority of the work. And so I tend to see this kind of promotion as something that you really do for yourself. If you do these small steps to help more people know about it — especially the people you’ve connected with on social media who are likely already in your field —, you can really create long-term connections. 

The next question I have for you is actually one I got in a scientific writing workshop that I facilitated for a research group, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say! One of the participants asked me, “Will promoting my paper online help me increase my citations?”

The short answer is, yes. Anytime you share your paper with more people, it’s more likely to be cited. And there are a lot of studies out there that show that when papers are shared with a large number of people, they do have increased citations almost every time. That being said, a lot of the studies that I’ve read are not analysing their data set correctly. Authors are looking for a direct correlation between how many people viewed a particular tweet, and how many times the paper mentioned in the tweet is cited. But there’s not always such a direct correlation, especially if you don’t have 1000s of followers on Twitter, or you don’t have an account to retweet you that’s going to share it with lots of people in your specific field. Because there are so many decisions between See Tweet and Cite, I’m not sure how you could know that they are related without talking to each person who did cite a study and find out where they first discovered it.

That being said, sharing your paper online does help people engage with it further. It helps people read it, share it and cite it. If you are interested to dive deeper into the topic, I recommend reading these two articles: A research paper by Díaz-Faes et al. and a blog post by Stacy Konkiel on Altmetric.com.

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Thank you, it’s good to keep in mind that the data on the correlation between social media promotions and citations is difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, what are some strategies we can use to increase our chances to get cited when sharing our papers online? 

It’s way too much to ask from people to cite our paper from maybe one tweet. You need to get them a little bit excited about it first. You need to let them know what it’s about. It’s really important to share all of the details from your paper, and to share your paper with audiences that are likely to want to read it, and therefore cite it. 

For most people, that means cultivating an audience on, for example, Twitter or LinkedIn, where you’re connected with other people in your field. If you’re using your Twitter just to connect with family and friends, that’s totally fine. But, there are going to be extra steps you’ll have to take to get your paper out there with the right people. That might be using hashtags. Hashtags are a great way to reach people in your specific field. It could be connecting with a larger account — a person in that field who does have a lot of followers and asking them, “Hey, I have this paper, I’m hoping that you’d be willing to share it.” 

Promoting your papers once they’re published is great. But the better thing is to start promoting your paper before you publish it!

Those are good options if you have small followings on social media and want to get more citations for your paper. But again, the first step for everyone is going to be figuring out where your audience is online and connecting with them. Because when you do share your paper even with a small audience, and it’s the people who are in your field, the people who might read it and cite it, that’s gonna make a huge difference. 

Oh, yes, hashtags are so powerful. I agree with Jennifer that it’s worth it digging into field specific hashtags. To start out, I can recommend to the following more general academic hashtags: #AcademicTwitter, #AcademicChatter, #AcWri, #newPI, #ECRchat, #PhDchat. Follow me or Jennifer on Twitter to see which ones we are frequently using. 

Now let’s talk about what to do on social media when we don’t have a paper to promote right now and we don’t really know what to say. What would you recommend? 

I think that there’s always a time when we’re not exactly sure what we should be posting on social media, especially when it comes to our research and our publications. So, the great news about publications is that you can continue to share them, essentially, forever. There is not a limit on how many times you can share about your new publication. And there’s not a limit in terms of how long after publication you can share it either. If you had a publication that came out a year ago today, let’s do an anniversary post and remind people about that paper! Be sure to include the specific details like the title and what it’s about.

When I ask “What did you do to promote your last paper on social media?”, most people say, “Oh, well, I tweeted it once.” That’s very common. I think that we think of social media as a place to do an announcement. But when it comes to your papers, honestly, do continue to write about them as long as you have ideas to write about. You could write about each kind of specific topic that you cover in the paper, just a short blurb of the abstract, the conclusions, some of the people that you cite in the paper. There’s so many ways to talk about one paper. 

So, I encourage you to try and find more ways to talk about your last publication, if you are in between publications. Again, because you can always start writing about something before it’s published, you can go ahead and start talking about the next research project that you’re working on if you have one. These are great ideas to kind of fill in that in between time when you don’t have a new publication to actually announce.

