Hashtags aren’t just for throwback pictures on Thursdays or for cats on Instagram. They can also be used to effectively share your science.
The hashtag, or pound sign (#), is most closely associated with Twitter, a microblogging site that limits its messages, or tweets, to 280 characters. (If you’re new to Twitter, check out this other handy guide.) But now many other social media platforms, including Facebook and Google+, also use the symbol.
With the hashtag, you can search for conversations taking place about different topics. For example, someone interested in epigenetics can simply click on #epigenetics to find recent tweets or posts about the discipline.
In addition to following conversations about science, you can also use hashtags to share news, videos, and articles related to your work! Here are 4 tips to help you write the best tweets to connect with a wider audience.
1. Choose great keywords
Many of the keywords you might use in a hashtag are similar to those you would include in the keywords section of your journal submission. But keep in mind your audience is likely to include non-experts, so avoid jargon. Consider the types of words a family member might use if they were curious about a subject. If your latest article is about volcanoes, stick with the more general #volcano rather than #volcanism. If you’ve just published on Staphylococcus aureus biofilms, try using #staph and #biofilm. The hashtag should be specific enough so that interested viewers can find your work, but not so specific that only you will ever search for it.
2. Have fun
If you spend enough time on social media, you’ll soon learn that hashtags aren’t just for categorization. Often, they’re used for humor or for commentary. Check out the #overlyhonestmethods thread on Twitter, and you’ll see a bevy of jokes scientists have made, frequently at their own expense. While these hashtags won’t necessarily be useful in terms of helping others find your work, they can endear you to your audience, which can grow your number of followers. And sometimes, these clever hashtags will become so popular that they become an internet phenomenon all on their own.
3. Look for ways to join the conversation
If you present at a conference, be sure to find out what the organizers have chosen as the hashtag, and add it to any of your messages. Also, certain fields have different social media traditions, and it can be useful to piggyback on those that are already in place. For instance, every Friday paleontologists tweet about their work using #FossilFriday.
4. Don’t go overboard
Hashtags are great, but it’s annoying to read messages with too many of them. Be selective and only add the symbol to words or phrases you think are most important or are likely to be searched.
Along with these tips, remember that your institution’s press team can likely provide help, and they will be able to share news about your work on social media from their accounts to increase your reach.