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Using social media: an overview

There's no doubt, social media channels have become a vibrant part of the communications mix, even in academia. According to analysis by (opens in a new window)Rival IQ, the Higher Education sector is among the top three most dominant voices across all major platforms, and number one on Twitter and Instagram for engagement per post.

Smart Insights' (opens in a new window)social media research found that, by 2021, some 82% of internet users browse online sources and social media for news content, with 56% using social media specifically for news. By comparison, 64% of overall media consumers look to traditional broadcast media for their news and only 24% turn to print media. Moreover, all media research has observed a monumental increase in online and digital content consumption since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Choose your channel

There are many social media channels to choose from, so think about the audiences you're trying to reach and the impact you're trying to achieve. Find out which platforms your most important audiences use, and focus on those. For instance, Twitter is a great place for sharing news, information and analysis with other academics, interested stakeholders and the public. See our guidance on how to find your audience and drive engagement on that platform. Facebook, by contrast, is a place where groups with shared interests build community spaces for longer-term engagement on specific topics, while LinkedIn offers similar spaces, and is focused on connecting with alumni and industry.

Don't forget, each social media platform has a different demographic landscape. Don't waste time trying to reach a younger crowd on Facebook, where you'll mostly encounter their parents. Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are all extremely popular with younger demographics, and while we don't explore the latter on this website, you can get an idea of what the channel has to offer by visiting the (opens in a new window)MyUCD TikTok account.

Using an engaged research approach can greatly increase your reach on these platforms. By working collaboratively with the community impacted by your research, your research network naturally increases beyond the academic sphere, and your community partners will be able to help you identify the social media channels most commonly used by non-academic audiences interested in your research topic.

In this section, see our tips and advice on how to make the most of the main platforms. For the complete novice, see the dedicated "getting started" guides for each of them below.    

What and when to post

You should also consider which types of content are most effective on your chosen social media platforms, as each one has different benefits in terms of content sharing. For instance, images and embedded video attract a lot of engagement on Twitter and LinkedIn, but longer posts and articles perform better on LinkedIn than on other platforms. See our guidance on creating multimedia resources, including articles and blogs, for support with producing your content. Here's an example of a top research tweeter, @ParkinsonsUK, using Twitter media to share an infographic:

  • Remember the tone and permanence of voice on social media. If you intend to use a Twitter or Facebook account to represent your research, then think carefully about how personal you're willing to be. While it's OK to post about non-work-related things, and many would advise you to use light and accessible language, it's ultimately up to you to work out your comfort levels on these channels. The least risky option is make sure that the tone of your content is consistent and remains a reflection of your work and not you personally.
  • Don't post for the sake of it  plan ahead. Schedule weekly or monthly social media activity to promote the most relevant outcomes or outputs of your research so that you make time to prepare.
  • Prepare! You have something worth talking about, so draft your posts with care, curate materials for sharing, find the users you want to tag, and seek out hashtags that will improve the reach of your post.
  • Finally, see our guidance on mitigating risk online, including how to deal with negativity and create positive engagement on any social media channel or interactive online space.

Additional resources

Below you will find some additional materials to help you use social media and create content for your platforms of choice. This includes links to UCD-owned and online image resources, "getting started" guides for each of the major social media channels, calendars of "awareness days" with official hashtags for social media, and a framework for good science communication from the (opens in a new window)Quest Science Communication Project.

Helpfully, most social media platforms have created special guides for the total novice. If you are completely new to the whole business, follow the steps in these guides to get set up on your social media channel(s) of choice:

Using a hashtag in your social media posts increases their visibility and makes it easier for your intended audience to find your content. Many research topics now have their own #day or #week (e.g. (opens in a new window)#WorldDiabetesDay(opens in a new window)#BiodiversityDay(opens in a new window)#SpaceWeek) so attaching your research posts to a relevant established Twitter day and/or hashtag gives them an instant advantage. Find relevant hashtags in the following calendars.

While increasing following and engagement is important, your over-arching goal should always be high-quality, credible research communication. The diagram below, from the (opens in a new window)Quest Science Communication Project, provides indicators of quality for any research-related post on social media.

Need a communications plan for your research project?

The Research Services Portal includes resources for creating a communications and dissemination strategy for your research project, helping you to engage stakeholders, drive research impact, and raise the profile of your research. See the Local and Central Supports sections for communications contacts across the university.

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