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European Research Executive Agency
News article11 August 2023European Research Executive Agency

Science Communication: how social media can effectively boost your research project

We talked to two EU-funded research projects active on social media about the challenges and opportunities various online platforms present. The projects provided tips on how social media can increase the impact and reach for your research!

Science Communication interview
© European Union, 2023; image source: samudri7, Veii Rehanne Martinez - Canva

Communicating about your EU-funded research is an obligation under Horizon Europe. Research and innovation projects may therefore explore setting up and managing social media accounts to meet these obligations. However, while social media presents novel opportunities for researchers, it also comes with key challenges.

That’s why we spoke to researchers and communicators from two EU-funded research projects. We talked about why they turned to social media, how they use it, the outcomes of using it, and if they had any tips for current or future EU-funded projects.

Why researchers should use social media

It is estimated that over four billion people use social media around the world – and it is also increasingly a source for learning and knowledge-sharing. This may make it attractive for researchers to amplify their messages: “people are on Twitter and people are on LinkedIn; that’s where they feed their knowledge on a daily basis” Egoitz Pomares from the GI-NI project told us. The project is active on both Twitter/X and LinkedIn which it uses because of its “potential to reach a large audience and engage with them”.

Finding and building an audience is not necessarily easy. For Egoitz, however, social media presents the opportunity to “increase the possibility of being reached by a wide range of interested partners” in a “cheap and easy way”. The audience a project builds may be niche - composed of researchers and other projects in the same field - or broad, including policymakers and interested partners beyond the traditional scientific community. Social media can therefore contribute to dissemination and exploitation obligations under Horizon Europe too; research outputs can be shared, transformed, or employed for policymaking.

“I remember that when I was starting with social media there were three things that you're supposed to make sure it does: it should either inform, excite, or move a person to a specific action"- Kassia Rudd, from the NetworkNature project

How social media can boost your research project

Launching a campaign using a specific call-to-action is a way to boost engagement and interest in specific topics. Social media played a massive role for a scientific conference GI-NI organised in Norway, for example. Steven Dhondt explained: “we were afraid we would be stuck with maybe 40 people. In the end, we had 100 people in-person and another 100 people online”. Social media’s role? “We saw a massive rise in participation during and after the campaign Egoitz launched. I cannot explain it otherwise, but that the campaign was very effective”.

“Social media works – that is the interesting thing”- Steven Dhondt, from the GI-NI project

When asked what type of content works best the projects mentioned videos. This is because they are a great way to let the audience ‘meet’ the people behind a project. “I think the videos that we made are the biggest achievement” Kassia Rudd from NetworkNature said. When members of GI-NI are together, they also make sure to record short videos. These are often in an interview format, so researchers and partners can introduce themselves and explain the research in a simple way.

Collaborating with other projects not only creates bridges between communities but it also increases impact. Kassia emphasised the benefits of this: “we promote the outcomes of us working together and that is where we get a lot of engagement. But we do not just talk about another person or initiative, we connect with this person or initiative, and we tell our joint story”.

LinkedIn, Facebook, Mastodon... how to decide which
platform to use?

Before setting up a social media account, it is worth understanding which platforms your target audience uses. For example, many researchers and policymakers have profiles on LinkedIn, a platform NetworkNature uses because people there “are interested in what we’re doing”. The project is also on Twitter/X, which it uses in a more informal manner to highlight partnerships and collaborations. But it’s also important not to spread yourself too thin on social media: “we want to expand our audience [on different social media platforms] but it doesn’t make sense if you can’t do it well” Kassia told us.

Social media should also complement other forms of communication. For the GI-NI project, their website is the “focal point” of their communication activities. Newsletters are also a great way to reach audiences. NetworkNature publishes two digests; a traditional one twice a year and a taskforce digest for members. This helps reach people who are not on social media. Plus, newsletters can link back to social media, prompting infrequent users to share the project’s content.

GI-NI is also on Vimeo and NetworkNature is on YouTube. These video-sharing platforms can be used as a single depository that the projects use to link back to when sharing their popular videos on social media or on their websites.

How to manage an account

Posting regularly is extremely important on social media: “it requires constant attention” Steven told us. To manage content, Kassia asks members to “fill in a content form that asks them who they are, where they want things promoted, what project they're on, if there are relevant hashtags and priority deadlines”. She normally asks members to fill in this calendar two weeks prior to publication. Egoitz and Steven equally touched upon the planning involved in running a social media account: “it involves having regular and ad hoc meetings, as well as email exchanges”.

GI-NI actually uses a Twitter/X account that was set-up for a previous project. Steven told us this meant GI-NI had a “launching base” and could build on the pre-existing audience without having to create a new one from scratch. This account has grown and is now currently jointly run by three EU-funded projects. To ensure that each project stands out and is visible when hosting a conference or after publishing a paper, they change the banner, or the tweet pinned to the top of their profile. This joint account not only requires additional coordination, it also requires trust between the projects.

“I think it's important to have a visual identity for the research team; to have some sense of group. It helps people relate to our shared research mission and objective”– Egoitz Pomares, from the GI-NI project

GI-NI and NetworkNature have coherent and well-designed visual identities. That is because having a consistent visual identity is important so that other users recognise research projects on their feeds and homepages.  However,building an image involves thoughtful collaborations and expertise, which is why NetworkNature outsources some of their graphic design.

Science communication, or SciComm, is important; it allows for the uptake of results from other researchers and for outputs to be transformed into policy. It is also important to stay up-to-date with social media as it is ever evolving. Egoitz and Kassia both coordinate and lead on social media for GI-NI and NetworkNature. However, other members have taken trainings to boost communication. To maximise outreach at NetworkNature: “communication is everyone’s job”.

Further information

The European Research Executive Agency (REA) will continue to provide additional tips on how Horizon Europe projects can set-up and manage their social media presence. Keep an eye out on our website, Twitter/X and LinkedIn for upcoming tips!

This material complements our dedicated guide on communication for research projects. This includes videos with reasons why projects should communicate and our six tips on how to better communicate. Check out our dissemination and exploitation material too.

These conversations were had with Steven Dhondt and Egoitz Pomares from the GI-NI project, which is researching the impacts of technological progress, globalisation, and migration on inequality and inclusive growth. We also talked to Kassia Rudd from the NetworkNature project, which is aiming to maximise the impact of nature-based solutions.

The views expressed in this interview do not represent the views of the European Commission and/or REA. The above are not official guidelines for Horizon Europe projects but rather tips that projects may seek to implement.


Publication date
11 August 2023
European Research Executive Agency