It's time to make your lab more social media friendly and get on twitter. If you're trying to figure out how to set up a twitter account for your laboratory, then this is the guide for you!

It's not breaking news that social media keeps taking a larger role in our daily lives. On almost every television show you watch, when something big (or even mundane) happens you see that little hashtag in the corner of the screen followed by a word or phrase. (For those of you not yet in the know, a hashtag is #.) Whether it’s the show's name, a place, or a phrase that follows it, it is directly related to the show, and if you tweet (post on twitter) with this hashtagged word or phrase, everyone who follows the show will immediately understand the information. For those that don’t, it creates curiosity. The curiosity starts reeling and may then lead them to watch the television show, or at least, look into it. So now, the television company has sparked a bit of new interest in the show by simply posting a small hashtag during it, and Twitter did the rest. Because of this phenomenon, it’s not surprising that many companies, non-profits, and organizations have jumped at the chance to plug themselves into this ever-growing network, and the lab that I worked for last year was no exception.

When I first started working in my lab, the lab manager was very quick to tell me their plans about a Facebook and Twitter page. At first I just kind of laughed at the thought of a whole bunch of scientists crowded around a computer typing out pathways 140 characters at a time and posting this to generate interest in their work. However, after we got the account up and running, I realized that there are many different reasons in which labs can benefit from Twitter and other social media channels.

After I set up the account, I told all of my friends to follow our lab's account. While this may seem mundane to include, it's important to get the account followed because without followers then the account is basically useless. Furthermore, to get more followers, promise a “follow back” (this means that if you follow me, I will follow you in return). This works because everyone wants to have a lot of followers, because this means that you are important and people enjoy reading what you have to say. However, after you get your followers you don't want to fill their feed with useless business promotions or boring, impersonal tweets. Twitter is like a mini community, and nobody wants to have a random stuff polluting their feed. So to avoid this and keep your followers, you must have a wide array of fun information, maybe a few deals on products you find, and mix in a few polls or questions.

The information part can be tricky sometimes, especially for labs, as the work we were doing could be difficult to understand if you weren't there doing it on a daily basis. So to kind of bypass this roadblock we would include recent articles from Nature, Science or any other cool information we could find. All of the information didn't even have to be strictly about lab work, but rather science in general. Any kind of information that has the potential to generate a conversation is good, especially if it is recent. People like to be in the know, and giving them easy to understand science is a great ego boost to some people as they feel smart and will be more likely to share it. Now people that we have never met, and probably will not ever meet, are talking about our lab and getting our name out there. Deals are also good because any time people can get something free; they are usually all over it. Finally, the last type of post, polls or questions, are a great to generate traffic, because people like to give their opinion. If I respond to a tweet from Starbucks, then all my friends can now see that I follow Starbucks, and might follow them as well. The same thing works for a lab.

Another thing to take into consideration is that all kinds of people are on Twitter. It is no longer confined to teenagers posting their duck faces in MySpace-like mirror pics, but rather it now includes a whole realm of professional and well-known but individuals without the stuffy environment that usually surrounds these people. This is a huge advantage because we can use our abbreviated words or acronyms while talking to a professional, and we seemingly have the upper hand because this is where we feel most comfortable. When I see e-mails from a company the first thing I do is promptly move them into the spam or trash folder because I’m too busy to deal with all that. But with Twitter, people are trying to waste time and are more willing to read 140 characters worth of your thoughts, and if the information or question is interesting enough they will even respond. At least for me, I like to hop on Twitter when I'm bored, procrastinating, or in an awkward situation and need to look busy. I’ll sit there and read other people's thoughts, whether they are interesting or not, to simply pass the time and it's just so easy to respond to a tweet, or retweet something, because it's not as formal as an e-mail.

The idea of using Twitter in a lab setting may seem a little silly at first, but the information is getting out there and conversations are being started that under previous circumstances would never have occurred. After seeing some of the benefits it should be a no brainer to link-in and take advantage of this new outlet. Twitter is a free way to network with other labs, researchers, potential colleagues, or future employees and get your name out there. It’s a grass-roots campaign that starts with random, common people that form a network. The people work together to get information passed along, tracking the progress of the thoughts and what people are saying about it. You could start a hashtag and then search it to see what people have to say about your lab. If the tweets are good, go ahead and save a few to post on your website or Facebook. Everybody likes to see comments from real people. It's obvious that you and your lab mates think you are the bee’s knees, but hearing that other people agree is nice and can only help boost the image of the lab. Now for the obvious shameless plug, you should go follow @Goldbio and we’ll tweet with you soon.

Deanna Tiek
Vanderbilt Class of 2014
Deanna is an intern at Goldbio during the summer of 2013.

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