Research communication has grown and progressed to move beyond traditional communication channels and platforms such as e-mail correspondence and conferences to now include social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and scholarly social media platforms such as ResearchGate and Academia.edu. Researchers around the globe are using social media in a professional context but far from all. Those who are active on social media use these tools to network, find journal articles, share research outputs and more. At Linköping University Library (LiU Library) we believe social media has the potential to impact research in a number of key ways. With the help of social media, researchers can share their published research with a wider audience than before and receive much faster response to their research compared to when using traditional communication channels.
Research is often publicly funded and by connecting with the general public, explaining research in a non-scientific language can ultimately lead to new knowledge that is both comprehensible and useful for the community. Another key reason for researchers to get involved with social media is because funding agencies, especially in the UK and the US, have started to look at outreach activities when distributing money. We decided to conduct a study to find out about the awareness of social media amongst researchers at Linköping University (LiU).
Our findings showed that the majority of researchers at LiU did not use social media professionally. Social media was seen as both time consuming and too difficult to learn. We identified a couple of researchers who were active on social media platforms. During our informal interviews with them they reported several benefits with social media, including the opportunity to find journal articles, get in touch with other researchers and monitor their research field. Some concerns were however raised towards how to deal with their professional identity while using social media, i.e. being too personal in a professional context. To avoid potential pitfalls some of the researchers we interviewed used different accounts for private and professional use.
When first starting to use social media the researchers we interviewed were not strategic when choosing which platforms to use, which target group they wanted to address or which tone of voice they should use (depending on whom they were speaking to). In our experience; if researchers are being more strategic with their research communication, the more effective their communication becomes and the more they are set to gain by using social media.
Librarians supporting researchers
Supporting researchers with bibliometric analyses and publication strategy has been practiced by academic libraries for many years. Due to the fact that social media has risen to become a new possible communication tool for researchers, newcomers may need support or guidance to learn how to use these tools in a professional context and to help to achieve the best outcome.
Just like research communication has progressed, so has the role of the academic librarian. Nowadays many academic libraries use social media to interact with patrons and research departments, developing new skills on how to communicate via social media. At LiU Library we are firm believers that librarians should support researchers in their use of social media. Librarians can help time-pressed researchers with choosing communication channels, create a social media strategy and learn how to curate an online presence. Researchers tend to not be fully aware of which support they can get from their library and which competences librarians possess. It is important that librarians to a larger extent communicate their skills towards the research departments in order to attract more attention and potential collaboration partners.
To raise awareness on using social media professionally, LiU Library together with the Communications and Marketing Division and the ICT studio (Information and Communication Technologies), decided to organize seminars with focus on new ways of publishing including social media usage for research communication. We also created a web-based information package on using social media. The information package, which we call Social media and networks for researchers, includes three sections: Monitoring and distribution; Social networks for researchers and Good examples. In Good examples we link to a couple of researchers´ (Swedish and other nationalities) profile pages, who use social media in a professional context.
Our experience shows that supporting researchers on using social media serves as a great opportunity for libraries to expand their research support and to meet researchers in their own environment helping them with research communication. By having library staff collaborating with research communicators and other departments at the university, all parties can benefit from each other's skills, creating a win-win situation, especially for the research departments. Finally, it is important that academic librarians are keen, in order to quickly adapt to changes in research communication and social media.
The full article Librarians as Advocates of Social Media for Researchers: A Social Media Project Initiated by Linköping University Library, Sweden is available at Taylor & Francis: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13614533.2016.1184693
The authors will be presenting their findings at Maynooth University Library (Ireland) on 20th October. The event is free to attend and tickets can be found here. https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/academic-librarians-communicating-in-the-21st-century-seminar-tickets-27597660345
About the authors:
Sassa Persson is a librarian at Sundsvall Public Library, formerly employee of Linköping University Library. Most of her duties deals with web and social media.
Maria Svenningsson is a librarian who has been working at Linköping University Library since 2006. Most of her duties deals with electronic resources, research support and issues with copyright and plagiarism.