A scientist’s guide to social media

The first article in this series gives scientists useful tips about how to use LinkedIn to advance science, grow professional networks, and get noticed.
01 July 2021
By Emily Power
LinkedIn

Can you summarize your research findings in less than 200 words? Describe your PhD using nothing but emojis? Dance the “Renegade” while reciting your thesis? While these may not seem like make-or-break skills for an optical engineer or laser scientist, you might be surprised at just how much impact social media can have on your work or research. Most frequent users will tell you social media will extend your reach more than simply publishing a paper and crossing your fingers.

In this first segment of our series on social media for scientists and engineers, we start with the most professional platform of the bunch:

LinkedIn logo

With nearly 740 million members, LinkedIn is the largest social media site serving professionals. LinkedIn users are found in 200 countries, which is a good benefit for researchers looking to collaborate across disciplines, institutions, and regions. LinkedIn is also one of the few international social media sites available in China.

Technical lead at Lam Research, Anuja de Silva, says she uses LinkedIn to bolster her network and stay up to date.

"It's the easiest way to keep up with the semiconductor industry, or any professional area. I can build my network, follow industry trends, and leverage the platform to connect with people I haven't yet met but am interested in having in my network."

Just how do you achieve success on LinkedIn as a researcher? Let's dive in.

Set up your profile for success

One way LinkedIn determines if your posts are high-quality—and worthy of showing to more people—is by looking at the profile from which they came. This indicates to the LinkedIn algorithm that you are not a bot, are invested in the platform, and therefore worthy of reaping the benefits of content amplification.

Profile pictures—LinkedIn's research shows that having a clear profile photo makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed by others. Choose a photo of yourself that conveys professionalism, and avoid using one that is outdated. If someone met you at a conference, would they be able to identify you in your profile picture?

You don't need to have a professional headshot to have a great profile picture. Recruit a friend to snap a picture in front of a background that is free of distractions. Bonus points for good natural lighting, which will brighten up your photo without using a filter.

Banner images—LinkedIn has a variety of banner images to choose from, or you can pick something more personal. Maybe an image from a past conference, a photo of the tech in your lab, or one of the many SPIE International Day of Light social media banner images: spie.org/idlsocial

Headline—This is prime real estate. Focus on your research and use buzzwords that people may be searching. A strong headline adds to your credibility and shows up next to your name when you comment on posts in your feed.

Publications and patents—Linking your published works and patents on your LinkedIn profile is great way to show off your work to potential collaborators, future employers, and colleagues.

Connect

LinkedIn is all about making connections. The more relevant connections you have, the broader your reach. The broader your reach, the more people can learn about your research. You may even find people interested in collaborating.

Start simple: connect with coworkers, lab mates, past and current professors, and colleagues from school. After building a strong foundation, branch out. Network and connect at conferences; send a connection invitation to speakers whose presentations you attend. Just be sure to include a personal note:

"Hi [Name]. I saw your talk at Photonics West this week, and was really interested in what you are doing with pulsed lasers. I'd love to follow along with your research. Let's stay connected."

A note should be included on each new connection you send, even if you think that person will remember you. This helps differentiate a quality connection from spam.

Post

Now that you have added connections and optimized your profile, you need to actually post something. This can feel daunting. You are faced with a blank slate, a tiny box asking you: What do you want to talk aout? A good first step is writing posts that discuss your recent or upcoming publications.

  • Do more than simply drop a URL in the text box—add your thoughts. People want to know what they are clicking on before they click. Write a short summary of your work, encouraging people to read the paper to learn more.
  • Use popular technical hashtags. While hashtags can increase your chances of being discovered by people outside your first-degree connections, they also provide a succinct way to describe your post, like #MedicalImaging and #QuantumComputing.
  • If an eye-catching image does not populate when you include the URL, add one! Take a screenshot from the article to show off your favorite figure or chart. Prioritize accessibility by taking a minute to write alternative text that describes the image.
  • Mention relevant parties. Tagging (@) your co-contributors or your department can expand your reach significantly. If others like, share, or comment on your post, it will broadcast to their entire LinkedIn network-creating a LinkedIn snowball effect.


It's not all about you

Do you enjoy meeting up with that friend who only talks about themselves? Probably not. After a while, you may stop seeing them altogether. The same happens on social media. Treat your LinkedIn feed as a conversation. After a post about yourself, share the space with a colleague and share their recent work, or an article about the achievements of another lab in your field.

Comment on people's posts, but make them real—not the quick, robotic LinkedIn autofill suggestions. Ask a question, share an opinion, offer sincere congratulations. The more you comment, share, and engage with the posts of your connections, the more they will be inclined to engage with your posts.

Start small, set goals, and learn from mistakes. Have fun with social media, and find pleasure in the brevity of communication that isn't found in traditional scholarly places.

Advice from those in the know

Linhui Yu, research fellow at Harvard Medical School"I started using LinkedIn during undergrad as an online CV. For many years, I only updated my profile when I looked for new positions or attended conferences. Now, I find it a great way to interact with people I meet in different professional settings. I find many interesting research projects and papers through Twitter and LinkedIn, and sometimes those bring new inspirations. It is a great place to promote my research and connect with researchers outside my field."

-Linhui Yu, research fellow at Harvard Medical School

Aydogan Ozcan, Chancellor’s Professor at UCLA"Think of it like compound interest. Even a small, initial gain in the number of researchers and scholars that your research reaches in the early days of publication can, in the long run, make a significant difference.

I find that sharing our research progress through LinkedIn helps our team in other impactful ways, too. It creates new opportunities for collaboration and assists with recruitment of team members to our lab."

-Aydogan Ozcan, Chancellor's Professor at UCLA

Katie Chong, optical engineer for Baraja"I can't post too much about my work [online] because I'm in the private sector, so I tend to steer away from original technical posts, but I have been trying to build a personal brand to show my attitude and work ethic."

-Katie Chong, optical engineer for Baraja

Next up in the series: Twitter.

Emily Power is the social media manager for SPIE.

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