My first social media gig

This article was originally published at . 


Last month I was invited to take on the role of Social Media Liaison for one of McMaster’s premier science outreach events, Researchers’ Night. This was a great opportunity for me to try designing and implementing a social media advertising campaign – a skill that seems very valuable for an aspiring science communicator. As such, I thought that it may be valuable for me to share and reflect on my experience.

While the details of the research presented is very interesting, I will focus exclusively on the social media and communication aspects leading up to the evening. You can follow this link to see the posts I made for the Facebook page, this link to see the Twitter posts, and for a guide on how to photograph an event… you may wish to go elsewhere (haha…)

The Event

Researchers’ Night is an annual event which gives the Hamilton community an opportunity to learn about some of the work being done at McMaster, and to meet the smart people who do that work. The event is held like an interactive poster session, or as I began describing it, an adult science fair (no, not an adult science fair, I mean the presenters are adults). Ten researchers were invited to set up small exhibits and tell visitors about the work they do in an open-format, casual atmosphere. The event was held at the McMaster Innovation Center which featured a wide-open space for all of the presenters to set up, as well as some beautiful, dramatic lighting.

The event was preceded by a talk by a well-known keynote speaker before attendees were invited to explore the various exhibits.

Getting the gig

I think this may be the most useful aspect of the experience to unpack and learn from. Like many things in life, real hands-on experience is crucial for developing as a professional communicator. Unfortunately, as useful as this information could be, I don’t have much very much insight to share on how to obtain offers like this. However, I can present you with some facts.

Generally speaking, it was the network I developed through volunteering at other similar events and my activity on social media that put me in a position to receive this offer. Particular to this event, my volunteering with McMaster-related events played a role in being visible within the McMaster community. For example, some graduate students in my department started a science+pub night in Hamilton which I have been helping organize. My work for this group includes applying for a grant to run the event (which required me meeting the granting agency face-to-face), and advertising (online and around town). Making contact with (and especially social-media-tagging) the people and groups you want to work for is a great way to make yourself known to the ones who can give you a position.


  1. Network
  2. Find ways to be seen (volunteer, be present on social media)
  3. Tag people
  4. Make your desires known to everyone (people have wide and diverse networks, you never know who can help you land a job)

Job description

When I was approached for this job, the event was one week away and a social media presence was already in place. This included a Facebook page for both Researchers’ Night the organization, and Researchers’ Night the event, as well as a Twitter account. Advertising had begun with general information about the night (including a beautiful video), and two “featured researcher” articles.

With one week to go, I was asked to take over the online advertising on Facebook and Twitter leading into the event. I was also invited to photograph the event, and if we could organize it in time, do an Instagram take-over of the McMaster account.

Before leaving my first and only meeting with the organizer, I made sure I was absolutely clear on what was expected from the advertising campaign (“probably one post a day, and whatever you think is best”), how the event was going to run (see above), who to contact if I have more questions, and all relevant details (account names and passwords, times, locations, etc) such that I could do the work even if my contact were to disappear. I also made a point of describing and receiving confirmation that what I (very generally) planned to do with the advertising campaign was what the coordinator wanted.


  1. Obtain all details about the job
    1. What is expected
    2. Account details (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
    3. Time and location of event
    4. Who to contact with questions
  2. What has already been done (in this case…)
    1. Social media accounts exist
    2. Facebook event made
    3. General advertising about the event (including video) posted and promoted
    4. 2/10 researchers featured individually
  3. Pitch a general strategy and verify this is acceptable


My goal was to convince as many people to attend the event as possible. With this in mind, and only one week until the event, I decided I would do my best to pick the low-hanging fruit. By this, I mean I wanted these ads to be seen by people who are already interested in the subject matter and would need little to no convincing that the event would be interesting. In my mind, this included local college and university students, STEM professionals, and the friends and family of the invited presenters.

I based my core strategy around the following phenomenon:

Imagine a friend tells you about a free concert they will be going to. The concert is in a few days, and it’s a band you like. You tell your friend you will definitely go. On the day of the concert, you start having second thoughts about going. You know you’ll enjoy the show, but you are a little tired… maybe you’ll just stay in. It’s free anyway, and your friend is going with other people so they aren’t going to be upset if you bail… so you’ve lost nothing. In this scenario, it’s very easy to say you’ll go but decide at the last minute that you won’t.

Now, imagine your friend gives you a physical ticket. It’s still free, your friend doesn’t mind if you don’t go – all other variables are the same. You stick the ticket on your fridge and see it every day. Now, when the day of the concert comes, while illogical, I’m betting you will feel more obligated to go, and as a result, will be more likely to show up.

This is what I perceive as the difference between claiming you are “going” to a Facebook event, and being emailed an actual ticket.

