It’s not very original to have two back-to-back blog posts about originality, but I can’t seem to shake the topic. This time, I was inspired by the recent discussion about scientists on Instagram. In case you missed it, let me try to summarize: A grad student wrote an opinion piece in which she publicly called out another grad student and criticized her use of Instagram for science communication. That led to a cross-platform social media outcry with multiple hashtags involving many people. Here’s a more extensive discussion of the events. For the record, I absolutely think any scientist can use Instagram as their medium of science communication. I also think it’s fine if you DON’T use Instagram. You should do what best fits your own science communication style, and best reaches you audience.
Should you get a blog/Twitter/Instagram?
Do not assume that if a method or medium of science communication is suddenly popular, that you also need to do that. When science blogs first started getting mainstream attention, people kept asking me whether they should get a science blog. I don’t know! Do you WANT a science blog? What are you going to do with it? A few years after that, when conferences and publishers started to use Twitter, scientists took note and asked “Should I also be on Twitter?” or “I have a personal Twitter but I don’t use it for science – is that okay?”. Again, I don’t know! You decide.
Apparently Instagram has now reached this same status, and we’re getting the old conversations back. Just replace “blog” or “Twitter” with “Instagram”. You could have a similar discussion about YouTube as well.
If you look at the scientists and science communicators who dominate social media, they didn’t weigh the pros and cons or asked colleagues or debated the merits of the medium on their career. They just jumped in and played around with it, started communicating simply because they wanted to, and didn’t even realize they’d found their scicomm niche until it just happened. Some of the best and most original online science communication is a very genuine conversation between people who want to have that conversation.
But everyone else is doing it!
If you’re admiring the best of Twitter, the most popular YouTubers, or the most-liked Instagrammers, and want to emulate them to get that same success, I have some bad news for you. If you’re starting now, in that very same niche, competing with them for the same audience, you’re not ever going to reach their numbers. You either have to chose a different, new, medium, one that isn’t yet dominated by someone doing the exact thing you want to do, or you need to do something unique and different to stand out. Just because Twitter or Instagram is working well for some people doesn’t mean that it’s required or a guaranteed road to success. If you want to be good at science communication, find your message, your niche, your THING, and then think about how (and IF) you can incorporate social media. Or just sign up for social media because you enjoy it and you want to learn from others on there.
Don’t just think “do I need this online thing that everyone else uses?” Be original! Be yourself, find your niche, and do your own thing. I know it’s hard – I mentioned in my previous post how I’m struggling with this at the moment. Maybe another piece of advice is that your own needs change. Maybe blogging was once really good for you, and then it no longer was. Check in with yourself – both in a “selfcare” way (don’t burn out) and more systematically by looking at your stats to see if your tried and trusted online communication methods still work for you. And if they don’t, don’t be afraid to try something new!