Kristen Barnes knows a lot about using social media to boost a younger generation’s engagement with science. A Senior Marketing and Communications Officer with the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney, she recently shared this knowledge with representatives of Inspiring Australia’s Regional Science Hubs.
In her day-to-day role, Kristen develops content for the Faculty of Science’s various websites, e-newsletters and social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
With a deft understanding of tone and audience, she acts as a translator, breaking down difficult science concepts and making them engaging for a general public. A significant proportion of Kristen’s audience are young adults and students.
Here’s Kristen’s take on how a scientist can use social media to engage a young, general public audience.
You’ve done all the hard work. In most situations, you’ve spent months or even years dedicated to your research and other science projects – but it’s that last 5% push that will determine how widespread your content travels.
Take one academic for example: Peter Godfrey-Smith. Peter studied the behaviours of octopus’ – a fairly niche topic, but his work was shared 438 times on the University of Sydney’s Facebook page alone and this is because it was packaged together in the right way. It also resulted in mainstream media picking up this content. This shows how owned media can become earned media.
Who uses social media?
The most prolific social media users are young adults, so we need to understand this audience before we can adapt content for them. Young adults – or millennials as everyone seems to be calling them these days – include anyone that’s aged between 18 and 35.
Compared to other generations, millennials don’t have one icon that represents and defines them. They consider themselves very unique. Despite this, they do have plenty of commonalities when it comes to technology, media consumption and social channels.
I’ve been to numerous conferences about this generation because at the University of Sydney it’s crucial we understand them. After all, young adults are our target audience. To us, millennials represent current students and prospective students. We therefore need to communicate with them daily about news, events, research and of course about the bottom line – our degrees.
Marketing to millennials
Did you know cool is dead and smart is the new cool?
Young people want to be informed about the world and the products and services they use and buy. This is great news for science! In this climate, where knowledge is power, science content marketing is important. This awareness can help us understand how science and research can shape the way young people form opinions.
Despite knowledge being key however, millennials are considered ‘a mile long but an inch deep’. They know a little bit about a lot of topics. So, this is something else we need to consider when publishing research stories. Millennials are not content experts, so we need to keep it general.
When communicating to this group, it’s important to also be authentic. Young people can see through gimmicks. Scientists have this part in the bag because they are leading the research, they are the source of truth, so they have huge credibility.
FONK – fear of not knowing
Have you heard of FOMO – the fear of missing out? Well, now there’s a new kid on the block and it’s FONK – the fear of not knowing.
Today’s youth are a generation of people who want to stay well informed. Whether it’s about Game of Thrones, what the Kardashians are up to, or world news, research and technology. A young person would suffer anxiety if a conversation came up that they weren’t across.
Competition is everywhere you look
In the social media world, you’re not just competing with other researchers or science platforms, you are up against everything that comes up in someone’s social feed. Think brands, other news platforms and friends.
So you need to keep thinking about how you are going to get the audience to stop scrolling and pay attention.
Millennials are also obsessed with the concept of having a ‘personal brand’. They take hours filtering and curating the perfect content for their personal Instagram accounts.
For this reason, you need to consider how someone might identify with your research. Try to play into this by creating shareable, ‘cool’ content.
Social media: why is it so important?
If you want to get the word out, you need to take your message to where the audience is.
As of November 2018, there were:
- over 2 billion Facebook users worldwide
- 800 million people on Instagram
- 330 million on Twitter
- 178 million daily snapchat users.
On average, young adults have 35 apps on their phone. They spend 80% of their time on 6 of them – which are mostly social.
The best part about social is that you can hyper target, create a dialogue and actively engage with your community. And you don’t need big bucks to be heard. Boosting posts isn’t expensive – sometimes even $20 can elevate your reach by thousands.
Social media marketing is more popular than blogging or e-newsletter marketing and it often gets better engagement.
Key channels: what works where?
Young people are active on an average of four social media platforms, with Facebook still the major player, followed by Messenger, then Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.
It is estimated that 76% of Facebook users login every day.
In saying this, it’s important to be aware that Facebook as a platform has definitely changed. It’s no longer about status updates and pictures. These days, many people use it for news consumption. Have you noticed people don’t go to a media company’s site for information? Instead they want the news built into their feed.
This is why Facebook remains the best place to target young people – you just have to remember to link through to the articles and content you want them to read.
Young adults also like tagging and creating ‘micro communities’ – or conversations in the feed. If your posts spark this kind of activity, you’ll boost your engagement scores.
Twitter is great for talking with other academics and industry and building your personal profile as a researcher. But it is not the platform to reach the general public or millenials. This is because only 30% of millennials have Twitter.
While Instagram is continually becoming more popular, this platform has limitations for researchers. Instagram is about sharing visual content which doesn’t always translate when you have a lot to say and a picture can’t quite cover everything.
You can, however, set links that a reader can click through to from your bio page, so be clever and make sure you are constantly updating that to send people to the right places online.
Likewise there are plenty of fantastic pieces of content relating to science that are visual – think images of animals, agriculture, experiments, lab settings etc.
LinkedIn is hugely important for building a personal brand and industry connections. So it is important that you maintain this platform and post frequently about your research and findings. Similar to Twitter however, millennials just don’t use this platform – only 10% have an account.
By contrast, Snapchat is the fastest growing platform among millennials.
Search engine optimisation
Make sure you own the search space by presenting your research in a way that answers a question. Think about what related questions a reader might want to know and start your post from there.
This is why explainer content does so well.
We’ve found at the University of Sydney it’s not uncommon for up to 20% of our content to be viewed via search – so no matter what you put on social or in newsletters, people are still finding things organically
With over 40,000 search queries in Google occurring every second it’s important that your research capture some of these users.
Content, content, content
Your audiences are not subject matter experts, so your content must be presented in a tangible, easy to read and digestible format. This includes – listicles, explainers and articles with sub headers.
Tone is also incredibly important. Conversational tone works well as you don’t appear too stuffy – talk to someone on their level. Overcomplicating things won’t work here if you want young people to engage.
And always remember to keep asking yourself – what is the real-world impact of my research? Why should people stop and read?
Kristen’s top tips
- Images are 5 times more engaging than posts with plain text
- Video is better than still images (motion is the new filter) – but only when executed correctly and for the right content. Don’t just make a video for the sake of it
- It’s estimated that video will account for 74% of all online traffic in 2017
- 80% of people who watch video on social media listen without sound – you need to caption everything
- Use URL shorteners – this saves space on your posts and receive statistics on click through by doing so
- Short and simple posts work best – don’t overcomplicate but always link through to more information if required
- GIFs and memes can make your research relevant and help you to connect through pop culture
- When posting a video, embedding it in Facebook will help you achieve more views. A view on Facebook counts at 3 seconds, whereas YouTube is 30 secs
- People are three times more likely to watch live video
- Optimise all content for mobile – thats the device from which users access social media the most.
Thanks to Kristen Barnes for sharing these fantastic social insights with our Regional Science Hubs network.