I think it’s also important to realise that on Twitter the average lifetime of a tweet is one hour, if it doesn’t get retweeted for days and days, right? 

It’s actually not even that. The life of a tweet is 10 minutes. 10 minutes! So, if you don’t get engagement, like profile clicks, or link clicks or likes, within that first 10 minutes, your Twitter algorithm is essentially going to show it to fewer people than if they had clicked on it. So, when you only tweet once about your paper, it’s possible only 20 people are gonna see it. If you tweet about your paper multiple times, definitely more people will see it. So, that’s number one. More people will see it, which is great. 

Sharing about a paper multiple times also makes it more likely for your followers to actually click on it. The first time we see information, we don’t always process it. But the fourth or fifth time we see it, we do. So, the example that I like to share is that I had this one blog post I wrote that people were really excited about. I spent a lot of time on it. But when I shared it, no one engaged! People asked me to write this blog post, and yet it didn’t get engagement!

I believed that people definitely wanted to read it and I just didn’t get the right time. Now, I have shared this one blog post probably 50 times. And it took 19 times for it to blow up! On the 19th time, it was suddenly shared a lot. So you never really know when the tweet that you’re sharing is going to be seen by the right people, at the right time, to actually increase that engagement, to increase the amount of people you can reach. When you apply that to your new publication, you definitely want to share it more than once! 

I also noticed — as I also often share my blog posts on Twitter — that there are certain times of the day that work better than others.

You’re right, I think that especially scientists who are very busy during the week, might not have the chance to check every day. But most people are going to check Twitter on the weekend on one or both of those days. 

There is not a limit on how many times you can share about your new publication

That being said, if you are writing a paper that’s going to be important to lots of people, and not just people in your country,  it’s worth posting at different times of the day. Maybe you do your first few announcements in your timezone. But make sure you’re reaching a wider audience by posting outside of your normal hours.

Yes! Doesn’t Twitter have a native scheduling function for this now?

They do! They added it in the fall of 2020. Now when you compose a tweet, there’s a little button where you can click for more options and it will allow you to schedule your tweet at a future time.

That’s great, I have to try this out! 

To wrap up our conversation, which three things would you recommend someone to do first if they currently don’t have an online presence, either on social media or in terms of a lab or personal website? 

The first thing I think people should do is go through the profiles they already have, and update them. That means looking at your profile photo, making sure it still looks like you. Adding in a cover photo, if you don’t have one, and making sure that each section of your profile is filled out the way that you want it to be. You need to think about your privacy issues, privacy comfortability, and you need to think about the types of things that you want to share on that profile. That’s the first step for everyone because that’s how people decide if they want to connect with you. It’s how people decide if they want to follow you back on Twitter, or accept your connection request on LinkedIn. So, having a filled out profile is number one. 

Number two is introducing yourself on social media. I think that it’s the best way to reach people and start conversations. And it’s a post that a lot of people tend to engage with. That means that a high percentage of the people who see your posts are going to respond in some way, either by liking it or commenting on it. 

Then the third step is to really think about what you want to share. It’s a question that a lot of people don’t really ask themselves when they join social media. A lot of people are like, “I should be on Twitter, let me join Twitter.” But then when they get there, they’re like, “What do I do?” So, I think that you really need to stop and ask yourself, what do you want out of social media? If you just want to generate more citations from your paper, I think that’s fine. But that does mean that your approach to social media is going to be more goal-oriented. You will be talking more about your papers, you will be talking more about your research, and you’ll have to do that on a regular basis to keep people interested. 

If you’re going to have more of a personal account that shares more about your life than just your research, that’s also highly effective. But those two approaches are going to be a little bit different. They’re going to take different amounts of time, and different amounts of attention. So, you need to ask yourself those questions before you really dive in. You don’t want to get stuck in that endless scroll, spending a ton of time on social media, and just not really getting a lot out of it. Ask yourself what you want out of it before you start spending a lot of time there. 

I love that! Thank you so much, Jennifer. If people are curious to find out more about you or want to work with you, how can they get in touch? 

