In addition to the more general offerings of Facebook, Twitter and Ello, there is growing pressure for scientists to join science specific social media projects such as Research Gate, ORCID and Impact Story. These offer researchers a way of promoting their work (papers, patents, etc) by creating easy to find indexes. For various reasons, I’ve been asked my opinion on these services over the last few weeks and I thought that for what it’s worth, I would share my 2 cents.

2 cent rapperEach science social media service has an array of pros and cons and each promotes itself as THE social network for scientists. Advertising tactics range from ‘not being on it may possibly be the end of your career’ to ‘look, free papers!’. I am a terrible early adopter (and advertising sucker) and I’ve tried pretty much all of these at some point. If you can name one I haven’t tried, then I’ll probably be registered within 30 seconds of you telling me.

So given this experience, my recommendation is simple – do whatever is easiest for you and don’t bother with anything else.

Essentially, all of these services are aimed at one goal, a goal I’m going to sorely regret typing, as it will generate a metric ton of spam – Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). SEO is how people talk about getting more traffic to websites and it’s something I spend no small amount of time worrying about because I rather selfishly want people to read all my rambling blog posts.

In the case of all these science social media sites, what most people are after is SEO not for their website but for them as a researcher. They are meant to function as a way to increase the visibility of yourself and your work to anyone wanting to know more about you. There are other social-networking-esk features which vary highly from site to site, but both the main purpose and their main advertising hook is to aid discovery of you!

But do you know who’s quite good already at SEO? Search engines! If someone is searching for you, the search engines spend vast sums of money making sure that your hub or index papers comes up first. It’s their job, it’s what their entire business model is founded on – giving people the information they are looking for. Search engines base their result on a huge array of clever big data analysis and realistically all you need to do is give them something to actually find. Whether it’s text page, HTML5 CV or fancy social media site, search engines want to show people that data.

Back in the dark, early days of search engines, the visibility of a page was based on simple things like the number of people linking to it or the amount of traffic it got. However, Google et al have gotten adept at giving you information and links from parts of the internet that may have never been seen before. Provided Google has scanned it (something you can ask it to do) then that data will be available when people go looking for it.

Much like all the services offering me website SEO tools, specific social media sites actually do relatively little to improve that innate ability of search engines to get the right page. If you make a page with all the useful information on that you want people to find then that’s what Google et al will start showing people. If they are not, don’t immediately climb on the latest social media band wagon, just TELL the search engines where your data is yourself, via their very quick and simple ways of highlighting your site.

Google power limits

The best thing each of the social media sites does is offer a quick and easy way of building a database or list of things. That is their actual value, not your visibility but really just their ease of use/curation. Provided that information is then freely available, then it matters little who’s hosting it.

Finally, once you’ve found a site you like and want to host your profile, stick with it. If you have multiple sites and multiple versions of your profile then you run the risk of essentially competing with yourself. Say you exclusively use one service for a while then switch, the old service might be getting all the hits but is now hopelessly out of date.

So what ever you use, it’s probably fine, just don’t listen to the advertising and hype, keep it up to date, and people will come to you.

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