Social media is shaping dialogue between scientists and journals

Social media provides new ways for journals and scientists to interact. Scientists should take an active role in shaping this exchange. Noura

More and more scientists are communicating via social media to find, publicise and discuss current research. This trend has been highlighted in two recent papers that look at the influence of social media on the professional practice of scientists. One article from the journal PLOS Biology acts as a primer for scientists using social media tools. The other, still a pre-print, looks at the role of Twitter in the life cycle of scientific ideas.

These papers are important for spreading the word about the role of social media in science. Equally, they reflect the desire of many scientists to take part in shaping new ways of science communication in the internet age. However, these papers do not closely examine the role of two key players in this exchange – scientific journals and journal staff.

Many journals and their staff now take part in the scientific process through social media. Scientists need to be aware that this enables journals to monitor our discussions and activity in ways that were not previously possible. Social media also presents new opportunities to shape the dialogue between scientists and journals.

Just as scientists are deciding the best ways to include social media into our own work, we should think about how journals can use social media to contribute to the scientific process. This is an open topic that I hope more scientists consider, since the influence of social media on scientific publishing is likely to increase with the rise of altmetrics, an alternative way of measuring the impact of scientific publications.

Based on my own experiences using Twitter, I suggest a few guidelines that academic journals should consider following to help promote healthy interaction with scientists on social media:

  • Have a presence on Twitter. Twitter is now popular among scientists as a way to quickly transmit information between each other and the general public. Therefore, Twitter provides a natural place for journals and journal staff to engage with the growing ranks of the scientific community on social media. Without a Twitter presence, journals and the work they publish now risk decreased visibility.

  • Establish a social media policy for official journal Twitter accounts. Better yet, make it public, so scientists know the scope of what we should expect from your Twitter account. Also, knowing who is running your journal Twitter account is helpful to put your contributions in context.

  • Don’t use Twitter to inform editorial decisions or production processes, for instance the acceptance and rejection of papers or the choice of reviewers. This should be an explicit part of your social media policy. Using information from social media could allow competitors or allies to undermine or promote each other’s work.

  • Don’t use the journal Twitter account as a table of contents for your journal. Email that information or use RSS feeds. Instead, tweet highlights from your journal and commentary about work published there; this is primarily what I am looking for in journal Twitter accounts.

  • Retweet comments from scientists or media outlets about papers in your journal. This is a good way for scientists to find other researchers interested in their topics and to see what is being said about work in your journal. However, it is essential to leave original tweets intact, so that we can easily trace their origins and so it doesn’t look like the sentiment has been edited to suit your interests.

  • Don’t use journal Twitter accounts to express personal opinions. Journals should seek to maintain the image of being unbiased, and be careful not to let personal opinions of staff members risk journal reputation. This holds for tweeting from meetings, since this can look like you are endorsing the work of specific scientists or soliciting them to submit their work to your journal.

  • Encourage journal staff to be active on social media from personal accounts. This is a great way for scientists to get build a rapport with those who handle our work at your journal. It also gives staff an outlet to highlight their own contributions, which are key to the overall scientific endeavour. But personal opinions of journal staff should be expressed via personal Twitter accounts.

  • Engage with feedback, complaints and queries on Twitter. Directly replying to comments on Twitter is a great way to build trust in your journal. At a minimum, respond by directing the person to your helpdesk. Both ways show that you are engaging with our concerns. Ignoring comments from scientists on Twitter is bad PR; it can cause issues to snowball and have a negative impact on your journal’s image. A great example of a publisher proactively using Twitter to engage with feedback from the scientific community is PLOS’s AskPLOS account. More of this sort of outreach will benefit both journals and scientists in the future.

The way that journals use Twitter will have a large impact on the way that scientific knowledge is disseminated in coming years; it’s time for the scientific community to think about what form it should take.


A version of this article was first published on Casey Bergman’s blog.