You can connect with me on social media @HigherEdPR. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Instagram, and I’m on LinkedIn. I also have a YouTube channel under my name, Jennifer van Alstyne, where I share live interviews and short video tips. So, definitely subscribe to my channel! And I write every month for the social academic blog. It has advice articles on how to manage your online presence when it comes to social media, personal websites, and more. I love writing for scientists like you, so let me know if there’s something that you want to hear about and I’ll definitely write it.

Sounds great. And how can people work with you?

I love working with scientists one on one to manage their online presence — whether you need social media planning for your lab, or you need a personal website. I also have self-paced courses to learn about social media and websites. I’ve worked with research labs, research centers, and scientists and so I can really help, no matter what your need is, when it comes to your online presence.

I really recommend working with Jennifer, she has a talent for communication! Thank you for spending the time with us and sharing your wisdom around social media and online presence, Jennifer! 

Thanks so much for having me, Anna!


Note: The interview was copy-edited for clarity and concision.


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How Social Media Can Help Increase Your Citations – Guest Expert Interview with Jennifer Van Alstyne

Your paper just got published (congratulations!) and you are unsure how and where to promote it? You are wondering whether social media can increase your paper’s citation count? Read my conversation about the potentials and pitfalls of using social media to promote your research with guest expert Jennifer van Alstyne, who is a communications strategist for academics. 

Hi, Jennifer, who are you and what do you do at The Academic Designer LLC? 

Hi! My name is Jennifer van Alstyne, @HigherEdPR on social media, and I help professors, scientists and researchers manage their online presence. Your online presence is what people find when they’re searching for you online. Some of the things that come up are social media profiles, personal websites, maybe an ORCID or Academia.edu profile, if you have something like that. My job is all about helping people use tools like that to effectively talk about their research online.

Why is it important for scientists to have an online presence — assuming you would say that it is?  

Oh, it is important! Perhaps it’s not necessary for everyone, depending on what your goals are. But for most scientists, for most people reading this, talking about your research online is an effective way to get more citations, and it’s a great way to have more people read and connect with your work. Even if they’re not citing you, just reading your paper might be a good reason to collaborate with you in the future or to talk with you about some kind of shared research interest. 

There are so many platforms that you can use, and you already mentioned a few. We have general social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, we have academic platforms like ResearchGate and Academia.edu, and then you can also have a lab and a personal website. Maintaining an online presence on all these platforms can feel overwhelming! Should scientists who want to have an online presence focus on certain platforms or should they be everywhere? 

I recommend focusing on a couple of platforms. I find when you spread yourself too thin by having profiles everywhere, it can make it really hard to keep them updated, and to make sure that you’re actually engaging with people on those platforms. So, I tend to recommend that most people just have one or two platforms for social media. 

Now, some of the places that you mentioned, the research-based networks are more profile-based. So, there’s not a lot of engagement that’s required. I recommend having multiple profiles, for example, ORCID, ResearchGate, maybe Academia.edu, definitely Google Scholar (Note from Anna: Here’s a recent blog post with suggestions for some powerful Open Science profiles that I recommend.) These you can update once a year, and it’s not going to take too much of your time.

But when it comes to those general social media platforms — the ones that can really become more of a time suck —, I really recommend spending time on just one or two platforms. And the platform that I recommend most for scientists is LinkedIn. And that is especially if you have maybe a little bit less time to spend on social media. LinkedIn is a static profile but you can also use it to connect with people in industry and with other researchers around the world in your specialty. It has a really powerful search, which means that you can find just the people you’re looking for and connect with them. So, LinkedIn is my top recommendation for scientists, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to spend on social media! 

For most scientists, talking about your research online is an effective way to get more citations.

If you’re looking to really reach people, connect with people, and talk with them on a more regular basis, maybe even daily, then Twitter is my top recommendation for scientists. If you want to spend time on social media, Twitter is a great place to engage in conversations. It’s a great place to connect for potential collaborations, and to network with other science communicators and people who are trying to do public outreach with their science and reach more people. 

If you’re younger, maybe in grad school, Instagram is awesome for scientists, but it’s not the best place if you’re not already into visuals or photography. Instagram is great for photos of your research lab or your workspace and sharing more information about what you’re working on, but probably not the best choice for most scientists.

