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Building LinkedIn for Scientists
Six months ago, I hated LinkedIn.
It felt clunky. My posts seemed to go nowhere. The content I did see was just corny aphorisms. I couldn’t get excited about the platform.
At the beginning of 2022, I committed to learning LinkedIn. People were saying that LinkedIn was evolving into a real social network, not just a job board. I needed to test the platform for myself once-and-for-all, so I jumped in headfirst and immersed myself. I gave myself a year – if it still wasn’t clicking, I would accept it as a failed experiment.
Only four months later, and I’m completely hooked on LinkedIn. While the platform has flaws, it is a surprising mix of professionalism, insight, and fun. It has become an exciting place to be!
As a science marketer, I have feet in both the science and marketing worlds. LinkedIn for scientists hasn’t taken off, but marketing LinkedIn is in full swing. Entrepreneurs, writers, educators, and more are all active. Science LinkedIn seems like it will come sooner or later.
Scientists are often late adopting new social media platforms, but the stars are aligning for science LinkedIn to take off. I predict scientific LinkedIn will grow substantially soon. This change could be rapid! The next year is a prime opportunity for science LinkedIn.
It’s time for scientists to get on LinkedIn and build a community. Here is why:
Twitter Is Bad, and Won’t Get Better Any Time Soon
Note: this article was written shortly after the Musk-Twitter deal was originally announced. I do not intend to update my commentary based on the current state of the deal, though I believe my critiques of Twitter remain relevant.
Twitter became the platform for educated professionals more or less by default. Instagram, Snap Chat, and later Tik Tok aimed primarily at younger audiences, while Facebook’s demographics aged. Millennials and gen-Xers were left with Twitter. Twitter’s features were limited, but we had low expectations.
Twitter was in a bad place before Elon Musk decided to buy it. During the Trump years, I was very active on Twitter because it was an exciting place to be. Politics and news happened at light speed, so being on Twitter made you feel right in the thick of things.
Post-Trump, the platform has become dull. While there is still plenty of news, it doesn’t have the soap opera vibe. When there are dramatic moments, the responses and jokes feel much more rehearsed. There are also legions of anti-vaxxers, crypto bros, and racists that will randomly jump into any conversation to ruin it. Overall, Twitter just isn’t as fun.
Then Musk tried to buy Twitter. Leaving aside my personal feelings about Elon Musk, I think there are many reasons to be concerned about the trajectory of Twitter in the coming months. Here are some points to consider:
- The sale is scheduled to be finalized about 6-months from the time of this writing (see endnote).
- Twitter is unlikely to make any significant changes until the deal is complete.
- Therefore, Twitter’s problems are likely to get worse over that time.
- The deal may fall apart (see endnote). If it does, that will likely hurt the company, which would damage the user experience.
- Fixing Twitter will be extremely difficult for anyone. If it were easy, Twitter would have fixed itself already.
- Even if Musk does make improvements, they will take time to come into effect. Even under the best possible scenario, it is improbable that Twitter will improve substantially before 2023.
Once again, this is entirely leaving aside what happens to Twitter when/if Musk gets control of the company. I’m personally not optimistic about what he will do to the platform, but I will leave commentary on that subject to others.
For scientists specifically, the direction of Twitter is not great. Musk plans to relax moderation, which would allow more harassment from misogynists, climate deniers, and conspiracy theorists. This will be especially felt by less privileged individuals or part of minority groups. We owe it to these people to move to platforms where they can feel comfortable and safe.
And remember, Twitter is a network. The people in the network determine the value. If other people see problems with the platform then the value of Twitter will decline no matter what you personally think. In fact, there are already signs that users think Twitter is headed in the wrong direction – many users appear to have left the platform after the Musk announcement.
Clearly, Twitter isn’t in a great spot, but why should scientists move to LinkedIn?
LinkedIn is Better for Scientists than Any Other Platform
Not long ago, LinkedIn was essentially a job board. You could post, but few people were using the platform regularly. It was hard to justify the necessary time and energy to build an audience.
Like many other social media platforms, LinkedIn has changed dramatically during the pandemic. Young professionals started to use the platform as a social media platform with a job board rather than the other way around. Given the ups and downs of COVID, people wanted to stay informed on how others were navigating the storm. Tradeshows and water cooler time were also canceled, so LinkedIn provided a natural substitute as a networking opportunity.
With all of that said, why is LinkedIn good for scientists? Firstly, the moderation of the platform is tighter than others. This means the conspiracy theorists and the trolls are kept to a minimum. This is particularly helpful for scientists who work in fields such as climate change or vaccine development, as well as marginalized groups.
LinkedIn also has plenty of other handy features for scientists, including…
- A job title to show your area of expertise
- Record of your education and employment history to support that expertise
- A publications section on your profile to share your academic papers
- An advanced search function allows you to find experts in a specific area
- More flexibility in the content you can share (no 280-character limit)
I should mention that I don’t use Facebook and haven’t for several years. I detest the platform – I find it clunky, unnecessarily busy, and annoying. That being said, I can’t tell what Facebook is like for scientists. I haven’t heard good things, but maybe others have had positive experiences. Let me know in the comments if you are a scientist who has experience networking with other scientists on Facebook…
Opportunities for Scientists on LinkedIn
Consistently posting quality content on a topic you are an expert in or passionate about will grow your network and generate opportunities. I can almost guarantee it. I’ve seen it happen for myself after “trying” for only a couple of months. Many others share similar experiences.
