Science communication on social media
Examining cross-platform behavioral engagement
Keywords:social media, science communication, user engagement, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Social media is a popular channel for scientists to communicate with the public. Still, it remains relatively unclear how social media users perceive and engage with scientific content across various platforms. Therefore, this study sought to examine how users engage with scientific content on different social media channels to help scientists and science communicators gain a deeper understanding of how audiences may be perceiving their posts. A quasi-experimental survey methodology was conducted with a snowball sample of social media users. Participants (N = 237) were exposed to social media posts containing three scientific content areas (biology, social science, and engineering) across three social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). Results from this study found that biology content on Facebook had higher behavioral engagement than other platforms, and there was no significant difference in content comprehension between social media platforms. Implications for scientists and science communicators using social media platforms to share knowledge and research findings are discussed.
Aldous, K. K., An, J., & Jansen, B. J. (2019, November). Predicting audience engagement across social media platforms in the news domain. In International Conference on Social Informatics (pp. 173-187). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-34971-4_12
Allum, N., Sturgis, P., Tabourazi, D., & Brunton-Smith, I. (2008). Science knowledge and attitudes across cultures: A meta-analysis. Public understanding of science, 17(1), 35-54. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662506070159
Baldwin, H. J., Freeman, B., & Kelly, B. (2018). Like and share: Associations between social media engagement and dietary choices in children. Public Health Nutrition, 21(17), 3210-3215. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980018001866
Barker, V. (2017). User perceptions about self-efficacy, features and credibility as antecedents to flow on social networking sites. The Journal of Social Media in Society, 6(1), 110-143.
Bauer, M. W., & Gregory, J. (2007). From journalism to corporate communication in post-war Britain. Journalism, science and society: Science communication between news and public relations, 33-51.
Beil, L. (2018, July 15). The brain may clean out Alzheimer’s plaques during sleep. Science News. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/sleep-brain-alzheimers-plaques-protein
Bennett, N., Dudo, A., Yuan, S., & Besley, J. (2019). Scientists, trainers, and the strategic communication of science. In T. P. Newman (ed.), Theory and best practices in science communication training (pp. 9-31). Routledge.
Besley, J. C., & Tanner, A. H. (2011). What science communication scholars think about training scientists to communicate. Science Communication, 33(2), 239-263. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547010386972
Bik, H. M., & Goldstein, M. C. (2013). An introduction to social media for scientists. PLOS Biology, 11(4), e1001535. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001535
Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. A. (2013). Science, new media, and the public. Science, 339(6115), 40-41. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1232329
Bucchi, M. (2008). Of deficits and dialogues: Theories of public communication of science. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Handbook of public communication of science and technology (pp. 57-76). Routledge.
Bucchi, M., & Trench, B. (2014). Science communication research: Themes and challenges. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Routledge handbook of public communication of science and technology (2nd ed., pp. 1-14). Routledge.
Burns, T. W., O'Connor, D. J., & Stocklmayer, S. M. (2003). Science communication: a contemporary definition. Public Understanding of Science, 12(2), 183-202. https://doi.org/10.1177/09636625030122004
Canfield, K., & Menezes, S. (2020). The state of inclusive science communication: A landscape study. Metcalf Institute, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI. https://www.informalscience.org/state-inclusive-science-communication-landscape-study
Collins, K., Shiffman, D., & Rock, J. (2016). How are scientists using social media in the workplace?. PLOS ONE, 11(10), e0162680. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0162680
Côté, I. M., & Darling, E. S. (2018). Scientists on Twitter: Preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?. Facets, 3(1), 682-694. https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2018-0002
Cooke, S. J., Gallagher, A. J., Sopinka, N. M., Nguyen, V. M., Skubel, R. A., Hammerschlag, N., & Danylchuk, A. J. (2017). Considerations for effective science communication. Facets, 2(1), 233-248. https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2016-0055
Davies, S. R. (2008). Constructing communication: Talking to scientists about talking to the public. Science communication, 29(4), 413-434. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547008316222
Davies, S. R. (2013). Constituting public engagement: Meanings and genealogies of PEST in two UK studies. Science Communication, 35(6), 687-707. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547013478203
Dessart, L. (2017). Social media engagement: a model of antecedents and relational outcomes. Journal of Marketing Management, 33(5-6), 375-399. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267257X.2017.1302975
Di Gangi, P. M., & Wasko, M. M. (2016). Social media engagement theory: Exploring the influence of user engagement on social media usage. Journal of Organizational and End User Computing (JOEUC), 28(2), 53-73. https://doi.org/10.4018/JOEUC.2016040104
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x
Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74(1), 59-109. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543074001059
Frewer, L. J., Howard, C., Hedderley, D., & Shepherd, R. (1999). Reactions to information about genetic engineering: Impact of source characteristics, perceived personal relevance, and persuasiveness. Public Understanding of Science, 8(1), 35-50. https://doi.org/10.1088/0963-6625/8/1/003
Funk, C., Gottfried, J., & Mitchell, A. (2017). Science news and information today. Pew Research Center. https://www.journalism.org/2017/09/20/science-news-and-information-today/
Gaget, L. (2017). 3D printing in space: The next revolution? Sculpteo. https://www.sculpteo.com/blog/2017/11/29/3d-printing-in-space-the-new-revolution/
Gilstrap, C., & Holderby, N. (2016). “Actually Having Conversations and Talking to People”: Defining Social Media Engagement. The Journal of Social Media in Society, 5(2), 202-225.
Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E. (2016). News use across social media platforms 2016. Pew Research Center. https://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/
Greenwood, M. R. C., & Riordan, D. G. (2001). Civic scientist/civic duty. Science Communication, 23(1), 28-40. https://doi.org/10.1177/1075547001023001003
Hall, M., Mazarakis, A., Chorley, M., & Caton, S. (2018). Editorial of the special issue on following user pathways: Key contributions and future directions in cross-platform social media research. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 34(10), 895-912. https://doi.org/10.1080/10447318.2018.1471575
Hargittai, E., Füchslin, T., & Schäfer, M. S. (2018). How do young adults engage with science and research on social media? Some preliminary findings and an agenda for future research. Social Media + Society, 4(3), 2056305118797720.
Hines, H. N., (2019). Cell-fies: Sharing microbiology with global audiences through Instagram. FEMS Microbiology Letters, 366(16). https://doi.org/10.1093/femsle/fnz205
Hitlin, P., & Olmstead, K. (2018). The science people see on social media. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2018/03/21/the-science-people-see-on-social-media
Howell, E., & Brossard, D. (2019). Science engagement and social media: Communicating across interests, goals, and platforms. In T. P. Newman (ed.), Theory and best practices in science communication training (pp. 57-70). Routledge.
Jarreau, P. B., Cancellare, I. A., Carmichael, B. J., Porter, L., Toker, D., & Yammine, S. Z. (2019). Using selfies to challenge public stereotypes of scientists. PLOS ONE, 14(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216625
Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54(3), 241-251. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.005
Kim, C., & Yang, S. U. (2017). Like, comment, and share on Facebook: How each behavior differs from the other. Public Relations Review, 43(2), 441-449. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2017.02.006
Kruikemeier, S., Lecheler, S., & Boyer, M. M. (2018). Learning from news on different media platforms: An eye-tracking experiment. Political Communication, 35(1), 75-96. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2017.1388310
Leshner, A. I. (2003). Public engagement with science. Science, 299(5609), 977-978. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.299.5609.977
McFarland, J., Hussar, B., Zhang, J., Wang, X., Wang, K., Hein, S., Diliberti, M., Cataldi, E. F., Man, F. B., & Barmer, A. (2019). The condition of education 2019. NCES 2019-144. Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Statistics. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED594978.pdf
Mueller-Herbst, J. M., Xenos, M. A., Scheufele, D. A., & Brossard, D. (2020). Saw it on Facebook: The role of social media in facilitating science issue awareness. Social Media + Society, 6(2), 2056305120930412.
Munro, K., Hartt, C. M., & Pohlkamp, G. (2015). Social media discourse and genetically modified organisms. The Journal of Social Media in Society, 4(1).
Newman, T. P. (Ed.). (2019). Theory and best practices in science communication training. Routledge.