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I can attest to that you really can spend a lot of time on Twitter. It is fun, and it is really amazing to see how much you can connect with people there. There are lots of interesting discussions and it has really increased my awareness for different topics, such as the persisting racism in science. 

Especially in science, I feel that kind of topic is something that can get traction on Twitter. People can see it pretty widely, and especially if it does reference a particular field, or sometimes a particular person. Those conversations can get started really quickly, and really tend to help people to have a voice or a community. 

If you’ve been on Twitter for a while, and you haven’t seen conversations like these, I recommend using Twitter search. You can type in a keyword that’s related to your field or you can search for a hashtag — Twitter search is also really powerful. You’ll pull things up that are recent, but you’ll also pull things up that are quite a bit older. And that doesn’t mean that those conversations and the people who started them aren’t relevant to you. 

That’s a good tip. I think that Twitter is a great place for people who are currently underrepresented in their scientific field. You’ll see that there are many other people out there like you! 

I personally don’t have much experience with LinkedIn, I’ve just dipped into it a little bit recently but it has made a really good impression on me. I remember that when I was a PhD student (I graduated more than 5 years ago), people used to say that LinkedIn isn’t so good for academics and that it’s more a platform for industry. But my perception is that that has changed. Most people I’m connected to are scientists or somehow related to academia. 

Yeah, I think it’s actually been a little bit of a misconception because LinkedIn is a place where a lot of people join when they’re an undergraduate. It’s something that they’re told to do pretty early on in their careers. Now, they don’t necessarily keep their profiles up to date, maybe they’ll go in every few years and update it, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not active on LinkedIn. So, it’s kind of a misnomer that a lot of scientists or a lot of professors are not on LinkedIn. Most of them are, they’re just not necessarily spending a ton of time there. 

LinkedIn is my top recommendation for scientists, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to spend on social media.

It’s a business platform, but it has become more social in the past few years. I think that’s probably the difference that you’re seeing, Anna. It’s more people talking, more people spending a little bit more time there and they’re putting a little more effort into their profiles. And now it feels like there’s more of a community there. 

And for scientists, when it comes to connecting with potential funders, with potential organizations that could collaborate with your research, with government and NGO agencies, this is the best way to do it. It’s much more effective than Twitter and it really means being able to connect with someone in that professional light. It doesn’t mean you have to be totally professional in all of your communications or in all of your posts, but it does mean that people are expecting that if you do message them, it could be about something like that, which is a little bit different than how people tend to approach Twitter.

So, there are lots of things we can do on social media and that also means that we can spend a lot of time there. Especially with Twitter. You can get sucked in following different conversations, different trails. But many of us are becoming more conscious about the time that we’re spending on social media. How do we find balance? 

It’s really easy to spend a lot of time on social media and the engineers that designed the platforms, they did it with that intention. They want us to spend as much time as possible, essentially, so they can get more data on our behavior and how we use and interact with different types of content. 

That being said, there are things that we can do to help limit our time on social media and it starts with asking ourselves, “How much time do we want to spend on social media?”. Are we happy with the amount of time that we are currently spending? And for most people, the answer is no. 

If that’s you, there are apps in your phone that can help limit how much time you spend on your social media apps. That’s one thing that could help. I tend to recommend that if you’re struggling with endless scrolling on your phone, and you’re always checking notifications, honestly, just delete the apps from your phone. You’ll feel so much better, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to check on your phone, you can always log into the mobile version of the site. Deleting the apps from your phone or turning off all of the notifications are a great way to stop yourself from maybe checking so often. 

Or when you find that you’re stuck in that endless scroll, I like to set myself a little limit. I say that if I haven’t responded to a conversation or had a meaningful engagement in the last 10 minutes, it’s time for me to get off. I have that rule for myself and it’s worked very, very well compared to other things. 

For Twitter specifically, though, there’s one little tip that a lot of people don’t talk about, and that is turning off retweets for the people that you follow. It’s very easy to get sucked into conversations that are tertiary, that aren’t even necessarily with people within your network. I tend to turn off retweets for the people who retweet the most, so that the conversations I do want to see don’t get lost in the noise. It’s not that I don’t want to see their retweets, it’s that I want to see what they’re actually saying. I want to see their conversations. That makes a huge difference for me on Twitter.

