Why science outreach using social media is hard
If you have ever been involved with science outreach using social media, probably you have been through some of the situations I will mention in this post. And if you are thinking about joining it, this post will have helpful information about what you will probably face. If you have never been involved with science outreach or plan to do it but want to know about the difficulties scientists have when showing science to the world: this post will make you think about how hard it can be.
So, I made a list of the most relevant things I have been through since 2017 when I started to do science outreach using social media.
- Consistency & time: social media only recommend you to people if you have consistency. If you want to grow in the platforms, you must interact with other people, post consistently, and dedicate time. If you are a scientist, you already have lots of stuff to do, as research, teaching etc. So it's tough to have this commitment of posting every week on YouTube, for example. You have to write a script, record the video, edit, make the thumbnail and SEO, and post. It is tough, and you must dedicate time. You will not reach lots of people if you don't have consistency.
- Money: you have to invest your own money to do decent work depending on social media. If you have a YouTube channel, you need a camera and a microphone at least. If you want to be fancier, you must think about lighting and background etc. Only "giant" YouTube communicators can earn money communicating science. In general, if you will do science outreach, you will have to pay for it. Here in Nottingham, we are paid to do science outreach, but this is not the case for most universities in Brazil.
- Hate: you have to deal with rude people on the internet. The internet is made of people, and people can be coarse. The internet has the disadvantage that you can hide behind a profile. You can create a fake profile and insult people, and possibly they will never know your true identity. Even people with real profiles sometimes can be rude. Depending on the case, you can be threatened without any reason. If you have thousands of followers, the situation can be awful. You have to deal with hundreds of people insulting you and making up fake information about you. Sometimes these people don't want to have a conversation and discuss the topic, they just want to be hostile, and you have to learn how to deal with them.
- Absence of human contact and expressions: when you are in "real life", you can see the facial and body expressions while someone is saying something. On the internet, this is not necessarily possible, for example, on Twitter. You can write a tweet laughing, but some people could think you were angry typing that tweet. This lack of human contact can make things harder to be interpreted.
- Adapt to different social media: different social media have different "posting styles", and you have to learn what works better for each. On Instagram, people post more pictures, while on Twitter, more text. It takes time to learn what works better in each and adapt yourself to different target audiences.
- Language: this is related to the previous topic but can be more complex. Suppose you have a specific target audience and use a particular language, but your post gets viral. In that case, you will reach different people, and people can misinterpret you or criticise you without even knowing your work or target audience. This is something interesting on the internet: things can get crazy. This leads us to the next topic...
- It is hard to "grow" / luck: it can be hard to grow on social media doing science outreach. In general, people on the internet are not looking for science, so scientific content has to "compete" with much other stuff that is more "interesting" to people, like sports or gossip. You have to be persistent, and this has been a work for many years. On the other hand, on the internet, things can get crazy and random. A person can post something that gets viral, giving this person colossal attention. Many influencers today got viral in the past because of memes and random posts. I'm not saying luck is everything you need because social media needs consistency to recommend you. Still, if you get viral, this can be really good for you.
- Science outreach is underestimated by academia: unfortunately, this can be true. The so-called "Carl Sagan effect" hypothesises that if you are famous among people, you are a worse scientist than the others. This is not necessarily true. Some people in academia don't see how vital science outreach is for society and say it's a waste of time. It's common to hear that science outreach professors want "attention" or "show up". For me, this is absurd. Many scientists want to show people how beautiful science is and seek a society with critical thinking. It's frustrating to do such a hard job and invest a lot of time to make the world a better place, to people make up fake things about you. Academia has to change in this sense. Also, it has to value more outreach projects and work, not only research. Of course, research is essential, but in the academic environment, science outreach is underrated. If your job is only measured by your research, doing science outreach is swimming upstream.
Do you agree with these topics? What do you think? Leave your comment here, and see you all soon!