Pop Pov


Using Social Media to Expand the Reach of Policy-Relevant Research

  • September 2016
  • Event
Kate Belohlav
Recently, the Population Reference Bureau held a workshop on “Strategies for Communicating and Interacting with the Media” for researchers in the Population and Poverty Research Network. Peter Goldstein and Heidi Worley of the Population Reference Bureau and Tiffany Lohwater of the American Association for the Advancement of Science led the workshop. The workshop focused broadly on strategies that researchers could use to communicate with the media, but the topic that captured the most interest was using social media to engage the media and the broader public.

Moving Beyond Photo Sharing

When researchers hear the term ‘social media,’ they likely think of Facebook for sharing photos with family members and friends. And, while everyone at the workshop had heard of Twitter, many researchers did not see its utility for sharing their work. Speakers at the workshop highlighted several advantages to using social media as a means to reaching a researcher’s target audience, which may include the scientific community, the general public, and reporters.

Sharing policy messages from research on social media can:
  • Increase buzz about an article and potentially increase citations for researchers.1
  • Expand the reach of research findings and key messages.
  • Create an opportunity for researchers to build media relationships without starting ‘cold.’
  • Provide practice in thinking through how to concisely communicate policy messages from their research.

I’m a Researcher. Where Do I Start?

Many of the researchers felt overwhelmed by the idea of adding another item to their list for research dissemination, and weren’t sure how to get started with Twitter. Moreover, the economists in the group noted there is a significant time lag between releasing findings and final publication. By the time the results have been published and the media is interested, the story may be less relevant due to the time lag. The researchers also noted that the specific findings may change during this period, and wondered what results they could share via social media during the publications process, and when those results could be shared.

Start Small

Despite these challenges, the workshop’s communication and media experts encouraged participants to identify a realistic goal and start small. That might mean starting with sharing research results on Facebook, where nearly two-thirds of its users, or approximately 44 percent of the U.S. population, get news.2 Researchers can also start by allocating an hour to setting up a Twitter account, identifying their Twitter brand (key research topics and tweets), and finding some relevant individuals and organizations to follow.

Additional strategies to consider:
  • Identify specific journalists or editors on Twitter who you want to reach with your research.
  • Work with the communications department at your institution to identify opportunities for sharing your research.
  • Create buzz in advance of releasing research results by tweeting while traveling to the country under study or for conferences.

Learn More

How to Tweet Your Research

Communicating Research to the Media

Working With Journalists


1. “Dr Melissa Terras: Open Access and the Twitter Effect,” accessed here.

2. Jeffrey Gottfried and Elisa Shearer, “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016,” (May 26, 2016), Pew Research Center for Media and Journalism, accessed here.

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