Impact

IMpact_from_research

Toolkit for using social media and websites for impact

Impact can occur when research is used outside academia. The first step to this can be to raise awareness of your research both with other researchers and potential external stakeholders. The Library and the Social Sciences Partnership, Impact and Knowledge exchange (SSPIKE) team have created a short guide to sharing your research.

Having your research accessible to the widest possible audience is important. A website or use of social media is not in itself impact but it can improve the likelihood of impact if you know what you want to achieve.

Social media can:

  • lead to greater awareness of your research
  • build networks and connect with new audiences
  • enable you to follow and contribute to discussions and public debate
  • provide new information to academic and non-academic audiences and gain feedback
  • be used with your other public engagement activities
Strategy

As with other types of engagement, effective use of social media takes time. You can determine which platforms would be most effective by considering the four questions below.

1. What real world impacts do you want to achieve via social media?

Impact is the demonstrable change, influence or benefit of research outside academia. This can include changes in understanding, attitude and behaviour. Think about what could happen if other researchers, practitioners or the public engage with your research through websites or social media. What would this look like offline?

2. Who are you trying to reach, what are they interested in and what platforms are they on?

Consider who will have the most interest in your research and who can do something with it. Think about age group, occupation, location and interests when you are planning which platform to use. Will the country they are in or how they work have an effect on when they are online? Can you find common interests and engage these users through existing sites?  

3. How can you make your content actionable, shareable and rewarding for those who interact with you, so you can start building relationships and move the conversation from social media to real life?

You should try to select key messages that you can use to engage your audience. The content are you sharing should be produced with your audience in mind. Not everyone will have time to read a full journal article and different platforms are suited to different types of content. Some material may be able to be used on multiple platforms. What is the best way to share your research to allow others to share it online or use it offline? How will your audience be able to engage with your research?

4. Who can you work with to make your use of social media more efficient and effective?

Websites and social media can increase the reach of your engagement but only if people know it's there. How can your online activity be more visible? Are there collaborators, societies or professional bodies that would be interested in sharing links to your research or website?  You can search using hashtags to find groups who are already interested in your research area. 

Website

A project website can be a great way to present the background, progress and findings of your research. Websites can allow you to use different types of communication methods, articles, videos, animations and blogs to engage others with your research. A well maintained website will help people find your research via a search engine.

Think about who your key audiences are and the types of website they would normally use. You can take tips from those websites to enhance engagement with your project.  

Plan your website's content to meet the interests of your audience. Remember web users are impatient so keep your paragraphs short and have your content in a logical order. Always write your content for your audience, not for yourself. If it is aimed at a lay audience, make sure you don't use scientific language, jargon or acronyms without explaining what they mean.

You could include a means of contacting you or leaving feedback on the website. A project email address would be sufficient.

Simple websites can be created using CMS, Wordpress or Google Sites. CiCS has a website top tips guide.

Twitter

Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 280-character messages called 'tweets'.  Twitter terms glossary

How to use Twitter effectively

Create the Twitter profile for your project early on

  • The Twitter handle you want may already be in use so think creatively about a handle and bio that will engage users.

Appear active before you start following people

  • If you are quite new to Twitter, spend your first week or so sending regular tweets out. People may be unlikely to follow you if you are someone who appears not to tweet.
  • If you are not sure what to tweet - share what you have been reading or viewing. It will help engage users with common interests.

Build your audience tactically

  • Think about who you want to engage with.
  • Plan who you follow - Twitter is quite reciprocal so if you follow someone they may follow you back.
  • Monitor hashtags related to your research as a means of getting involved in conversations.
  • Promote your Twitter profile on presentations, in your email signature, on your website etc. People can only engage if they know you are out there.

Tweet regularly about your research

  • You need to have a regular presence to enhance engagement from others.
  • Use hashtags to make your research more visible.
  • Think about when the users you want to engage will be on Twitter.
  • Tweet from events; many conferences and events have hashtags which may engage more followers or build offline collaborations.
  • Engagement is a two-way thing so retweet your followers to build a relationship. Retweeting will demonstrate common interests.
  • Provide links to blogs and articles.

Get involved with as many conversations as possible with fellow academics and people interested in your research.

  • Provide feedback on tweets and answer questions that other people have asked.

Corporate Communications have created a detailed guidance on using Twitter.