That’s such a good idea. I didn’t know that you could do that on Twitter! I also really like your 10-minute engagement rule. When we are just scrolling endlessly and not engaging, we are likely not getting out of social media what we came there for. 

A lot of people don’t necessarily know why they want to be on social media, or they may have known when they joined, but they don’t know now. So, if you’re reading this, now’s a great time to ask yourself, why are you on social media? Are you spending the right amount of time there for yourself? 

In my work, I help scientists to write high-impact papers. The writing itself, of course, is a very important part in that process. It will probably require most of the scientist’s or academic’s time to get the paper published in the journal that they want to get published in. But once it’s out there, they want people to see, read and cite the paper. How should an academic go about promoting their paper once it has been published? 

I think that promoting your papers, once they’re published, is great. But the better thing is actually to start promoting your paper before you publish it! Now, I know a lot of you scientists are going to say, “Well, I have proprietary information in my paper.” That’s okay, you don’t have to share that. That is a little bit more specific than what I’m talking about. Letting people on Twitter or on LinkedIn know that you’re writing a paper in a particular field, that it’s something that you’re working on, is a great first step. Because it means that by the time your paper is published, people will come to expect that there’s a paper coming from you. And then when you share that your paper is finally out with the link, they’re going to click it. It’s going to make them way more likely to click it, to read it, and to engage with it in a meaningful way — the kind of meaningful way that leads to citations, that leads to sharing it with other people, that leads to reading the entire paper, not just the abstract. 

I’ve never thought of that! That’s such a good idea to talk about the paper before it is actually been published. To kind of tease it a little bit, or maybe also to start a conversation about the particular thing you’re working on. 

Yeah, there’s actually a lot of things you can talk about naturally, before your paper is published. From the first time you have your idea, to when you actually start writing, when you’re working on your data sets, when you’re starting to edit or to revise. You can also post about it when you’ve decided to submit it. Actually, people love that type of post — it gets really high engagement. If you’re like, “Oh, I’ve just submitted my paper, wish me luck.” Another really popular post is if it gets accepted, or if it gets rejected. Honestly, both of those outcomes will result in a really high engagement post. Sometimes people will suggest another place if your paper has been rejected. So there are all sorts of ways that people can engage with your writing before it’s even published. 

That’s true! I see many people who come on Twitter or LinkedIn, whenever they get a new paper published, and they just put a link to the paper and that’s basically their only promotion. I really like that you say that instead, we can take others on the whole research and writing journey and share every step in the process. I think that is actually the beauty of social media — that we can be more open about everything that is involved in writing and publishing a paper, which is all too often a black box. 

No, it isn’t talked about so much. And I think that Twitter is a great place to engage in those conversations. People are really empathetic. If you have something that was maybe on the negative side to share, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing to share on social media. In fact, you may find that people have gone through the exact same thing you have, and that they’re able to commiserate with you in a way that maybe your friends and family cannot. 

Now’s a great time to ask yourself, why are you on social media?

You’re right, Anna, it’s so much work to write a paper and to get it published. That is the majority of the work. And so I tend to see this kind of promotion as something that you really do for yourself. If you do these small steps to help more people know about it — especially the people you’ve connected with on social media who are likely already in your field —, you can really create long-term connections. 

The next question I have for you is actually one I got in a scientific writing workshop that I facilitated for a research group, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say! One of the participants asked me, “Will promoting my paper online help me increase my citations?”

The short answer is, yes. Anytime you share your paper with more people, it’s more likely to be cited. And there are a lot of studies out there that show that when papers are shared with a large number of people, they do have increased citations almost every time. That being said, a lot of the studies that I’ve read are not analysing their data set correctly. Authors are looking for a direct correlation between how many people viewed a particular tweet, and how many times the paper mentioned in the tweet is cited. But there’s not always such a direct correlation, especially if you don’t have 1000s of followers on Twitter, or you don’t have an account to retweet you that’s going to share it with lots of people in your specific field. Because there are so many decisions between See Tweet and Cite, I’m not sure how you could know that they are related without talking to each person who did cite a study and find out where they first discovered it.

