How to Select A Social Media Channel

I’m a huge advocate for academic researchers to be active participants on social media. To me that means three things:

  1. Having an account.
  2. Interacting with people on that channel.
  3. Posting content related to your research interests.

If you are just starting out – i.e. you have not quite got to step 1 – this blog is for you. It is also for you if you have an account on one service and are thinking about adding another.

Although you can still have an awesome academic career in the absence of social media, that is increasingly becoming the exception, rather than the rule. Especially as national quality assurance exercises – such as the ERA (Australia) and REF (UK) – measure impact. Not to mention the various international university ranking schemes that also take into account international reputation and collaboration with industry.

Q1. Do you have an account you could use now? No – skip to Q2. Yes – read below.

Before selecting a channel, it is worth noting if you are already on social media. Do you have a Facebook account? Did you join LinkedIn ages ago, but have not logged in since? Did you sign up to Twitter and keep your profile pic as “the egg”? If you already have a social media account, I’d consider using that one. Especially if you are familiar with that platform and have some activity and followers.

If you have an old account on any platform, use the password restore/rescue function to get access (if you’ve forgotten or lost your password). And just see what things are like. Do you have a lit of connections already? Remember, it is easier to start with something than with nothing. And if you’ve got an old LinkedIn account, it is much easier to re-active it, than create a new account and thus have people confused between the old and new you.

If you are on Facebook – and are relatively active from a non-work or non-research perspective – then there’s a slightly different problem to consider. That being, do I dilute my personal content with work content? That is a personal question to answer. However, you could create a second account that is [your name] The Researcher or some other extended version; or even a “company page” that is you the researcher.

Sticking with your existing (Facebook) account will make the learning easier, but you’ll have to be open to connecting with strangers or people you’d only want to interact with in a work/research context.

As a researcher – How do you select

what social media platform to be on?

Base it on who you’d like to engage with.

Q2. Who do you want to engage on social media?

Academics = Twitter

If you want to engage other academics; academics that you only know through their publications – then twitter is the platform for you (assuming the people you want to connect with are there). Of all the social networks, it has a very high academic uptake. And depending on who and what you read, its use increases article download and citation count. Many students and ECRs report their interactions with senior researchers are far better on twitter than via email. There are great #hashtags to follow such as #phdchat, #ecrchat and #academicchatter. As well as specific tags for research topics and techniques.

               Industry = LinkedIn

Potential industry partners are more likely to hang out on LinkedIn. Business are accustomed to using LinkedIn to find collaborators. Being active there will help you find industry partners. Even better, you might have no idea what you might collaborate on, but those who need your services will find you. Of course, you’ll need to be active. Post content. Interact with other people’s content. But you’ll find industry on LinkedIn

General public = Facebook for words; Instagram for pictures

Perhaps your research needs participants or the end user is the general public – then Instagram or Facebook will be better for you. There are, within Facebook, dedicated groups. They focus on all manner of content – research, people with specific diseases or experiences, living in a specific area – pretty much anything you can think of. Joining relevant groups and making a contribution other members value would be a very good use of Facebook for your research. Instagram will need lots of visual content. It is harder to have groups (they operate more like twitter, congregated around #hashtags). And conversations take place within individual posts. But if you have good visual content, or if you are good at visual composition, then Instagram is the one to choose.

You could stop here. Having decided on target audience and implement on the relevant channel. But if you’re still undecided – read on.

Q3. What type of content do you prefer?

Video = LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok

If you have and/or like videos LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are the channels to focus on. Now, I’ve added to channels I rarely talk about – YouTube, and TikTok. Most people know what YouTube is. And if you need convincing of its value, know that it is the most watched video streaming service. And – other than via Instagram – you can share the videos everywhere with just the YouTube link. TikTok is a relatively new social media platform, focused on videos. Currently the userbase is small, videos are entertaining rather than educational or informative, and the demographic is under 15 – 25 year old. The other three channels – LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram – prefer native video. That is, video created within the app, or shared directly through the app rather than a reshare of a link (and in the case of Instagram, you cannot share a video link).

Pretty pictures = Instagram

If you can compose a pretty picture or a story through a series of pictures, then using Instagram is the place for you to be. Although all channels allow sharing of images, Instagram is the only place where they are front, and centre. Furthermore, the images are presented in the format you post them in. Yes, Instagram limits image size, but once you post the image, it is exactly what you post. Not like LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, where images are cropped when the post is in your feed and doesn’t fit the preview proportions.

Written = LinkedIn*

LinkedIn is the answer, but the asterisk is to indicate that it is length dependent. However, regardless I am talking about written content that is not full of jargon or language that only experts understand. Micro (220 characters) then twitter is for you. Short (2,200 characters) then Instagram is good too. But LinkedIn can take both of those lengths, and longer. As well as with or without pictures or videos.

Hopefully this helps. If not, let me know. But remember, in all cases I’m talking about creating and sharing original content. Not a cut and paste of research work or the abstract.


Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He, in collaboration with Jane Anderson, has built the only LinkedIn program for research translation. He has taken that approach and delivers high quality practical advice to the education, research and government sectors in the use of social media for academic and career progress. He is driven by the challenge of helping researchers make use of practical tools for greater impact. He knows social media and how make it work for research.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).