Social media is a term describing user-generated content that can be shared with others online. It can include blogs, wikis, social networks, and a variety of other platform types. There has been a huge growth in the use of social media over recent years due to:

  1. Increase in broadband access
  2. High availability of powerful computers
  3. New website technologies that make content sharing easy

The most popular social media platforms are used by many millions of visitors (Facebook alone had over 1 billion users in October 2012). If companies and business wish to engage with the public, it is therefore vital to engage with social media.

Social MediaSocial Media: Know Your Target Audience

There are many thousands of social media platforms available, each with different purposes, styles and user demographics. Before deciding on which platform to use, think about what your target audience is, and which platform would be most appropriate. You can do this by consulting existing statistics of demographic use of social media  and also just thinking about whether an audience will really engage with a media type. For instance, if your target audience is school pupils, it may be worth considering using Bebo, which is a social network particularly popular with that age group.

Deciding on what type of social media platform to use can be more difficult, as the range of tools and websites is fairly overwhelming. Some recommendations on the various types are provided below, as well as how you can use them, and whether they will actually be appropriate.

Social Media Types


Blogs can be used to disseminate your research, news, or other thoughts quickly and easily. Once users have found your blog, they can subscribe to it via ‘RSS’  and receive updates every time you write a new post. Users can also discuss interesting points by adding comments which normally appear at the bottom of a post.

Before setting up a blog:

  • Does your team/department have the resource (and motivation) to keep the blog updated on a reasonably regular basis? A blog that hasn’t been updated for six months won’t look so impressive!
  • It is well worth monitoring comments in case hateful, obscene, or other inappropriate content is sent. Most blogs give the option to be emailed whenever a new comment is submitted (before it appears publicly), so it is easy to remove such content if necessary.

Can be used for:

  • Academics updating others on latest research, news, or useful information
  • Departments providing latest news and other items which could be of interest to target audiences
Social Networks

Some social networks can be used for staff and students to discuss, share and recommend content with each other. They can also be engaged with on a corporate level: Facebook, for instance, offers organizations the possibility to set up a ‘page’ which other users can interact with. The Facebook page lets users add comments to a ‘wall’, watch YouTube videos, and ‘like’ content that they can recommend to their Facebook ‘friends’.

Before working on a social network:

  • If you’re setting up a Facebook page, you’ll need to ensure that you have the resource and motivation to regularly update it with content – latest news, discussion, images, etc. An empty Facebook wall (or one that is filled with other users’ promotions) does not look particularly good.
  • Also ensure that you have the time and motivation to deal with feedback – both positive and negative.

Can be used for:

  •   Promoting your team/department, and engaging with Facebook users through discussion and content-sharing.
Social multimedia sites

Websites like YouTube (video sharing), Flickr (photo sharing) and SoundCloud (audio sharing) enable users to easily upload content and let others receive and interact with it by, e.g. posting comments.

Can be used for:

  • Promoting content within the sites’ communities
  • Developing media repositories, so that individual videos can be linked to from other websites.

Microblogs such as Twitter allow you to post short ‘Tweets’ of information that are no longer than 140 characters. Twitter can be used as a fast way to tell others about the latest news, discuss information with other users, and cover live activities. Rather than blogs, which can be more reflective, Tweets are quick and conversational.

Can be used for:

  • Telling others about latest news
  • Discussions with other users
  • Covering and interacting with live events (e.g. submitting questions to a speaker; detailing what is happening in a conference, etc.)
  • Interacting with specialist staff. For instance, Museums have been involved in the ‘#askacurator’ campaign in which questions (in the form of Tweets) are sent to curators, and replies are then sent back using the Museums Twitter account.

Wikis are websites that allow users to easily create and edit existing webpages. The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, which enables users to collaborate on encyclopaedia articles.

Can be used for:

  • Collaborative documentation within teams
  • Promoting your department’s research and activities by adding relevant information to other wikis (e.g. providing useful content to a public wiki)
Discussion forums

Forums have been popular for many years, allowing users to post messages to a ‘thread’ about a particular issue. Forums often cover niche subjects, and can be used to make contacts, engage with users who are interested in a particular subjects, or as a way to ask questions to a particular community.

There has recently been a huge growth in the ‘question and answer’ style of forum, through the website ‘Quora’. Quora lets users post questions, post answers, and rate the answers of other users.

Can be used for:

  • Generating contacts in a particular subject area
  • Basic research and discussion
  • Promoting department activity and research
Social Bookmarking Websites

Social bookmarking websites are extremely useful tools for saving your browser bookmarks onto an external website. You can then access your bookmarks from any computer which has access to the Internet. Most social bookmarking websites also enable users to follow others’ bookmarks, share their own, or to even display latest bookmarks on their own websites. At the current time, Delicious ( is the most popular such tool, but because it’s future is a little uncertain , it may be worth looking at other tools such as Diigo ( or Google Bookmarks (
Can be used for:
•    Following interesting academics or writers in your subject area
•    Sharing selected bookmarks with others (e.g. students) an example of an academic’s reading material
•    A genuinely useful tool for your own use!

Location Based Services

Through the growth of smartphone usage and GPS, ‘location based services’ have had a surge of new activity. Typically these involve users ‘checking in’ at a particular location, which is then made public to other users in the community. Some sites then allow users to add ‘tips’ to locations, or to find other users nearby. Services include Foursquare, Google Places, and Facebook Places.

Can be used for:

  • Monitoring people’s comments about your public exhibitions and events
  • Sharing with others what interesting locations you’ve visited (e.g. trips) accompanied by suitable tips (e.g. local coffee shops, venues, etc. that may be of interest to newcomers)

Social Media Promotion

Social media platforms can be used to promote research, events, and other activities. However such promotion must be done with care: Most online communities will frown on new users coming to simply advertise things. Instead, it is worth promoting yourself by engaging with groups by providing interesting content (through multimedia generation; answering other’s questions on discussion forums, etc.). Similarly, more people are likely to follow your Twitter or blog feeds if you’re providing interesting content. If these are simply lists of adverts, then users could lose patience and unsubscribe.