This post was originally written for an published on Trellis, the blogging platform from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
One task of a scientific community manager is to facilitate the activities of a community and to create opportunities for community members to engage in productive interaction. Networking is a process we use to exchange ideas and to build relationships with individuals that share a common interest. In previous decades, most networking was done in-person, perhaps with the exchange of a business card or elevator pitch; however, digital communication is an increasingly common way that people network (Leek 2016). Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, the goal of this blog post is to provide community managers with a few strategies for networking to build their community and facilitate the exchange of ideas and information.
Networking strategies for social media
In this first section, I’d like to discuss strategies that a community manager can use to facilitate networking within a community through social media to help community members connect with each other, share ideas, and make scientific progress.
If you haven’t already, the best place to start is to develop an online identity or brand for your community and to set up avenues for people to communicate privately and publicly. For instance, Slack and email are great for communicating with colleagues, but Twitter and Instagram are good for sharing information within and beyond the community. Because online communication happens on multiple platforms, developing easy-to-recognize handles or hashtags will provide consistency across platforms.
If the task of generating content to share on social media seems daunting, start by sharing and promoting the work of others. Retweeting and reposting are ways to quickly share the ideas of others without requiring much time or effort. With a little more energy, you share your colleagues’ publications or work with a short summary to tell your community why you think this work is notable. If you are sharing a publication, it’s always a good idea to include a link to the original article, tag the authors’ personal social media accounts, and include an image from the manuscript to give additional insight as to why the manuscript is worth reading.
If you as the community manager are creating most of the content, it is important that the content you post reflects your community interests and not your personal views. For instance, your personal Instagram account might be filled with photos of cats and martinis, but the posts you share for your community should reflect community activities. Along those same lines, take caution when discussing “hot button” issues that are highly charged emotionally or politically. Decide whether you should engage in these discussions as a representative of your community or if your participation would be more appropriate from a personal account.
Networking strategies for event planners
Even with all the communication that happens online, in person events where people can collaborate face-to-face are critical to scientific progress. If you are a community manager, you might organize so many events that you feel you are a scientific event planner. If you find yourself organizing a lot of in-person events, here are three tips that you can use to foster networking within your community.
Often events are filled to capacity with talk and workshops, but it is important to organize activities where people can collaborate and converse casually. This could be a simple as the “hallway track”, where people have the option to opt-out of all formal activities and converse with other attendees in the hallway outside the main lecture. A slightly more formal but still casual setting would be that of a hack-a-thon or do-a-thon where people work on shared problems with minimal structure. Finally, never under estimate the impact of organized meals where people can eat, drink, and converse without having to deal with who splits the check or deciding where to eat.
Once you have the agenda set with all the formal and informal activities in place, the next step is to help attendees get to know each other. Tracy Teal, executive director of The Carpentries, says that “introductions set the stage for learning” and are critical to the success of educational programs (Teal 2016). In the same way, I believe that introductions set the stage for building relationships, which leads to collaboration and scientific progress. As a community manager, you will know most of the people in your community, and you can help your community members network by making introductions.
As critical as face-to-face communication is for the success of an event, never overlook the utility of online communication during events. By setting up online platforms for communication, all the attendees will be able to get the help they need in real time and will be able to stay in touch with attendees after the event or away from the main venue.
Networking strategies for event attendees
For most of this post, I have been talking about strategies that community managers can use to help their community members engage in networking. But, let’s not forget that community managers are (often) members of their own community. So, I’d like to close by sharing some strategies that community managers can use to network while attending events.
The first step is to introduce yourself and stay in touch. You likely already know many people by name, so in-person events will give you the attach names to faces. Some people are easier to communicate with in-person, so if you’ve been rubbing shoulders with someone the wrong way through email or on Slack, see if a face-to-face meeting can help you resolve your differences. Or, is there someone you are excited to collaborate with? Introduce yourself and set up a meeting to hash out your ideas at a later date.
Another excellent way to share your ideas within and outside your community is to tweet and blog about your experience. This will help you remember the highlights of the event, and it will help you develop your online identity, so it’s a win-win. My final word of advice for networking is to give a memorable presentation. Often, if you are planning the event, it’s hard to find time to also present what you are working on, but I think it’s important that your community members hear you speak from expertise.
While I don’t expect any one person to simultaneously use all ten of these strategies on any given day, I think there is synergy from implementing more than one strategy at a time. For example, when I attended a conference in Argentina, the local organizers setup a WhatsApp group with themselves and the two attendees coming from North America (myself and the keynote speaker). When I saw that the keynote speaker and I were on the same international flight, I introduced myself. When she texted the local organizers that we had arrived, my phone buzzed with her message, and we were able to share an hour-long taxi ride and even had coffee before the meeting. It was a beautiful encounter that was made possible by planning and serendipity.
In this post, I provided ten tips that community managers can use when networking online and in-person. If any of these strategies (combined or in isolation) have worked or not worked for you, please share your story in the comments. Happy networking!
Leek, J. (2016). How to be a Modern Scientist. Leanpub. https://leanpub.com/modernscientist
Teal, T. (2016). Materials about Introductions in workshops for train the trainers https://github.com/tracykteal/instructors-introduction