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For the anti-social media user in your life

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If you ever want to justify your Facebook habit then you can now cite Osterrieder 2013 thanks to the paper The value and use of social media as communication tool in the plant sciences released with Open Access in Plant Methods. If you’re looking to learn something new, then you may be a bit disappointed. The tools it she writes about are mainly things like Facebook, Twitter and Blogs. If you’re reading this then you probably know about them. But while the tools aren’t cutting edge development the paper itself shows how social media has grown in maturity in the sciences.

The perception of social media has been that it’s not something scientists do. It’s for the public and that’s in opposition to serious work. Osterrieder shows that these mainstream tools can be and are used for scientific communication. There’s an ongoing attempt to market the next new thing as the Facebook for Scientists,but looking at where people are and where they actually share information, the real Facebook for Scientists is probably Facebook. How can you use these tools professionally? This is what Osterrieder looks at.

Mechanically most of these tools are simple to use. Take Twitter for example. Type in an update, up to 140 characters and you’re done. My account was dormant for a year because I couldn’t see what the point of 140 character updates was. A simple document explaining that there really was a point to Twitter would have helped greatly. Likewise the differences, you can follow who you like on Twitter without being weird while Facebook expects you to be ‘friends’. These things become obvious with familiarity, but that’s something beginners lack. When you know what you’re looking for, then many social media accounts become an eclectic mix of the professional and the personal.

While it’s true to say that plenty of the information in the paper is basic, it can be easy to over-estimate how basic some information needs to be. I’ve taught IT courses for students at university and in some cases it has to start from “This is how you switch the computer on.” It’s not that the student was stupid, but it was unfamiliar territory. Even supposedly techno-savvy teenagers who’d been using Word since high school had only a rudimentary understanding of Word. They knew the minimum about Word they needed to complete tasks or, to be more positive, they knew everything the needed to know. With social media, it’s clearly not a matter of deep skill, even the most technophobic researchers use email and word processors. It’s a matter of familiarity and why waste time becoming familiar with social media if there’s no compelling need? Osterrieder’s paper shows why there is value in using social media professionally.

It’s worth printing off for and leaving as hint for colleagues who still moan about Twitter being about people tweeting breakfast …and social media has a habit of pointing out something simple that everyone else seems to know.

Reference

Osterrieder A. (2013). The value and use of social media as communication tool in the plant sciences, Plant Methods, 9 (1) 26. DOI:

  • I used to use Twitter only to note the fact I’d just had coffee. And a Marmite biscuit. Then I discovered that you could automatically tweet out of other applications…B-)

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