Scientists and Social Media

By Rob Speekenbrink and Roy Meijer

As communication professionals, we have recently gained experience with a variety of different types of social media. We are convinced that 2.0 can also be of major benefit to scientists. More than that, in the near future 2.0 will slowly but surely become an ever-increasing and ultimately irreversible part of the scientific process. ‘But I don’t want to use Twitter’, we hear the unsuspecting scientist say. Nor will you need to: ‘2.0’ is about much more than just microblogging. Below, we provide a non-exhaustive overview of the potential opportunities.

This blogpost is a translation of the Dutch post Wetenschappers en Social Media written by colleague Rob Speekenbrink and myself. My own main target group is Dutch scientists, so I mainly write in Dutch. Besides, much has already been written on the topic ‘Social Media and science’ in English.That said, some people thought a translation of this post might be in order, so who are we to refuse… 😉

Open Science
‘Open Science is a philosophy according to which data, research and results are freely accessible to anyone without copyright, patents or other control mechanisms’. Online peer review, open access, open data, open courseware, improved distribution of data tools and methods (for example, provides access to free open source software in a range of research fields) as well as public involvement in research through citizen science. For some examples of successes, see

Michael Nielsen is a well known scientist in the field of quantum computing. In March 2011 he made a plea for Open Science at TEDxWaterloo. Michael Nielsen left the academic world to write a book on Open Science and the way online tools will change the way scientific discoveries wil be made.

Public communication
Subsidies for academic and scientific work increasingly take the form of individual grants, ranging from the VENI-VIDI-VICI grant issued by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to European ERC Personal Grants. Of course, the awarding of these grants is primarily dependent on an impressive list of publications, but ‘societal relevance’ also plays a role. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has developed a chart of ‘quality indicators for the technical sciences’. ‘Knowledge dissemination’ also comes under the heading of ‘societal relevance’. In concrete terms: ‘Activities focusing on the popularisation of science, education and contribution to public debate’ and ‘Professional publications and papers, non-scientific publications, exhibitions, and other events relating to research results’. Public communication is important, and one way of reaching out to the public is by using online media such as blogs and/or Twitter.

Personal branding
Every scientist (indeed every employee in general) engages in personal branding to some extent in order to advance his or her career. In other words, everyone acts as his or her own PR agency. Nowadays, taking account of ‘2.0’ in one’s own branding means – at least – ensuring that your LinkedIn profile looks as it should, and this also applies for scientists. The public communications activities referred to above also contribute to your profile: lectures, blogging or tweeting, being active on (scientific) discussion forums or on Wikipedia. You should at least ensure that you display this added value to your (future) employer or subsidising authority.

Reaching target groups
In today’s world, it is much easier to use Twitter to reach out to the local councillor, politician or science journalist with your message than traditional channels of calling, e-mailing or arranging a meeting. You can always do that later anyway, but Twitter is a wonderful way of attracting attention and initiating initial low-key contacts.

Scientists and Social Media
The term ‘Social Media
contains many platforms, techniques and ways of communicating, all applicable to the certain specific goals and groups you may want to reach. Social media can be used in your research, your education, broadening your network, sharing your results with a specific or a large audience, and in general working on your academic career. Besides all that, it can be fun – at least that’s what we think as communication professionals. Well worth taking the time to see what it is all about, we believe.

Want to read more?
Below, I’ve kept the links presented in the original Dutch post.Of course more information can be found using Google on specific topics. On Wetenschapper 2.0, we also mention relevant English articles of course.

If you would like to hear all the details from an actual scientist, read this blog (in Dutch) ‘Wetenschap in 140 tekens’ (‘Science in 140 characters’) by Peter Kerkhof (admittedly, he is a communication scientist…)
In the white paper ‘Wakker worden! Tijd voor Open Science’ (‘Wake up! Time for Open Science’),  Marjolein Pijnappels (Studio Lakmoes) describes how social media could change the scientific process.
Blog about Personal Profiling
Related SlideShare presentation on the ins and outs of Personal Profiling
SlideShare on ‘Meer SM in de wetenschap’ (‘More social media in the sciences’)
You can find a list of Dutch science-related blogs here:
Also see the related blog De Nederlandse wetenschapper en 2.0. (The Dutch scientist and 2.0.)

About the authors
Rob Speekenbrink is an Online Media Consultant at TU Delft. Based on his extensive use of social media and the experiences thus gained, he advises inside and outside TU Delft on the use of social media for all kinds of purposes. Among other things he also gives courses and workshops.

Roy Meijer is a Corporate Communications Advisor at TU Delft. He has specialised in the combination of science and social media and, with a group of like-minded people, he is attempting to spread the word – mainly to a Dutch audience – by means of the various platforms, including Platform Wetenschapscommunicatie, the Dutch LinkedIn group Wetenschapper 2.0, and

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2 thoughts on “Scientists and Social Media

  1. Pingback: University webpage or personal website, that is the question | RoyMeijer

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