By Daisy Veysey, eLife Social Media Specialist
Preprints – a pillar of eLife’s new model – are on the rise and are poised to accelerate and open up research and peer review. Social media offers excellent opportunities for researchers to share their work, network and communicate with new audiences. However, because preprints are posted before peer review and may be less familiar to some, it’s important to take extra care when discussing preprinted results. Based on what we’ve learned running our eLife accounts, here are seven recommendations to help you share preprinted research on social media effectively and responsibly.
With more options than ever, choosing a social media platform can feel overwhelming. Consider your communication style, what you want to share and how you want people to engage with it. Then find out where you can do that the best. You might also want to look into where your target audience is most active or what community spaces already exist; whether that’s Subreddits, Facebook pages, individual accounts or popular hashtags like #ECRchat.
Your audience’s interests and motivations should guide your content. We find that people respond best to accessible language and timely topics. For broad audiences, avoid jargon and complex terminology – a skill that can take time to develop, but emerging AI tools can help here. If your focus is reaching other scientists, a few technical keywords or scientific figures can help pique the interest of experts. Lastly, remember that many social networks are open platforms, which is great for outreach, but means anyone could see your posts. As such, be mindful of how different readers might interpret your meaning before posting.
To stand out, experiment with starting your posts with an attention-grabbing “hook” like a surprising finding, rhetorical question, or compelling statistic. You could include a call to action with a “What would you investigate next?” or highlight which audience would benefit most from your post, for example using “For all microbiologists…” (something that was explored at the 2020 eLife Innovation Sprint). Contextualising results within their wider impacts can also highlight the relevance to more readers.
Visual elements are powerful tools to draw attention, and so we often look to use relevant high-quality, visually striking images or videos with limited text in our posts. Diagrams and charts can also be effective when they’re easy to understand at a glance or visually interesting in their own right. Ensure accessibility by adding captions to videos and alt-text descriptions. Make sure you have permission to use any non-original content or seek images with Creative Commons or Public Domain licences. We also recommend being upfront about where AI has been used to generate images or similar content.
Interacting with others on a network can amplify your visibility and help build an engaged audience. Be ready to respond promptly and thoughtfully to questions and comments made about the content you post in good faith.
Proactively seek out content or conversations relevant to you and your work, and reshare or respond to them. You may want to tag other users in order to reach out to or credit them for their work but do so considerately. We have found that tagging authors is more effective than tagging their institutions. Hashtags can also extend your reach but should be used sparingly to avoid making your text look cluttered and “spammy”.
Uncertainty is inherent in all research, but it is particularly pertinent for preprints that have either not faced the scrutiny of peer review or have not yet been revised. What’s more, many social media users might be unfamiliar with preprints and publishing, underscoring the need to be clear about the certainty and implications of the research shared.
While it’s tempting to lean into findings you’re excited about, be careful not to overstate or sensationalise. Bold or surprising claims may draw more engagement, but don’t let that motivate you to start employing “clickbait” tactics. Always strive to be transparent about certainty, explain limitations as best you can, and indicate when you or the authors are speculating. We also recommend stating that a manuscript you’re sharing is a preprint and whether it has been reviewed or not.
Communicating all of this in one post, particularly for short-form content, can be a challenge. However, your choice of words can make a difference. Avoid definitive statements like “this shows” or “we have proved”. Instead, use phrases like “this suggests” and replace “study” or “paper” with “preprint” or “preliminary results”. Within eLife assessments, we use words like “incomplete” or “compelling” to communicate the strength of evidence. If space allows, you could discuss ways to enhance the research or cite key points from public reviews like those published as part of eLife Reviewed Preprints.
Be aware of your perspective, biases and expertise. Being transparent about your qualifications and background is particularly important if you choose to speculate on a preprint and its implications as it gives readers more information to judge the validity of the claims.
Acknowledging the limitations of your perspective and actively seeking out alternative viewpoints can lead to a more well-rounded and informed discussion. Aim to encourage diversity in the discourse by amplifying other voices and promoting inclusivity too.
What you share on social media is up to you, but you can’t always control how others will react. Familiarise yourself with the platform’s tools for safeguarding, such as muting, blocking and privacy settings. eLife’s X account (formerly Twitter) regularly attracts a lot of attention, but we will occasionally hide offensive replies and “untag” ourselves from threads when the notifications become overwhelming, unproductive or harmful. Our “staying safe on social media” helpsheet goes into more detail on how to behave responsibly online and protect yourself and others from harassment and also gives tips for crisis management.
By taking responsibility for the communication of our research outputs on social media and elsewhere, we can all contribute to a healthier academic ecosystem and build public trust and participation in science. This requires us to know who our audiences are, and reckon with and be transparent about the limitations of our work and expertise when engaging with them. We hope these seven suggestions will support you in sharing your research more openly and discussing science in new ways.
We welcome comments and questions from researchers as well as other journals. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at hello [at] elifesciences [dot] org.