As communications professionals, the use of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter not only provide us additional tools to tell the stories about the impact of Virginia Tech-led research, but they also give us the capability to tell those stories with an immediacy that is heretofore unprecedented.
Why is this important? Immediacy is significant because social media channels often allow impromptu, up-to-the-minute, and candid opportunities that show our collaborators and faculty in ways that are translatable to the general public in a manner that might not be appropriate in a more formal press release.
Especially for research initiatives funded in far-flung parts of the world, the immediacy of reporting on-location in real time using social media is an excellent way to connect with audience members in the Virginia Tech community and across globe.
Many College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty are involved in international research projects, including the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management Food Innovation Lab. The project is a USAID-funded initiative that currently maintains projects in 14 countries and helps smallholder farmers find solutions to farming land using conservation agriculture methods. Social media and multimedia coverage of the research generated in these projects have provided in some cases a minute-by-minute look at how Virginia Tech-led research impacts lives not only in the commonwealth but across the world.
In Ecuador, for example, both conservation agriculture and integrated pest management techniques developed in collaboration with host-country institutions are helping farmers improve their livelihoods. And while publicizing research through a press release is excellent for getting the word out about the nuts and bolts of the science, social media allows audiences to connect with farmers and researchers from host countries at their home institutions in a way that is accessible and relatable as well.
These candid moments also give students a glimpse of the unique research opportunities available to them at Virginia Tech, and in fact two students recently experienced conducting research with naranjilla and potato farmers in Ecuador.
Posting photos and information in real time also creates a sense of a “happening” that is singular in nature and will provide a unique viewing experience.
Also through mobile posting of photos to their Facebook page, in Haiti the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Innovation Lab project followers were able to see students at the Centre de Formation Fritz Lafontant learning in the field in the Central Plateau of Haiti and how they were putting their knowledge to use to increase food security. These photos also provided a distinct look at what life is like for our partners in country.
As communications professionals we are aware of the importance of social media channels in broadcasting research efforts on different platforms, but using the immediacy of your social media feeds as the organic, living organisms they are is just as important.