The guide was written by the professors of a science communication course at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal. But since its publication in December, it has been picked up by Portuguese-speaking researchers around the world eager to learn more about using social media outlets to promote their work.
Joana Lobo Antunes, a postdoctoral researcher in science communication and one of the guide’s authors, says its popularity suggests a need for better information in Portuguese on discussing and promoting science on social media. “The Portuguese-speaking scientific community produces great research that doesn’t always get the exposure it deserves,” she says.
Lobo Antunes says this need may have previously been overlooked as English is quickly becoming the language of choice for much scientific engagement. “There is a wide literature in English on how to communicate science effectively, but almost none in Portuguese,” she tells SciDev.Net. “Our guide is an attempt to bridge the gap.”
The guide, available for free online, describes the main social networks, from Facebook and Twitter to the less known Pearltrees – a website that aggregates and shares content from other social media sites - suggesting the best ways to use them to reach the public.
“Research is always a collaborative effort, so dialogue within the community is as important as talking to the public.”
Joana Lobo Antunes, author of Redes Sociais para Cientistas
Its creators hope that improving scientists’ ability to engage with non-experts will give Portuguese research greater exposure, while also avoiding misunderstandings during scientific arguments caused by the use of buzzwords and the limited space for text.
Improving social media communication within the scientific community is crucial, says Lobo Antunes. “Social media can’t be used just to transmit information, like a radio,” she says. “It’s a conversational tool. Research is always a collaborative effort, so dialogue within the community is as important as talking to the public.”
Stevens Rehen, a geneticist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, acknowledges it can be tricky to talk science on social media as the use of buzzwords and simplification can mislead the audience. He believes misunderstandings occur because many Portuguese-speaking scientists, in particular in Brazil, do not engage with the public because they are averse to using social media.
The guide could be an important tool for the country’s scientific community, whose small size means there are fewer scientists using online tools to communicate, he says. “Often senior scientists don’t even know how to use social media.”
Rehen thinks that social media can also play a political role. “If scientists engaged more with the public, this would help put science at the core of the political agenda, for example discouraging the government from cutting science spending, as is currently happening in Brazil,” he says.