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How To Use Social Media In Your Research

How To Use Social Media In Your Research

  • Education
  • Student Tips
Alyssa WalkerJan 12, 2019

Social media makes an impact not just on our daily interaction with the world, but increasingly on PhD research too. Now more than ever social media influences how employers hire and how college admissions officers admit students. It also gives doctoral students the chance to recruit participants, boost their research profiles, collect data, share ideas, and contribute informally to an area of expertise.

If you are a doctoral student looking to boost your research, take a look at how you can use social media to get that edge.

1. Recruit participants for your research

Increasingly, PhD candidates are turning to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram to connect with folks with similar interests. While there are no regulatory guidelines on the use of social media for research recruitment, some programs offer students advice on how to use these tools.

In the March 2018 issue of The American Journal of Bioethics, the paper "Using Social Media as a Research Recruitment Tool: Ethical Issues and Recommendations" offered some advice. The authors explain the struggle to find participants with rare medical conditions or those who have other specific issues in a targeted population, like young cancer survivors in rural areas.

The researchers argue social media recruitment can be helpful to those seeking to research significant issues that may not attract certain populations in traditional ways, like joining a research study at a hospital.

While they warn of ethical considerations, like anonymity and privacy, they argue that, used carefully, social media is a helpful tool. They also warn researchers to tread carefully as new guidelines and regulations are on their way.

2. Boost your research profile

If you are skeptical about recruiting participants for your research study on social media, social media is a great way to increase your visibility.

Twitter is especially helpful in this arena, as it limits the amount of information you can post at one time.

If you have a research question, post it on Twitter, and you'll get near-instant feedback on certain topics, depending on the number of followers you have.

Offer links to your Twitter handle in your email signature, website, and anywhere you have an official bio. Use hashtags, like #phdstudies and #AcademicTwitter so your tweet will be seen -- and possibly shared -- by more people.

Some researchers use Twitter to build their networks. Others share tidbits of their research with their followers.

So start tweeting and 'gramming. Get yourself out there!

3. Collect some data

How on earth can you use social media to collect data with all those privacy issues? A few ways. First, you can download data from Facebook apps, like Farmville, for example, and look at summary statistics. Not that you'd want data on Farmville, but you get the idea.

Other researchers work around the accessibility issues by asking study participants to download their own data from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, for example, and then forward their summaries to the researchers.

Another easy way? Create a social media page on whatever platform you want to use for the research project and ask the participants to 'like', 'follow', or otherwise engage with the page, which will give researchers access to private information.

Be careful. Make sure your participants know that you plan to use social media in the study before they sign on. If they are not ok with it, maybe your study isn't the best place for them.

4. Share ideas and resources

Don't want to boost your profile? Not interested in collecting data? It's ok. Pick a platform or two that you like, get accounts, and start following researchers that you enjoy. Get a sense of what others are doing, and the general tenor of conversation around topics you care about.

You don't need to post much or at all -- you can just follow along and see what's going on. You never know what kinds of research you will find, and with whom you might connect.

5. Contribute to areas of expertise

Figure out which platforms work best for your research. An artist might find Instagram invaluable, while a mathematician might struggle with it. Don't use too many platforms. Commit to one or two, maintain a presence -- however robust -- and share the content that you care most about, without damaging your personal integrity or the integrity of your work!

Alyssa Walker

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.