3.1.b. Using social media to communicate research

Version 0.15 October 2012 (working draft)

Intended audience:  Scientists, information professionals, technical developers, marketing and communication professionals

While conventional methods for sharing data, information and knowledge, such as conferences, seminars, journal articles and reports, and now institutional repositories, are an important part of the communication of research and development, the way people source information has been changing. Social media has been growing in importance and steadily breaking down barriers to communication, allowing people to connect, engage and share in a more informal way. Agricultural research and development organizations can now leverage the power and popularity of social media to give their research outputs more mileage. This Pathway introduces social media and how you can use it to improve the communication of your research outputs. 

What do you need to know?

Social media includes tools such as blogs, wikis and podcasts, and services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, Youtube and Flickr.  

The following definition is given by Wikipedia. “Social media is online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. Social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content; it supports the human need for social interaction with technology, transforming broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many). It supports the democratization of knowledge and information, transforming people from content consumers into content producers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal, political and business use.” 

Why you should consider social media

The way people source information is evolving. They can now seek out recommendations and suggestions from their colleagues, peers and experts. Because information overload is now a major concern for everyone, people may not want to spend time visiting a website, blog, database or any other resource unless someone they trust points them in that direction. 

The way that research and development organizations communicate is changing in a similar way. Pushing information out to your target audience does not guarantee that it will be read and used. Information is useful only when it is received by the right person, who is looking at the right time. Using social media tools as vehicles helps to get your messages to the right people.  

The true value of social media lies in its ability to form communities organically. These communities, or social networks as they are called, come together because of common interests or a shared purpose. It is an environment based on trust that facilitates effective collaboration and sharing. Social networks exist online within social media applications or tools. They have the potential to make your research outputs much more accessible. Compatibility among different social media tools provides an added dimension of connectivity so that social networks can be inter-linked, creating an audience base that grows exponentially.  

Social media allows you to publish any type of information (articles, video, pictures, soundbyte, etc) easily, and at a low cost, while still potentially reaching a wide public.

Use social media to boost your communication strategy. It can be used to:

Increase visibility

  • Create awareness by raising the profile of your organization on social networking sites. Cultivate long term support for your organization by creating your own network of scientists, research partners and interested individuals.
  • Use social media tools to promote your projects, events and activities. Announce time-sensitive, newsworthy items by microblogging. Microblogging involves posting short sentences (max 140 characters) that can be used to promote your journal article or a useful website, act as a reminder for an activity, or even ask questions.
  • Promote your organisation’s or project’s name. Use social media to establish your reputation in the research and development arena. Blogging is a good way for researchers to share their research ideas with others and gain feedback from a wider, online audience. Well-thought-out blogs attract people with similar thoughts and queries, people who can validate your ideas and also challenge you by sharing varying opinions.  

Engage people

  • Promote issues that resonate with people to encourage involvement and gather support for your cause.
  • Form strategic alliances with influential people and institutions that help boost your organization’s profile.
  • Bring together expertise and talent, whether potential research partners, service providers or other experts.
  • There are many ways you can engage with others using social networking sites

Share knowledge

  • Social media transcends geographic boundaries. Test your research ideas by sharing them with your colleagues globally. You can collaborate at a fraction of the time and cost associated with face-to-face meetings (http://ictkm.wordpress.com/2009/05/29/wikis-sites-docs-and-pads-the-many...). Collaborative sharing sites also come with security options that allow secure knowledge sharing.
  • Create an environment where people recognize your expertise, and establish your organization as the expert in your field of research. Whether you are a researcher who is new to a field and eager to learn more, or the resident expert, share your knowledge and experiences by contributing to insightful blogs.  

What do you need to do?

  • Consider your communication goals when you incorporate social media into your strategy
  • Decide on whether you want to increase visibility for your organization, share knowledge or engage people.
  • Choose the right social media tool(s) for your organization based on the target audience, research content and technology available.
  • Start small. Many social media tools are relatively low-cost to implement in your organization
  • Experiment with a low-risk pilot project.
  • Use short timeframes, anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
  • What do you want to share/communicate?
  • Share your photographs and videos online. Place useful slides online so others can learn from them. 
  • Communicate your research outputs better by adjusting your content to fit different social media tools. Think of social media as strategic communication lines that branch outward to several different networks, which in turn branch into other networks.
  • Reach out to interested people outside your regular circle and gain valuable ideas/feedback from your pool of social networks. Pay attention to conversations that are already ongoing on social media sites. Sharing is a two-way process, and you should take the time to interact with others in a similar fashion.
  • Share resources within interested communities. Social Bookmarks and Newsfeeds are great online organization tools that keep track of what’s being published on useful websites and blogs you frequent. Share this with others, and see the favour being returned.  
  • Evaluate your progress with pre-determined goals and measure its success.
  • If a social media tool does not work for your organization, it is wise to let go and start again with a different, more suitable tool. 

Examples and Case studies

The following are successful examples of using social media to communicate research:


  • Web2forDev. Social media learning and sharing experience in the context of development work.
  • ShareFair. Knowledge sharing fair involving FAO, IFAD, CGIAR and other research and development partners.
  • Knowledge Sharing Toolkit. Social media tools in the research and development context.
  • ICT-KM Social Media Blog series. Blogs on using social media tools in research and development organizations.
  •  Blog Tips. On blogging and social media for non-profits.