Tweeting Knowledge, Tweeting Change: Using Social Media to Engage with our Communities and Create Social Change
As a researcher that studies marginalized populations (LGBTQ and working class), I think it is important to give back to my participants by being active in places where they are engaged (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc.), by communicating our findings in an accessible way directly to the people for whom the research is most applicable. For instance, I have started a practice of having my research assistants create short, visually appealing, 1-page summaries of the findings of our published papers, with the citation/hyperlink included in text. These are tweeted, shared on other social media, and posted to our study website to help inform our target populations about the research we are conducting. I often wonder why journals do not provide these types of materials already. Although there is a lack of easily available resources for population outreach, these outreach goals were made easier when SPSSI created a short video about the key findings of one of our articles published in their journal, Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. I encourage authors to take advantage of this, if given the opportunity, as it is a great way to generate content that is easily accessible for your target populations.
In terms of implementation, I have found it helpful to have one set of social media accounts for myself and another set for my “study group” (i.e. my research assistants and me). This is helpful because if I had only one set of social media accounts where I was sharing my research, while also “nerding out” about my personal interests, statistical approaches, or research methods, this would likely not draw the interest of my target populations, making it difficult to engage in outreach. By having separate accounts, I can have ones that completely reflect me and my interests, while also having ones that can discuss policy, research, and can endorse political advocacy for my populations of interest. To ensure there is a connection made between myself and these additional accounts, I mention the study accounts in my personal profiles, while I also refer to my personal account in the study accounts’ profiles. Additionally, I will often retweet/share content from my study accounts on my personal accounts, while also having relevant content from my personal accounts shared on my study accounts. To keep these secondary accounts current and active, I have my research assistants act as social media managers, allowing them to acquire this extremely useful and widely applicable skill while working with me.
Social media is a remarkable tool that many researchers already use to engage with their colleagues. However, I would also suggest that researchers with any interest in social issues should also consider the potential for engaging with their target populations on these platforms, as well. Members of SPSSI often study critical social issues that affect marginalized populations or have important policy implications. Social media is one of the best tools that we can use as researchers to engage with the community outside of the academy and create social change.
-Ben T Blankenship