By Elise Moser
Columbia, MO– Social media has the opportunity to give scientists new ways to connect online, if only they would use it. That was the message of science and social media expert Liz Neeley* made on Saturday, March 15 at the MU Life Sciences and Society Symposium.
Neeley, of COMPASS, addressed conventional academic thinking that social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are shallow and self-serving. She said she sees social media as a vast resource.
“I see it as a virtual library of Alexandria,” she said. Neeley talked about how scientists who used Twitter to ask questions about a problem they were trying to solve in the lab. Other scientists were able to responded and answered the question.
Neeley also showed examples of how social media can lead to greater science engagement. She cited Maragret Rubega, the Connecticut state ornithologist, or bird expert, who requires her students at the University of Connecticut to tweet using the hashtag #birdclass. Many of them continue to tweet using the hashtag long after the course is over.
Neeley used her own Twitter feed to illustrate the power of social media during her talk, syncing up her feed to tweet out links to articles and videos relevant to the examples she gave. She addressed concerns that social media cannot be used effectively without a large online network.
“Maybe you don’t know a lot of people, but maybe you’re the only one who knows people in two different groups who don’t talk to each other,” she said. “We need to think about the shape and structure of networks just as much as we thinking about how many nodes are in them.”
Her final message was for scientists to give social media a chance.
“Don’t dismiss it before you understand what it actually can do,” she said. “Different people experience the web in very different ways. I hope that you will build better networks. I think together we can make something really fantastic.”
* An earlier version of this story misspelled Neeley’s name.