Building a Credible Science Voice Through Social Media

By C&EN Media Group

Social media is revolutionizing the way we communicate, along with the way we learn. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit and more, have created thriving communities that bring together science aficionados for the intellectual exchange of the latest breaking science news.

Reddit’s r/science community has 9.2 million followers and counting. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has rallied over 4.2 million followers on Twitter, while some 4.8 million Instagram users view NASA’s intergalactic photos. On Facebook, one science-focused page has amassed 21.9 million followers.

Unfortunately, social media can be a double-edged sword. We want to get our message across, but it’s hard to gain trust amidst the sea of marketing and promotions taking place online. It’s even more difficult for direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical companies, whose participation is often restricted by the FDA. While those regulations are set to change, companies currently have to disclose drug benefits and risks in the body of a post. Try working that into a 140-character tweet.

Even for B2B science companies, it’s difficult to strike a balance between technicality and accessibility. You want to appeal to a large market share, but why should anybody believe your generic, laymen’s statements? Becoming an authoritative, educational voice on social media can sometimes seem as tough as the science itself.

How do you build social media credibility to make a positive impact? As marketers, we are charged with the important task of disseminating credible science on behalf of the company’s brand and ultimately shaping the audiences’ perception. It’s an ongoing challenge, but start with these top tips.

Establishing Credibility

Credibility is critical to the success of scientists and science marketers alike. But how often do we stop to consider what it means to be credible? There are two key traits you need to exemplify:

1) Expertise

2) Trustworthiness

Expertise boils down to showing your company’s mastery of the craft. The best way to create a successful campaign – no matter what platform you use – is to maximize the scientific experts at your disposal. It’s a feed-forward cycle: Presenting your scientists as subject matter experts will establish them as thought-leaders, increasing their clout even more. Your audience will soon consider your people and your brand as industry leading.

Trustworthiness, on the other hand, requires instilling a sense of confidence and dependability in the information you provide. It is built by establishing your credentials, then demonstrating your expertise time and again. However, it is important to remember that earning trust requires a balance of quantity AND quality of content provided. Over-sharing, or appearing too promotional or biased, will negatively impact your trust score.

Leveraging Social Media

Now that we’ve established what it means to be credible, how can you maximize social media to build your authority? Here are a few tips to consider, which also follow existing guidelines for social media in the life science space:

• Listen and engage: All social media platforms allow you to interact with the audience. Take advantage of this two-way line of communication to speak with your audience – not at them. Regular engagement is also a good way to show transparency. Remember, trust is much easier to establish once a personal connection has been made.

• Build a network outside of your company: Create a halo effect by associating yourself with other experts in the field. Start off by following the accounts of key thought leaders and sharing their content. This positions you as part of that community, and your willingness to share other people’s news shows you cater to your audience’s needs – beyond servicing your own.

• Maximize your experts: The interactive nature of Twitter and Reddit make them great social media channels for linking your audience and experts. Reddit has a Q&A format that allows scientists to discuss their research and answer questions, expanding the reach of your message. Twitter can also be utilized for Q&A or community chats, though the character limit may make it difficult to discuss technical topics. Research other companies like yours who are hosting these chats – that’s often the easiest way to see what’s possible.

• Think before you share: We’ve all been sold on a breaking story, only to find it was an Internet hoax. Carefully review external content that you intend to share and analyze it for accuracy and credibility. Run technical explanations past your science experts to ensure content accuracy.

• Avoid hype: Whether or not you’re familiar with the term click-bait, you’ve no doubt encountered it. It’s the headline that hypes up a story, often by withholding information; “This 12 year old lit his tennis ball on fire. You’ll never guess what happened next!” It may get traffic to a post or page, but it’s a cheap tactic that ruins all respectability. Take a cue from the research world and be conservative with your claims, emphasizing the need for further investigation.

• Avoid political messaging: Your audience is seeking expertise and opinions in your technical field. For the most part, political messaging will only ostracize sections of your audience so tread very carefully.

Science communication is rapidly changing as social media channels unite experts and non-experts daily, to share the latest advances and their love for the field. As science marketers, we have a unique opportunity – and responsibility – to promote the dissemination of credible scientific content. Be conscious of what you are posting and integrate into existing science communities. Finally, communicate with your audience; no one wants a chemistry lecture!

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