Podcast Episode #66: Using Instagram to Communicate Research

How do you communicate research visually for Instagram?

Paige Jarreau

Perhaps you have wondered about how to do this, whether you are a researcher or academic, or if you are a communicator supporting these audiences. I have grappled with this question as I have put together communications training materials for researchers and academics. I am not a visual learner per se, and am quick to hear complaints from my wife that the family pictures I take are lousy. Fortunately, there are others out there who aren’t in this boat, and also have expertise on how to make research compelling visually. One such individual is Paige Jarreau, a science communication specialist for the Louisiana State College of Science and previously a postdoctoral researcher studying and teaching science communication. She also leads Instagram training workshops. I interviewed her on my podcast about using Instagram to communicate research via Instagram. Here are some of the insights she shared.

Why Instagram
To preface her remarks, Paige makes the important point that perhaps you shouldn’t use Instagram. You need to be selective. But here are some points to consider:

– If your target audience is students, Instagram is potentially a great way to reach them. It allows you to make your science and research more accessible.
– If you have a visual story to tell, it will allow you to communicate.
– It is not as much of a commitment as blogging, allows you to provide more depth than Twitter and is not as private as Facebook.

What if the Research Isn’t “Visual”?
“It takes practice,” says Paige. “You need to look around yourself in fresh ways and think about how to make what you do visual.”

One example is a reflection image a scientist took to make their data look unique. Paige has come across researchers who use data visualization in unique ways, or a researcher who communicated compound chemistry through drawings of molecules.

“Think about how to humanize your work,” advises Paige.

Tools to Consider Leveraging

  • Boomerang App – creates captivating mini videos that loop back and forth
  • Canva.com – graphic design made easy.
  • VSCO App – provides filters.
  • AfterLight App – powerful photo editing tool.
  • Layout App – Allows you display multiple photos in one Instagram post.

Examples of Other Researchers Who Use Instagram
Paige recommends taking a look at the work of PondLife_PondLife who uses Instagram to take amazing pictures and videos of microscopic organisms in ponds. “At the surface, she might have said I just sit in front of a microscope – what is their to show? Instead she has chosen to use the device of science – a mircoscope – to take pictures and it never gets old. It is amazing!” Also of note is the account of StylishStreaking which visually communicates research about diseases.

Instagram Live and Stories
The opportunity to go live and/or leverage Instagram stories may be intimidating and certainly isn’t for everyone, but it is an option. Two individuals Paige noted who use Instagram Stories and Instagram Live are Science.Sam and BiologistImogene.

“They are both effective at taking people on a journey of doing science every day,” Paige said.

Practical Tips

  • Consider using longer form text – almost like a blog post – to accompany each visual and explain your work. For example, Paige runs a feature called “Monday Motivation” for the LSU College of Science in which a researcher answers a particular question related to his/her science. This write-up accompanies each visual. (Instagram has a character limit of 2,500 characters).
  • Don’t be afraid to use lots of hashtags. It will help you be found in searches.
  • Try to incorporate it into your daily process. Many researchers need pictures any way for a research paper or poster. Snap an extra picture for Instagram. This can be a way to make it work as part of your every day community.
  • Find communities – other scientists or students for example – to keep you motivated (among other benefits). The best way to find these communities is by searching through hashtags.

Instagram Research Project via Experiment.com
Experiment.com is a platform for funding scientific discoveries (it is similar in nature to Kickstarter). Paige and some of her colleagues are looking to receive funding to research the topic of how the public perceives scientists who use Instagram. It aims to provide hard data on if people will trust scientists more, for example. The team will conduct some experiments to get to the core of how Instagram pictures can help predict people’s perceptions of scientists. More information is at experiment.com/scientistselfies. The hashtag they are using to generate community around this is #ScientistsWhoSelfie.