That being said, sharing your paper online does help people engage with it further. It helps people read it, share it and cite it. If you are interested to dive deeper into the topic, I recommend reading these two articles: A research paper by Díaz-Faes et al. and a blog post by Stacy Konkiel on Altmetric.com.

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Thank you, it’s good to keep in mind that the data on the correlation between social media promotions and citations is difficult to obtain. Nevertheless, what are some strategies we can use to increase our chances to get cited when sharing our papers online? 

It’s way too much to ask from people to cite our paper from maybe one tweet. You need to get them a little bit excited about it first. You need to let them know what it’s about. It’s really important to share all of the details from your paper, and to share your paper with audiences that are likely to want to read it, and therefore cite it. 

For most people, that means cultivating an audience on, for example, Twitter or LinkedIn, where you’re connected with other people in your field. If you’re using your Twitter just to connect with family and friends, that’s totally fine. But, there are going to be extra steps you’ll have to take to get your paper out there with the right people. That might be using hashtags. Hashtags are a great way to reach people in your specific field. It could be connecting with a larger account — a person in that field who does have a lot of followers and asking them, “Hey, I have this paper, I’m hoping that you’d be willing to share it.” 

Promoting your papers once they’re published is great. But the better thing is to start promoting your paper before you publish it!

Those are good options if you have small followings on social media and want to get more citations for your paper. But again, the first step for everyone is going to be figuring out where your audience is online and connecting with them. Because when you do share your paper even with a small audience, and it’s the people who are in your field, the people who might read it and cite it, that’s gonna make a huge difference. 

Oh, yes, hashtags are so powerful. I agree with Jennifer that it’s worth it digging into field specific hashtags. To start out, I can recommend to the following more general academic hashtags: #AcademicTwitter, #AcademicChatter, #AcWri, #newPI, #ECRchat, #PhDchat. Follow me or Jennifer on Twitter to see which ones we are frequently using. 

Now let’s talk about what to do on social media when we don’t have a paper to promote right now and we don’t really know what to say. What would you recommend? 

I think that there’s always a time when we’re not exactly sure what we should be posting on social media, especially when it comes to our research and our publications. So, the great news about publications is that you can continue to share them, essentially, forever. There is not a limit on how many times you can share about your new publication. And there’s not a limit in terms of how long after publication you can share it either. If you had a publication that came out a year ago today, let’s do an anniversary post and remind people about that paper! Be sure to include the specific details like the title and what it’s about.

When I ask “What did you do to promote your last paper on social media?”, most people say, “Oh, well, I tweeted it once.” That’s very common. I think that we think of social media as a place to do an announcement. But when it comes to your papers, honestly, do continue to write about them as long as you have ideas to write about. You could write about each kind of specific topic that you cover in the paper, just a short blurb of the abstract, the conclusions, some of the people that you cite in the paper. There’s so many ways to talk about one paper. 

So, I encourage you to try and find more ways to talk about your last publication, if you are in between publications. Again, because you can always start writing about something before it’s published, you can go ahead and start talking about the next research project that you’re working on if you have one. These are great ideas to kind of fill in that in between time when you don’t have a new publication to actually announce.

I think it’s also important to realise that on Twitter the average lifetime of a tweet is one hour, if it doesn’t get retweeted for days and days, right? 

It’s actually not even that. The life of a tweet is 10 minutes. 10 minutes! So, if you don’t get engagement, like profile clicks, or link clicks or likes, within that first 10 minutes, your Twitter algorithm is essentially going to show it to fewer people than if they had clicked on it. So, when you only tweet once about your paper, it’s possible only 20 people are gonna see it. If you tweet about your paper multiple times, definitely more people will see it. So, that’s number one. More people will see it, which is great. 

Sharing about a paper multiple times also makes it more likely for your followers to actually click on it. The first time we see information, we don’t always process it. But the fourth or fifth time we see it, we do. So, the example that I like to share is that I had this one blog post I wrote that people were really excited about. I spent a lot of time on it. But when I shared it, no one engaged! People asked me to write this blog post, and yet it didn’t get engagement!