What kind of opportunities are available? Here are a few possibilities.
For young scientists thinking about graduate school, LinkedIn is potentially a massive opportunity. Aspiring students have an enormous disadvantage when choosing a professor to work with. You only get a superficial impression of them before you sign up. By being active on LinkedIn, you can find professors using the platform and learn about their work. Even if you can’t find one specializing in a chosen topic, you could create connections with other professors and ask for recommendations.
There are many opportunities to become the go-to expert on LinkedIn for a wide range of topics. While fields like marketing and entrepreneurship are saturated, the competition is soft for most scientific areas. Your expertise will be considered more valuable, meaning you are more influential and respected. This is particularly useful for scientists in academia, as you can attract attention to your contributions to your field of research. This relates to “personal branding,” but we can leave that for now.
Are you looking to get a new job? You should absolutely be on LinkedIn. You can make friends with people who work at attractive institutions or companies. It is an opportunity to practice skills such as science writing and demonstrate your knowledge. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that there are a ton of recruiters on LinkedIn. If you get traction on the platform, it won’t take long for the recruiters to find you.
What if you are happy with your current company – should you be active on LinkedIn? Absolutely. You build your visibility and reputation by representing your company well and engaging with co-workers. You can also share insights and stories that showcase the expertise of both you and your company. (Note: review your social media policy, and you should obviously not share privileged information)
How about if you are a manager or business owner? Being active on LinkedIn is a hiring superpower. If you become a go-to resource for your subject area, you will attract more talent to fill open positions. This edge is critical given the competition in the job market.
LinkedIn is Interesting and Fun!
I’ll admit that I started using LinkedIn to use it as a distribution channel. I wanted to learn how the website worked to promote content that I created (like this blog) and get better at designing ads. I hoped I would enjoy the platform eventually, but that came much faster than I expected.
LinkedIn is in a world all by itself in terms of educational and professional content. World experts share compelling insights from the cutting edge. The variety of content formats available makes it easy to share insights in whatever works best. Sometimes it is linked to papers or other resources, but it could also be videos, text posts, or figures. You can even host events directly within the platform to present research findings or commentary.
LinkedIn can actually be fun too! I know I keep talking about professional opportunities and networking, but there are plenty of memes and jokes on the platform. There are more entertaining platforms – Tik Tok is extremely hard to beat on that score – but LinkedIn is not all business.
The people on LinkedIn are also friendly most of the time. The positivity can be a bit overboard sometimes, but at least people have a welcoming attitude. Are there jerks? Yes, but they are a relatively small minority. By contrast, I find Twitter can be overly cynical and sarcastic, with everyone trying to be too cool for everyone else.
The Timing is Perfect for Science LinkedIn
I see the Twitter-versus-LinkedIn situation as a classic chemical reaction. LinkedIn is the more thermodynamically favorable state, but we can’t overcome the activation energy since we started on Twitter. Musk acquiring Twitter is the moment that adds enough energy to the system to cause a change. Even if you are not active on Twitter, the blossoming of a LinkedIn community may be enough to convince you to get started on social media.
Science LinkedIn isn’t robust yet, but there are early signs that it is building. I’m probably biased, but it appears there are an increasing number of scientists engaging on the network. The number of people on LinkedIn has been growing steadily year after year. Search volume for terms like “science LinkedIn,” “scientist LinkedIn,” and “LinkedIn for scientists” have been increasing in popularity, while similar terms are declining for Twitter and Facebook.
It takes a while to learn how to use LinkedIn effectively, so I strongly recommend starting early. Given the way networks operate, there is a lot of equity in being early. If you gather momentum before others join the platform, you can turn an early advantage into substantial opportunities.
Not that the “goal” of LinkedIn is to attract as many followers as possible. It is about quality over quantity. One connection with the right person is worth 10x or 100x as much as a random follower. Those great connections are available; you just have to put in the work to build them.
Have you been convinced? Then let’s get started! It’s time to build science LinkedIn together. I accept all connection requests, and I try to support others by engaging with their content. You can also share this post with other scientists to convince them to try LinkedIn.
Endnote: Has Elon Musk Bought Twitter Yet?
Note: this article was written shortly after the Musk-Twitter deal was originally announced. I do not intend to update my commentary based on the current state of the deal.
As of this writing, no. Musk has put in an offer that the board of Twitter has provisionally accepted, but that is not the same thing as a done deal. I don’t understand why this is a shock to some, but buying a 44 billion-dollar company is complicated. The Twitter-Musk deal has many moving parts, and it may break down.
Here are some examples of entirely realistic things that could stop this sale:
- Shares of Tesla drop such that Elon can no longer pay for Twitter
- Elon disparages the company to the point Twitter calls the deal off
- A member of the board of Twitter disparages Elon, so Elon calls the deal off
- Legal troubles interfere
All things being equal, it is likely that the sale will happen given current publicly available information. Still, it is worth remembering that the sale is not a guarantee. If the deal does break down, Twitter’s valuation will likely drop substantially.