I implemented this by centering our campaign around an Eventbrite page. This site allows you to create an event and “sell” tickets for your event (you can set the price as free, which is what we did). The digital ticket is emailed to the purchaser, along with a button to sync the event to your Google Calendar. Eventbrite will send tastefully frequent email reminders as well. So the goal of the campaign, then, was to point as many people to our Eventbrite page to obtain a digital ticket.

Next, I had to find our market.


Our Facebook following was already reasonable and was a great start. There is a wide demographic that is active on Facebook, and I thought advertising there should be the backbone of our campaign. It supports pictures, videos and text very well, and allows for content to be posted and remain visible and easy to find – a very important difference between the other social media services we considered.

Instagram and Twitter

The other services we considered were Twitter and Instagram. I opted to focus on Twitter only and forgo Instagram for a few reasons.

  1. Twitter has an older, more “professional” user base. I assumed that they are more likely to be interested in the event, and more likely to follow through with attending
  2. Twitter is more text-friendly. I planned on using the existing “Featured Researcher” posts which contained a lot of text information, and extending it into being the core of the campaign
  3. Sharing posts is easier on Twitter. The retweet function is a great way of extending your advertising reach into the social circles of people who already like what you do. Instagram does not have such a feature (though it is available through 3rd-party apps)

So in short, I selected Twitter because I believed it better supported the media I would be sharing (short articles), contained the target demographic (older, professional), and had better sharing capabilities (retweets). The sharing capabilities were of the utmost importance since this meant I was able to lean on the reach of McMaster’s Twitter accounts as well as connect with the presenters to access their social circles. Of course, given more time and resources, there is no reason I can think of to forgo any of the social media platforms, but with the time available to me, I thought it was worth focusing on one.


  1. Pick a tangible objective (get tickets into people’s inboxes)
  2. Identify a target market (university students, STEM professionals, friends and families of the presenters)
  3. Decide on an advertising method (short articles about the work of the presenters)
  4. Pick the social media platform that contains your target demographic and suits the media you will be producing (Twitter = older, professional, text-based. Instagram = younger, artsy, image-based. Facebook = huge base, hosts static information well)

Implementation and Results

The plan was to write short, entertaining Research Spotlight articles for each presenter. However, the first thing I did upon receiving the log-in information to the Facebook and Twitter account was to follow as many other similar accounts, and especially follow the presenters (if they used social media). This would make it easier for me to tag relevant groups throughout the week.

Now, since a few articles were already complete, I was able to release about one a day leading into the event. I would post the full article on Facebook (with a link to the Eventbrite page), then write a very short version for Twitter, linking to the full article on Facebook. The Facebook post was released at approximate 9:30 am every day, and the Twitter post was released at about 11:30 am. I chose these times to match my own procrastination habits, hopefully resulting in the posts being near the top of most people’s feeds when they are more likely to be looking.

In designing these posts, I tried to stick to a formula. Present an interesting, real-life problem, propose a possible solution, then relate how the researcher’s work relates to the solution. These posts would be accompanied by a striking or colorful image that also related to their work. This required a significant amount of research, since I was unfamiliar with most of the presenters’ fields. However, I thought it was worth the time and effort to provide interesting rather than superficial content.

Throughout the week, I was able to monitor the number of views and interactions each post received. This allowed me to slightly tailor my writing style and media selection for each post, as well as try different ways of tagging people and groups. I was also able to supplement a poorly performing Facebook post with additional tweets, to keep a steady stream of viewers.

While I don’t have data from our Eventbrite page, I observed that my Facebook posts, coupled with links from Twitter, generated on average about a 300% increase in organic traffic. Moreover, I received glowing praise from the event coordinator, who informed me the turnout this year far exceed that of any other year.

As for the actual event, I spent the evening wandering around, awkwardly snapping pictures, trying not to be too intrusive. I really had no idea what to do otherwise. One thing worth noting was the photography notice posted at the entrance. My understanding is that in Canada, anyone doing anything in a public space is legally fair-game for photographers. This, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t creepy, annoying or inappropriate to photograph people and especially their kids, without asking. However, having to constantly ask people in your frame if they mind being in the picture, we posted a sign that informed guests we would be taking pictures to be used on social media. If you do not wish to be photographed, please speak to one of our volunteers. Most people will be fine with this, and knowing that people have seen this made me feel a whole lot more comfortable photographing the event.


This was only a volunteer position and I believe I put a lot more thought and effort into it than was expected. This was fine – from the beginning I had decided I wanted to treat this opportunity as a sort of trial run of this kind of profession. I did find that, like many things, there is basically no upper bound on the amount of time you can spend working on a job like this. I find that exciting, but also a little frightening. I can imagine a career doing this sort of work would require excellent time management skills. But more importantly, I found this job to be quite fun and very satisfying.

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