I believed that people definitely wanted to read it and I just didn’t get the right time. Now, I have shared this one blog post probably 50 times. And it took 19 times for it to blow up! On the 19th time, it was suddenly shared a lot. So you never really know when the tweet that you’re sharing is going to be seen by the right people, at the right time, to actually increase that engagement, to increase the amount of people you can reach. When you apply that to your new publication, you definitely want to share it more than once! 

I also noticed — as I also often share my blog posts on Twitter — that there are certain times of the day that work better than others.

You’re right, I think that especially scientists who are very busy during the week, might not have the chance to check every day. But most people are going to check Twitter on the weekend on one or both of those days. 

There is not a limit on how many times you can share about your new publication

That being said, if you are writing a paper that’s going to be important to lots of people, and not just people in your country,  it’s worth posting at different times of the day. Maybe you do your first few announcements in your timezone. But make sure you’re reaching a wider audience by posting outside of your normal hours.

Yes! Doesn’t Twitter have a native scheduling function for this now?

They do! They added it in the fall of 2020. Now when you compose a tweet, there’s a little button where you can click for more options and it will allow you to schedule your tweet at a future time.

That’s great, I have to try this out! 

To wrap up our conversation, which three things would you recommend someone to do first if they currently don’t have an online presence, either on social media or in terms of a lab or personal website? 

The first thing I think people should do is go through the profiles they already have, and update them. That means looking at your profile photo, making sure it still looks like you. Adding in a cover photo, if you don’t have one, and making sure that each section of your profile is filled out the way that you want it to be. You need to think about your privacy issues, privacy comfortability, and you need to think about the types of things that you want to share on that profile. That’s the first step for everyone because that’s how people decide if they want to connect with you. It’s how people decide if they want to follow you back on Twitter, or accept your connection request on LinkedIn. So, having a filled out profile is number one. 

Number two is introducing yourself on social media. I think that it’s the best way to reach people and start conversations. And it’s a post that a lot of people tend to engage with. That means that a high percentage of the people who see your posts are going to respond in some way, either by liking it or commenting on it. 

Then the third step is to really think about what you want to share. It’s a question that a lot of people don’t really ask themselves when they join social media. A lot of people are like, “I should be on Twitter, let me join Twitter.” But then when they get there, they’re like, “What do I do?” So, I think that you really need to stop and ask yourself, what do you want out of social media? If you just want to generate more citations from your paper, I think that’s fine. But that does mean that your approach to social media is going to be more goal-oriented. You will be talking more about your papers, you will be talking more about your research, and you’ll have to do that on a regular basis to keep people interested. 

If you’re going to have more of a personal account that shares more about your life than just your research, that’s also highly effective. But those two approaches are going to be a little bit different. They’re going to take different amounts of time, and different amounts of attention. So, you need to ask yourself those questions before you really dive in. You don’t want to get stuck in that endless scroll, spending a ton of time on social media, and just not really getting a lot out of it. Ask yourself what you want out of it before you start spending a lot of time there. 

I love that! Thank you so much, Jennifer. If people are curious to find out more about you or want to work with you, how can they get in touch? 

You can connect with me on social media @HigherEdPR. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Instagram, and I’m on LinkedIn. I also have a YouTube channel under my name, Jennifer van Alstyne, where I share live interviews and short video tips. So, definitely subscribe to my channel! And I write every month for the social academic blog. It has advice articles on how to manage your online presence when it comes to social media, personal websites, and more. I love writing for scientists like you, so let me know if there’s something that you want to hear about and I’ll definitely write it.

Sounds great. And how can people work with you?

I love working with scientists one on one to manage their online presence — whether you need social media planning for your lab, or you need a personal website. I also have self-paced courses to learn about social media and websites. I’ve worked with research labs, research centers, and scientists and so I can really help, no matter what your need is, when it comes to your online presence.

I really recommend working with Jennifer, she has a talent for communication! Thank you for spending the time with us and sharing your wisdom around social media and online presence, Jennifer! 

Thanks so much for having me, Anna!


Note: The interview was copy-edited for clarity and concision.


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