Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On using social media to recruit future talent in ecology and evolutionary biology

We have talked before about the utility of social media like Facebook and blogs to increase public outreach and disseminate your research. This is one main incentive behind this blog, and I am quite convinced it will create a competitive advantage, compared to the strategy of ignoring social media altogether. Today's young generation of students are increasingly using social media to stay in touch with each other, to scan for job opportunities etc., and senior researchers can simply not afford not to use these new means of communications.

Thus, the correct question to ask is not: "Should I really invest the time to learn how to use social media?", but rather: "Can I afford to ignore social media?".

In my own experience, this blog has been extremely succesful in terms of all contacts I have got, including several postdoc requests, journalists who wants to write about our research etc. Now, this general impression of mine seems to be shared by other people in academia than me. In the latest issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution, there is an opinion piece entitled "Recruiting future talent in ecology and evolutionary biology" by Joshua M. Ward. He writes, among other things, the following:

"The rising popularity of dedicated social networking sites for academics, such as, shows their importance. However, if your goal is to inspire students who are new to ecology and evolution, you must look elsewhere. Why are large numbers of university admissions departments using social media platforms? The answer is simple enough; it's where the students are. Facebook updates students on what their friends are interested in and which groups they are fans of. As young people continue to spend an unprecedented amount of time online, using Facebook pages and Twitter can increase awareness and support of your research group by initiating a viral spread of content and name recognition from user to user."


"Investing some time and effort now in presenting your research in a stimulating way can pay off considerably. University research groups and publishers are becoming more confident in the value added by having a strong online strategy. The value of having a presence that extends beyond a predictable website into social-networking sites might not seem obvious at first. However, showing potential students that your research group is at the forefront of developments in public engagement will do wonders for name (and brand) recognition. Ultimately, scientists can no longer rely on the mainstream media or their universities’ mere presence online to ensure continued interest in ecology and evolutionary biology. It is up to us to do the inspiring now."


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  2. This is nice, Erik, but I still want to know you in Alaska is compulsively reading your blog. My current theory is that Tom is living in a cabin in the middle of a big frozen Alaskan swamp, with only internet to occupy his time.

    I think you are right about the value of social media. The first thing undergraduates (and others) do when they are interested in finding research opportunities is turn to google. And if they find your name, they google that to find your web page, blog, facebook page, etc. I would argue that a decent page page representing your lab's work is just as valuable, or even more so, than the social media. But the social media (probably most especially blogs) do matter.

    Good job Erik! I have a vague memory of once telling you I though blogs were a waste of time, but maybe I dreamed it....