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Recap: Science and social media webinar with Samantha Yammine

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Eric Fisher. In this post Eric outlines the highlights of our recent Science and Social Media webinar with Samantha Yammine.
Dr. Eric Fisher.

In January, E4D, together with Samantha Yammine, hosted a webinar about communicating science on social media. Sam shared a ton of awesome tips with us and we are excited to share with those who were unable to attend.

Science has a “trust” problem, but social media provides new ways to engage people directly, build trust, and effect change. Depending on your field, you will have unique goals for using social media. Regardless of your niche, Sam showed us that there are strategies, tactics and tools we can all use in our efforts to bring science and society closer together.

If you’re not already familiar with Sam, check out her Instagram or Twitter profile!

Sam’s talk had a great mix of high-level science communication (#scicomm!) concepts, actionable advice, and technical tips. There were three major themes: (1) defining your goals and strategy for using social media platforms, (2) Twitter tips and (3) Instagram content.

This post serves to provide a snapshot of Sam’s great webinar. Let’s dive in.

I’m a scientist! Why and how should I use social media?

Science’s “lack of trust” problem is in part because it is often inaccessible. But, we can use social media to foster more trust. How? Tell science stories. Share pictures. Engage in conversations with new people. Grow our networks.

That said, use it however you like. There aren’t many rules but there are subcultures, lingos, and features that present new users with a with learning curve to climb. Social media can be daunting. It’s a complex landscape with a lot going on. Not to worry! There are also great communities out there, with exciting conversations happening, waiting for you to join in.

With respect to harnessing social media to communicate about science, it helps to have focus. Ask yourself, who is your audience? What is your goal? You can have both a primary and secondary audience.

Sam shared some of her own core #scicomm values, which influence how she presents herself on social media, and help her stay in tune with her goals:

  • No hype.
  • Share basic and fundamental science.
  • Share the process of science.
  • Be respectful and transparent, not condescending.
  • Be engaging, fun, and friendly.

Twitter versus Instagram

Sam gave us a breakdown of the difference between Twitter and Instagram. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference but here are some things to keep in mind:

Twitter – Fewer characters per post (280), 500 million Tweets every day, 328 million monthly active users.

Instagram – More characters per post (2200), 95 million posts every day, 700 million monthly active users.

The professional/working world is on Twitter and Instagram has a younger audience. The platform you use/how you use it will likely depend on your audience and Sam reminded us to always do things with purpose online!


First, some general Twitter tips, and then we’ll explore specific features.

Engage with other people. As the ancient wisdom goes “retweet, like, and reply to others’ posts as you would have them do unto yours”. Reciprocity is essential for building great relationships (and it puts the social in social media).

Always have a pinned tweet. This is a great way to showcase an upcoming event, an article, or something key you want everyone to see when they visit your profile.

Post at the right times. The “answer” to this depends on who and where your audience is.

Try phrasing tweets in different ways to see what works best with your audience. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Enable Twitter Analytics. It’s fun and helpful to know which of your tweets are really clicking with people. Seeing this data goes hand in hand with experimenting with what and when you tweet.

Making conferences more social

This is another exciting way to broaden your #scicomm. Using Twitter and Instagram makes conferences more accessible. Tip: tweet using the conference #hashtag well ahead of the conference and pin it to your profile. This way, you will connect with more people after you get there. Note – be mindful of whether conference content is proprietary or confidential, ahead of sharing it online.

Tweet threads

Twitter now has a much-improved thread-making tool. You can draft a long string of tweets before sending any out, and then tweet them all at once. People are using this to tell stories and report on things that take (gasp!) more than 280 characters to talk about (Insert comment about “in my day, all we needed was 140 characters!”).

To use the thread-maker, simply draft your first tweet, then tap the + sign beside the Tweet button. Voila, now you can add one after the other. I used it for summarizing this webinar.

Using @’s and #’s effectively (and sparingly)

Of course you want several people to see your tweet and (hopefully) reply or retweet it. BUT… instead of mentioning a @whole @bunch @of @people @like @this in the text of a tweet, you can now tag people IN pictures. This frees up the text of your tweet to just show your message.

#Too #many #hashtags #makes #things #hard #to #read. Outside of events and specific causes, you don’t really need to use hashtags. Twitter searches for “genomics” will still display your tweet whether you say “#genomics” or “genomics”. Posts with more than a 2-3 hashtags also tend to have lower engagement.


Now for some rapid-fire Instagram tips for making the most of your posts:

  • A great post comes from combining a good picture AND an engaging caption.
  • Use the “square picture” option.
  • People like people! Include your face when possible.
  • Two faces has been shown to be better than one (in terms of creating an engaging post).
  • Try quotivational posts. There are free apps (such as Canva) that allow you to add text onto background pictures, or do it right in Instagram.
  • Brainstorm posts on relevant, timely topics.
  • In your caption, include a question or call to action.
  • And then, make a Story right away to direct people to your new post and maximize who sees it!

Instagram # ≠ # on Twitter

Hashtags work differently on Instagram and Twitter. On instagram, they are more important for helping people see your post. Try mixing popular hashtags with niche, obscure hashtags relating to your post content.

Do some homework. What style of post does your target audience already love? Do you see any common themes or styles you could adapt for your own posts?

Same as with Twitter – be sure to engage on great content posted by others. Tit for tat! Collaborate, cross-post, try for organic interaction with other communicators whose content you love.

What if I hit mental or scientific roadblocks?

Maintaining a social media presence can be hard! There were a couple of great questions after the talk:

Q: What if my research article isn’t “interesting”?

A. There is something interesting about EVERY article. What excites you about it? How can you make that relatable? Excitement is contagious and naturally engaging.

Q. How to stay motivated (especially if your science is not going well)?

A. Go back to basics. Remember why you’re online, what your goal is. Don’t be afraid to show your struggles, vulnerability. We’re all human! Also, Sam says she prepares extra content that can be used later when things aren’t going so well! Or, on bad days, she’ll sit down and spend time editing pictures to be used later rather than posting while she’s feeling stuck.

Underused techniques

Sam shared several ways to engage that are underused by scientists:

Live video (options include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc)
Explain your paper! Or something else topical
Do some interactive myth-busting
Science vlogging (Instagram Stories are a version of this)
Doing more international mentorship online

Keep it real

“Make it part of people’s regular day to see science” was my favourite quote from Sam. Give an update from your day. Be authentic and honest. Be real. Be grateful. Thank people for their sharing and engagement. Write as if you are talking to your best friend, or mom. Better yet, ask them what they think!

What’s the moral of this story? Have fun, be yourself, remember your goals, experiment/take risks, and treat others well.

To quote myself from Twitter: “Whew! The end. Hope you find this as helpful and inspirational as I did. Thanks for reading!”

Dr. Eric Fisher is a scientist and entrepreneur. Eric earned his PhD at Dalhousie University, where he investigated how liver cells produce and destroy “bad cholesterol” particles. Eric then founded a startup called Labfundr, Canada’s first crowdfunding platform for science. Eric lives in Halifax with his wife and dog, both of whom are smarter than him. Find him on Twitter @EricF1sher.

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