Reaching out with research

Published 2016-04-15 13:03. Updated 2016-04-15 16:01

Ben Libberton

Summarizing your field of research and expressing your unique ideas in just 140 characters, as Twitter requires, can seem a bit tough. However, Ben Libberton, a postdoc at the Swedish Medical Nanoscience Center at the Department of Neuroscience, seems to have found a way to achieve both.
- They really shouldn’t go well together because the academic world can be quite complicated sometimes and Twitter is not complicated in any way. But somehow it seems to work, says Ben.

Ben Libberton moved to Stockholm and started working at Karolinska Institutet just over two years ago. Most of his research centers around the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. Maybe not the easiest word to search for on Google, but then again, why would you bother to do that? Social media and the academic world are two areas that historically have never been close to one another.

- For me, trying to combine these two worlds started as a big experiment. I started using social media for outreach and Twitter was the obvious choice. Twitter is a platform for public communication and it’s easy to make connections, explains Ben.

The purpose was to promote his research to academic peers and people working with press-related affairs. Ben started to target journalists and sending them tips and links with interesting information regarding his research subject.

- They started to follow me back and I got connected to a few people. Communication is very different today than it was ten years ago. I believe it’s easier to contact people directly if you use the right platform and follow the right etiquette, says Ben.

Engage and interact

Basically, the idea of Twitter is that connections spread the word. Say for instance, you have 40 people following you on Twitter. If you tweet something, the tweet initially spreads to these 40 people who, in turn, may send it to their followers, spinning the tweet to numerous people.

- One way of using Twitter was during a conference in London two months ago. I couldn’t be there myself but I followed it via their hashtag and tweets from other people. Based on this, I wrote a summary of the conference and sent it to some colleagues that were there. Their opinion was that I grasped the conference better than they did!

At another conference that Ben attended in person, his Tweets alone were seen over 40 thousand times, despite there being only a few hundred people in attendance and Ben having just over 100 followers.

- This is the power of Twitter as a communication platform, says Ben.

Not slowing down

For Ben, Twitter and other social media tools like Altmetrics (a service that tracks if your paper gets attention in blogs and mainstream media coverage) and Storify (a social network service that lets the user create stories using social media) has now become an integrated part of the work process. And he is not about to slow down.

- I will continue to carry on using Twitter to build relationships and interact with people. I will keep using it at conferences and events. My next step is to incorporate social media into my presentations, to make them more shareable, states Ben.

Now, Ben wants to see more academics on social media.

- I believe that there is an incentive for academics to take this seriously. If you start now, you have an advantage because there are not so many using it. My guess is that you will have to use social media to draw attention to your research in the future, concludes Ben.

Note: Twitter was founded in March 2006. Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called "tweets". It has 332 million active users worldwide.

Ben’s tips to start with Twitter:

1. Make an account with your real name, it makes it easier to find you and know who you are, especially at conferences.

2. Lurk around Twitter for a while and see what it is about. Follow people and see what they talk about. Notice the level of engagement Tweets get, both in terms of “Likes” and “Retweets”.

3. Find an interesting event with a hashtag and start to follow it. At the same time, make mental notes for yourself regarding your activity and ponder the following: I clicked on something – why did I do that? What was so interesting about it?

4.  Use Twitter to post two types of tweets: interesting and/or entertaining. I usually try to have a theme as well.

5. Start engaging! Start discussions and respond to what people are saying. Interact with people and work out what they want to know more about.