Reflections on a social media workshop that was part of the Society for Experimental Biology Centenary Conference 2023.
The use and availability of social media platforms are constantly changing, as the recent launch of Threads by Meta Platforms and our own server on Mastodon – biologists.social – nicely exemplify. For years, Twitter has been the go-to platform for biologists to share and discuss recent scientific advances, but this may well change. Regardless of what may – or may not – happen, a refresher on the different ways to use social media to engage with other scientists (and the public) seemed timely.
At the recent SEB Centenary Conference in Edinburgh (UK), Isabel Mendoza (Global Plant Council), Geraint Parry (Global Plant Council & Association of Applied Biologists) and Mary Williams (American Society of Plant Biology) teamed up to provide a workshop with exactly this in mind. They named it: “Science and Social Media. Are they really compatible? Developing Effective Science Communication Strategies”.
To start things off, Isabel Mendoza showed us (= the participants) some user statistics in order to rank the available social media platforms. This re-affirmed the notion that the platforms we often use as biologists don’t necessarily have the widest reach. Why not use Pinterest, for example, which may actually be a very efficient platform to reach new audiences?
When reaching out to new (and existing!) audiences, thinking about their needs is crucial. How can you make sure that you communicate in a way that is inclusive? The workshop organisers had plenty of examples – such as the lack of ALT-text, or wrong use of hashtags/emojis – that quickly make things inaccessible to people with marginalized identities. Even with all the right intentions…
The topic of inclusivity was actually discussed in the context of a larger movement that drives a cultural change in the plant sciences, known as the ROOT & SHOOT project. This 5-year project, combining the expertise of seven plant science organisations, aims to “remove barriers for individuals historically excluded from science based on gender, gender identity, disability status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or race”. The title of the project refers to the goals to “Root Out Oppression Together and SHare Our Outcomes Transparently” (ROOT & SHOOT). A wonderful initiative that will hopefully be followed by many others within and outside the biological community.
There wasn’t just one take-away message from this SEB workshop. Rather, there were many different things to consider. One particular consideration that struck a chord with the participants was this: if you’re still on the fence about using social media as a scientist, there is never an ideal time to join – so why not just dive in straight away? One of the workshop participants took this advice to heart and created her Twitter profile on the spot – that’s the spirit! 💪
For more detailed information about (part of) this workshop, take a look at this page created by Mary Williams: https://rootandshoot.org/how-can-social-media-to-build-a-more-inclusive-scientific-community/