“What to post? When to post? For whom?” Optimizing the dispersal of science on social networks

Pilobulus Spores

Pilobulus SporesI met George Ludwig at a wine tasting in Noe Valley last week. He is the founder of 6builder.com, “a content marketing automation suite that drives new customer acquisition via #Twitter.” This site facilitates the process of a company or an individual obtaining followers that share interest in a particular topic. (Target marketing at its finest.)  The question I posed to him is this: can individual scientists gain credibility as a reliable source of information using this tool the way companies gain trust from their followers when marketing their product? I believe that this is an important way to connect with the general public.

So–what, when, and for whom to post?

Social networks are undisputedly tools for dispensing information, be it objective or not. Well, I’m relatively new to Twitter. Call me old fashioned. Maybe Twitter is already a thing of the past, and I am just starting to get on the bandwagon at the last stop. Maybe the way we have been using social networks is an antiquated approach. I propose that researchers who haven’t “updated their status” should consider harnessing social networks to effectively communicate their science and better public engagement of the research as well as the people behind the scenes, the researchers.

What to post?

Followers on Twitter are seeking information; however, it is extremely time consuming to write or review information that is useful and make regular posts. Why not re-post topics that are already addressed well by others to convey your own point of view? There are many subjects that are eloquently described by well-respected experts of the field. It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel to get science out there.

Great, so when do you start?

The next hurdle puts “information” in an economical, somewhat capitalistic, context:  what is the demand for certain information at a given time? George Ludwig made an analogy with a company that is selling, say, motorcycles. You can begin posting things about motorcycles you think are important, but perhaps it is winter and under the grandiose umbrella of the “motorcycle” topic, the word on the street is the subtopic, “rain”. Rain tires are important, but only now, in winter. Even though it is a hot topic in winter, there is less utility to a post about rain tires in mid-summer. Be it on your own, or through a service like George’s 6builder, the key is to determine which topics are of interest to your target audience at a given time. No matter what social network is your favorite, these are still useful aspects to consider.

For whom?

In the end, a social network may just be a useful tool for your own, personal edification. These are your interests after all.

Accomplishing science, on the other hand, requires the cooperation of others. We can’t stay with experiments in our garages, refusing to share our results and interpretations with anyone. Even if you scoff at social networks and see them as a waste of time, a digital garbage disposal, #YourInsultHere, you can follow the bumper sticker that falsely quotes Gandhi and, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” or, at least, in social networking. Social networks are tools of science education only if we work to make them so.

If you’re interested in more information on 6builder:


Your thoughts on the subject of public engagement in scientific literacy are valued. Please feel free to comment.

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