Blogs

Blogs are short online postings (normally 500-800 words) where you can present some initial findings or connect your research to some current news or social development where your expertise might provide fresh insights.

Blogs are a great way of communicating your research to a broad, non-specialist audience. Used well, blogs can help build a relationship with stakeholders and/or the wider public, and potentially influence thinking and debates.

Writing blogs

  • As with other social media if you are going to blog focus your writing style for your audience. Blogs tend to be informal.
  • You should post regularly even if the posts are short. 
  • Each blog should focus on one topic, and you should categorise your topics to allow them to be searchable.
  • Always link relevant blog posts to your website.

Anyone can set up their own blog, using sites such as Medium or via WordPress.

Other social media

You can also use platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud to connect with external audiences. On these platforms, you can use videos, animations, images and podcasts to communicate your research in addition to short posts.

Facebook is the largest social network and allows 'friends' to post updates and content through profiles.

Instagram is a platform for sharing images and videos. Instagram users are predominately under 35 years old.

Soundcloud can be used to share podcasts of your research. These can be easily shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Corporate Communications has created detailed guidance on using these social media platforms.

Videos/animations

Videos and animations can be a great way to provide complex background information about your research in an accessible way.

Professional videos and animations can be expensive, approximately £1000/minute and £2000/minute respectively. There is free software to make videos but think about your audience and what level of production value you may need to engage them.

Videos and animations should be about 2 minutes long as that tends to be the maximum viewing time for audiences on social media. It is better to have more short topic focused videos than one single long video.

Plan the content with your audience in mind - story-boarding is a useful way of making the most of your 2 minutes.

ScHARR has created a number of animations, Research Hacks, explaining different online platforms, including making animations using free software. 

Podcasts

Podcasts can enable you to share longer voice recordings about your research. Podcasts are normally up to 30 minutes long.

Plan a script around your topic, considering the interests of your audience. Invite others in your group to take part. More interesting podcasts have multiple voices on them. Be enthusiatic and engaging and make sure the recording is clear.  

Equipment

You should use good quality audio visual equipment. CiCS has a guide to selecting the right equipment.

Measuring activity

The attention around your online activity isn't automatically impact. However, there are indicators that you can measure to help demonstrate how the engagement with your research contributed to impact.

Before you start, consider what it was that you had originally wanted to achieve by sharing your research online.  This may have developed or changed due to your interactions.

Things that you could measure to help demonstrate the impacts are:

  • Geographic reach or demographics
  • Numbers of reactions, retweets or likes
  • Comments/feedback
  • Link clicks or downloads
  • If the call to action was to visit another page, the number of people who followed the link to view the content
  • Video views
  • Shares
  • New followers

The University provides access to many analytic programs which automatically measure many of these indicators: 

Altmetrics tracks the online activity of the research outputs that you have put on myPublications. While citations can take years to build up, Altmetric begins tracking engagement with an output as soon as it's published, giving you almost immediate feedback on how it's being shared and discussed long before any citation data becomes available. You can view your Altmetric information by clicking the Altmetric doughnut by your output in myPublications. Find more information on the Altmetrics webpage.

Google Analytics tracks your webpages. It can provide data such as the number of people visiting the site, which country they are in and which links are clicked most often on a particular page. If your webpages are on the University's Content Management System (CMS) you can access Google Analytics through CiCS.

Twitter analytics tracks impression from your tweets. It shows your top tweets, numbers of retweets, link clicks and your most influential followers. You can find the reach of individual tweets by selecting one and then clicking on the graph icon or get a monthly report by going to Twitter analytics and selecting the tweets tab.  For more information visit the Twitter analytics blog.

Facebook analytics record the activity from a page you have created. It shows number of likes, content views, comments and whether the page was accessed via another website. To get an overview of your page activity from the last 7 or 28 days select the insights tab at the top of the page.  To get more detailed data on likes, reach and engagement select the relevant tabs. There is detailed guidance from Razor Social on Facebook insights

Corporate Communications have created details guidance on measuring and monitoring online activity.

Support

If you are looking to develop your use of social media as part of research impact activity, the social media team in Corporate Communications can work with you on understanding the best tools for your needs and how to use them effectively and efficiently.

For more information on the guidance and training available for using social media, contact socialmedia@sheffield.ac.uk.