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Best social media channels for distributing scholarly research

February 06, 2018
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By Diane Luckow

Interested in stimulating an international social media conversation about your scholarly research? Use Twitter.

Want to encourage a more local discussion, particularly if your research is in a language other than English? Use Facebook.

These are the findings from a new study from SFU professor Juan Pablo Alperin’s research group in the SFU Master of Publishing Program.

“Local chatter or international buzz? Language differences on posts about Zika research on Twitter and Facebook,” was published in January 2018 in PLOS One. The group used the Zika virus outbreak, which became a global health emergency in early 2016, as a case study for understanding how scholarly scientific research is communicated to relevant populations, and how it affects local, national and international conversations.

They collected Tweets and Facebook posts linked to Zika research in the first six months of 2016, then used a language-detection algorithm to determine how many posts in each media channel were in English.

They found the posts were dominated by English, even though Brazil was at the epicentre of the Zika epidemic. Up to 90 per cent of Twitter posts and 76 per cent of Facebook posts were in English. On Facebook, seven per cent of posts were in Portuguese, the national language of Brazil, while on Twitter, Portuguese posts about Zika were just one per cent.

The researchers also found that the country where researchers are from affects whether the social media posts are likely to be in English, especially on Facebook. When none of the authors come from English-speaking countries, the probability that posts on Facebook are in a language other than English is 37 per cent, but that number drops to just 22 per cent when there is at least one English-speaking author.

“Researchers are often motivated to work on topics important to their home countries,” says Alperin. “Our work suggests that Facebook is a much more effective tool for reaching those local audiences than Twitter.”