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The Benefits of Supplementing Science with Social Media

By Derek Hennen

With this year’s round of ESA Branch meetings beginning in just a few weeks, now is a good time to think about how to make the most of them. What are some good ways to keep in touch with new contacts made at these meetings, and how can you follow through on planned collaborations you’re bound to talk about?

Derek Hennen

One of the best ways, perhaps, is to take advantage of social media.

The Entomological Society of America’s 2014 National Meeting last November showcased a strong social-media presence, from both the organization itself and its members. Twitter handles popped up on nametags, posters, and slideshows, and tweets themselves were displayed on screens spread throughout the conference center. There were also many opportunities to examine social media use through a scientific lens during the conference, especially during four symposia dealing with social media that were organized for the conference. They dealt with science outreach, comics and culture, science education and communication, and using social media as a scientist.

I, along with Morgan Jackson, organized the symposium on using social media as a scientist, during which we heard presentations about the use of social media to spread public-health information, projects to monitor the spread of native and invasive species, how to involve the public in science, and what social media means for taxonomy’s future. Each of the presentations discussed how to harness social media as a platform for education and meaningful communication and how to apply it to your own scientific projects. Social media can be a powerful tool for science, whether you’re a graduate student looking to meet others in your field, an academic or professional searching for collaborators, or an educator interested in connecting scientific research to the public.

Networking is an especially powerful use of social media. It’s an easy way to keep up with collaborators and form new connections, which are later strengthened at meetings and other gatherings. ESA sponsored a Tweetup for entomologists at the November meeting, where many of us were able to meet in person for the first time — sometimes after “knowing” each other for years! It was a great time to discuss ideas and challenges, and is an encouraging example of a professional society embracing new technology and supporting it for the benefit of its members.

So what’s the best way to get started with social media? Jump in! Make an account and loiter for a while. Follow other people and observe how they use Twitter, Facebook, etc. The Next Gen Scientist has a great list of people to follow on Twitter, as well as good outreach pages on Facebook, Reddit, and other sites as well. Social media has opened up many new avenues for scientists, with multiple ways to apply it to various disciplines and benefit from it.

Derek Hennen is a graduate student at the University of Arkansas who studies the endemic arthropods of Arkansas. Follow him on Twitter at @derekhennen

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