Sarah Topfer, PhD Candidate
What my insta-famous dog taught me about growing a presence on social media
In science, we are all taught that we should communicate our work with the wider community. We know there are significant benefits to putting your work out there and growing a presence in the scientific community. However, very rarely are we taught how exactly we should go about doing that. I have been told numerous times to get a twitter account (which I now have @SarahTopfer_) as twitter seems to be the platform of choice when it comes to scientists communicating with scientists but what I struggle to do is to know what to do next. What do I want to post and how can I grow a presence on social media and what do I want that presence to represent?
Well, as of yet I can’t answer that question for myself, but I can answer it on behalf of my dog. When I first got my dog Chloe, I decided to start an Instagram page for her (@chloe_the_cockerspaniel_ ). Like twitter is the platform of choice for scientists, Instagram is the best place for dog influencers. The main purpose was to share photos of her growing up with people I knew who wanted to know how she was doing, and at the start that is all it was. But very quickly it became much more than that! I started by following other dogs of influence and I realised that, like in science, the insta-dog world is a kind of community. The insta-dog community share tips and tricks about the best dog foods, best groomer in your area, the best vets, best way to train your dog to do certain things etc. just like we share interesting papers or conferences on twitter. In the scientific community one of my big fears is saying something silly or embarrassing myself on social media, but with Chloe’s account being a dog account I was able to be much braver when it came to increasing Chloe’s presence in the community. I used hashtags like they were going out of fashion to reach out the dog community and increase my chances of being seen. When choosing hashtags, I have found that making them very specific helps to target a more specific community. For example, I might write #sydneydogs rather than just #dog. I also wrote fun comments on influential dog’s posts to gain their attention. Suddenly Chloe began to accumulate followers fast. Very quickly I realised that people who I didn’t know cared what my dog was eating, wearing, sleeping on, playing with and so much more. Brands began reaching out to me asking Chloe to wear/use their items and model them.
When it became clear that what Chloe did affected what people thought was good or bad for their dog, it dawned on me that I now had a responsibility to make sure that the things I was promoting were actually decent products. This is true of science as well of course. Science communicators with big social media platforms are able to influence a larger number of people which most of the time is a good thing. However, what you share becomes more important the more follower you accumulate. When Chloe’s account was still in its infancy, I was able to post just about anything and had no idea what I was doing, however with time and more followers I have found it is important to choose a specific message and be consistent. Some dog accounts post pictures of their dogs wearing clothes, some accounts are more serious and only post picture of their dog looking at its best. I have gone with a fun and happy theme with a little bit of a royal twist to represent Chloe’s happy, outgoing and somewhat demanding personality. I do my best not to comment on things that are too serious or controversial (yes this happens in the dog world too). This could be true in science as well. I have seen some science communicators who only share their work on social media while others comment on current affair and politics. Choosing a consistent style is very important so that your followers know what to expect when they follow you. When choosing brands to represent on Chloe’s Instagram, I have been very picky. Chloe only represents Australian/NZ made products, with almost all the brands being small and local. I also like to do my research about what the brands message is and make sure it aligns with something that I agree with. I did this because I have the opportunity to help these small brands grow, big brands don’t need me. There are so many good quality, small brands out there with awesome messages and I love being able to support them. In science, rather than choosing brands to promote you are usually choosing people to promote. Whose paper do you share and whose tweet do you retweet.
So, in conclusion, here is what my insta-famous dog taught me about growing a presence on social media;
- Choose a platform where the community you are hoping to connect with are.
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The more you post, the more likely you will be seen.
- Use hashtags to reach out to your specific community. The more specific, the more likely you will reach the right people.
- Leave comments on posts by people you look up to who you are influenced by. Let them know you exist.
- Choose a consistent style of posting so that your followers know what to expect when they follow you.
- Use your platform carefully to promote things/people that you think others need to see.