Nisbet, M. C., Scheufele, D. A., Shanahan, J., Moy, P., Brossard, D., & Lewenstein, B. V. (2002). Knowledge, reservations, or promise? A media effects model for public perceptions of science and technology. Communication Research, 29(5), 584-608. https://doi.org/10.1177/009365002236196
Osterrieder, A. (2013). The value and use of social media as a communication tool in the plant sciences. Plant methods, 9(1), 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4811-9-26
Pavelle, S., & Wilkinson, C. (2020). Into the digital wild: Utilizing Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook for effective science and environmental communication. Frontiers of Communication, 5(575122). https://doi.org/10.3389/fcomm.2020.575122
Pellegrini, G. (2021). Evaluating science communication: Concepts and tools for realistic assessment. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Routledge handbook of public communication of science and technology (2nd ed.). Routledge.
Pugh, K. J., Linnenbrink‐Garcia, L., Koskey, K. L., Stewart, V. C., & Manzey, C. (2010). Motivation, learning, and transformative experience: A study of deep engagement in science. Science Education, 94(1), 1-28. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20344
Rakedzon, T., Segev, E., Chapnik, N., Yosef, R., & Baram-Tsabari, A. (2017). Automatic jargon identifier for scientists engaging with the public and science communication educators. PLOS ONE, 12(8), e0181742. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181742
Rathnayake, C., & Winter, J. S. (2018). Carrying forward the uses and grats 2.0 agenda: An affordance-driven measure of social media uses and gratifications. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 62(3), 371–389. https://doi.org/10.1080/08838151.2018.1451861
Sbarra, D., Briskin, J. L., Slatcher, R. B. (2018). Smartphones and close relationships: The case for an evolutionary mismatch. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14(4), 596-618. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1745691619826535
Schäfer, M. S. (2011). Sources, characteristics and effects of mass media communication on science: A review of the literature, current trends and areas for future research. Sociology compass, 5(6), 399-412. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.00373.x
Segev, E., & Baram-Tsabari, A. (2012). Seeking science information online: Data mining Google to better understand the roles of the media and the education system. Public Understanding of Science, 21(7), 813-829. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662510387560
Shane-Simpson, C., Manago, A., Gaggi, N., & Gillespie-Lynch, K. (2018). Why do college students prefer Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Site affordances, tensions between privacy and self-expression, and implications for social capital. Computers in Human Behavior, 86, 276-288. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.04.041
Sheldon, P., & Bryant, K. (2016). Instagram: Motives for its use and relationship to narcissism and contextual age. Computers in Human Behavior, 58, 89-97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.12.059
Simis, M. J., Madden, H., Cacciatore, M. A., & Yeo, S. K. (2016). The lure of rationality: Why does the deficit model persist in science communication?. Public Understanding of Science, 25(4), 400-414. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662516629749
Sinatra, G. M., Heddy, B. C., & Lombardi, D. (2015). The challenges of defining and measuring student engagement in science. Educational Psychologist, 50 (1), 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2014.1002924
Singh, S., & Srivastava, S. (2019). Engaging consumers in multichannel online retail environment. Journal of Modelling in Management, 14(1), 49-76. https://doi.org/10.1108/JM2-09-2017-0098
Skoric, M. M., Zhu, Q., Goh, D., & Pang, N. (2016). Social media and citizen engagement: A meta-analytic review. New Media & Society, 18(9), 1817-1839. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444815616221
Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2018). Social media use in 2018. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/03/01/social-media-use-in-2018/
Sturgis, P., & Allum, N. (2004). Science in society: Re-evaluating the deficit model of public attitudes. Public Understanding of Science, 13(1), 55-74. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662504042690
Sundar, S. S. (2008). The MAIN model: A heuristic approach to understanding technology effects on credibility. Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility, 73-100. doi:10.1162/dmal.9780262562324.073
Sundar, S. S. (2012). Social psychology of interactivity in human-website interaction. In Oxford handbook of internet psychology. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199561803.013.0007
Tandoc, E. C., Lou, C., & Min, V. L. H. (2018). Platform-swinging in a poly-social-media context: How and why users navigate multiple social media platforms. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 24(1), 21-35. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcmc/zmy022
Tella, A. (2009). Correlates of undergraduates’ information-seeking behavior. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 16(1), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1080/10691310902754221
Treem, J. W., & Leonardi, P. M. (2013). Social media use in organizations: Exploring the affordances of visibility, editability, persistence, and association. Annals of the International Communication Association, 36(1), 143–189. https://doi.org/10.1080/23808985.2013.11679130
Waterloo, S. F., Baumgartner, S. E., Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2018). Norms of online expressions of emotion: Comparing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp. New Media & Society, 20(5), 1813-1831. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817707349
LicenseAuthors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).