3 ways researchers can use social media to increase engagement and impact

Social media has such potential to enhance out capacity for research impact. The ability to reach millions of people, all over the world, who are already interested in our research topic is so exciting- but how do you do it without it taking up aaaaallllll of your time?

I've prioritised the use of social media for raising awareness about our projects, and participant recruitment. Below I give an overview of some of the strategies that we have been using in our 3DProject, Embrace, and Body Confident Mums projects, and some advice I’ve picked up along the way from social media, marketing, and blogging experts.

Raising Awareness About Your Research

Publicity. It’s something you might have avoided until now, but it’s amazing for enhancing the potential of your research project. When we received the funds for the 3D Project, the media team at my university suggested sending out a media release- and I was all “but we don’t have the findings yet”, but it ended up being a great strategic start to research engagement for the project. I made sure that I set up a quick basic landing page with email signup (more on that here), and social media accounts for the project, before working with the media team on the release- a piece about the prevalence of male body image issues, and the need for intervention programs like the one we had just been funded to develop and test (you know the first few paragraphs of your grant application? Use them!). The piece ended up being picked up by the Herald Sun and a few radio stations (they always need content!), but here’s the thing… 14 people signed up to the email list on the project website. Now that doesn’t sound like many, and it isn’t in the context of the huge email lists that online businesses have, but those 14 people turned out to be excellent champions for the topic, and the research, in their communities, and they really wanted to help. When we got to recruitment stage, we enlisted the help of those people, and when we get to dissemination, we will go back to them again.

So, I will definitely be using the landing page strategy again, but I’ve also learned a few things since then. Most of all, it’s really important that you tell people what they will be getting if they sign up to your page, and make it sound exciting (ie not ‘sign up for updates’). Make the call out really clear and have a few different landing pages or lists if you want to attract different people. For example, if you want to disseminate professional development resources to personal trainers, try ‘Sign up to be the first to receive these cutting-edge training tips’... Now I'd give my email address away for that!


I am so guilty of putting out a recruitment post with all the hope in the world, and then… crickets! Here’s the thing. Real people, and busy people, don’t really want to participate in research. We (or our ethics committees) make it look really boring and complex to sign up, and there’s not often a reward. Here’s a few different strategies to try if you really want to up your recruitment:

1) Approach an existing community: We needed around 200 women to complete a questionnaire for our Embrace study. When we put it out on our personal Facebook pages we got around 50 participants. When we asked the Body Image Movement to schedule one call-for-participants type post on their Facebook and Instagram, we were inundated with 2000 respondents in 2 weeks and had to cut off data collection as we had too much data (open ended questions whyyyy did I include you??!!). This worked because it was a really engaged and passionate community of women that were in the group. No, it’s not really generalizable (Reviewer 2, I see you), but it got us a lot of data that we would otherwise not have had, that we’ve been able to do some really interesting analyses with.

Here's the thing- most social media works off algorithms, and those who are posting more often get their posts seen more often. So if you set up a group, and post quite infrequently, then put out a recruitment call, most people might not even see it. Influencers and social media experts spend allll the time posting and building up a following- if we post through them we are more likely to get our post seen. Spend some time looking at the types of groups that exist in your area, and start developing a relationship with the administrators of that group (just PM or DM them) so you're all ready the next time you need to collect data.

2) Make it more appealing: As researcher’s we seem to take data for our own needs without thinking about what the experience could actually give back to the participant. I made an off-hand comment about developing a measure of parental role modelling of body image to a PR professional and she got so excited: “you mean that I could answer some questions and you could tell me how well I am doing with that”. Yes Margie, I can! What if, for cross sectional studies, we asked participants to do our survey, but also gave them feedback on how they scored? I’m yet to try this, but it will definitely be my next move… It might take a bit more time to develop some cut-offs and some generic text about scores into qualtrics, and the ethics committee will probably want referrals in there, but I think it can be done! When I spoke to the manager of a large social media group she said “please don’t just ask people to fill in your survey- let’s do something much more interesting than that”. So if you need big numbers, why not try combining these tips- reach out to an existing social media community, and ask what they think you could do to engage their followers in your research… They might just have some great ideas!

I’d love to see more detail about how researchers use social media- in journal articles, and in general. If you have a story about how you have used this effectively, send it to me! I would love to feature it on Well Researched website.

Check out my well researched how-to guide for more ...

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Dr Zali Yager is a researcher in the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, with current projects aiming to enhance body image in mums, and in adolescent boys. Zali is also the Founder of Well Researched. You can find Zali on Twitter, LinkedIn and instagram, and contact her on contactwellresearched@gmail.com for consulting and speaking opportunities.

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