Promoting Yourself as a SciCommer

By Sheeva Azma

The following blog is an edited excerpt from Fancy Comma’s book, Amplifying Science Communication with Public Relations.

photo of the cover of the eBook version of the book "Amplifying Science Communication with Public Relations"
The cover for the eBook version of AMPLIFYING SCIENCE COMMUNICATION WITH PUBLIC RELATIONS by Sheeva Azma, edited by Kelly Tabbutt and Kevin Ho

As a #SciComm professional, you can create an inexpensive public relations strategy to amplify yourself and your work.

Anyone with a science background can be a science communicator. However, it is rare for science education programs to educate students on ways to market themselves to maximizing the reach and impact of their work and gain new opportunities. Keep reading this post for easy ways to create an inexpensive marketing strategy for yourself and your work as a science communicator (SciCommer)!

Think about Your “Story”

The human brain is wired for storytelling, so think of yourself and your work in the context of the bigger story of how you became a science freelancer. Take the time to develop your ‘story’ which can help you explain what you do and how you can help people. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • How did I get involved in science communication? 
  • How do I want people to see me as a science communicator?
  • What are the values I hold dear as a science communicator?
  • In what kind of science communications work am I engaged?
  • What is the overarching mission of my work? 
  • What are my goals in communicating science?
  • What, if any, change do I hope to achieve as a science communicator, and why?
  • What motivates me in my work?
  • How do I want other people to perceive me as a science communications professional?
  • What, if anything, do I wish to contribute to the conversation of my field? In other words, what are my areas of expertise, and my personal interests in the field?

If you want to take this introspective piece one step further, you can develop and craft an origin story that answers these questions. You can read my origin story at The Xylom: https://www.thexylom.com/post/science-writing-was-worth-it-it-just-took-longer-than-i-thought.

Origin stories are powerful for many reasons. First, the human brain is wired for storytelling. So, an origin story is the best way to acquaint people with you and your work. Another benefit of origin stories is that they explain the twists and turns that brought you to your current place in life, which helps people learn about you. If you’re a freelance science writer, origin stories also provide a narrative for your business that helps your potential clients understand what they have to gain from your skills and experiences. Finally, because origin stories tell your unique story, they set you apart from others in your field, which can be useful in developing your brand.

Most scientists have not ever considered branding to be an essential part of their work. In our science courses, we learn that the facts speak for themselves. We don’t learn that science, itself, is too a story. So, thinking of promoting oneself and developing a brand is not something that is second-nature to most scientists, but it can easily be learned. 

If you are a freelance science writer or science communicator, branding is essential to your success as a small business owner. We’ll talk more about branding next.

Develop Your Brand

Your brand is an invaluable marketing tool. A brand is like a shorthand, communicating the value of your business to the world. 

Your brand tells the world what’s unique about your business – what do you contribute to the world as a freelance science communicator that nobody else does?

Two main aspects of a brand are its voice and design. Your brand voice is the way your business communicates. Below are a few aspects of our brand voice at Fancy Comma, LLC (it’s not an exhaustive list, but here just to give you an idea of brand voice): 

  • Informative – Telling our audience and clients important information relevant to their lives (and helping science communicators succeed with the right career insights, too).
  • Authoritative – We provide factually accurate knowledge from well-established sources.
  • Approachable – As a science communications company, a lot of our work interfaces with the general public, so we work to maintain a friendly and approachable business presence.

Another aspect of branding is design. This relates to your business logo, your website, and how your communications look. If you’re working on branding, for example, you might make sure that your website, your newsletter, and your social media all have a similar design, with a logo that uniquely identifies your business.

If you want to learn more about brands and how they work in marketing, perform this simple exercise. Think of two to three products you use every day. What are the commercials, tweets, or other communications you have read from those brands recently? Can you name their marketing slogans? What do you like most about their brand? What do you like the least?

Branding provides an easy way for people – freelance clients, the media, even others in your industry field of study – to recognize you. Your brand tells your story and helps you connect with people. That’s why working on your brand can be indispensable, whether you are a scientist or science writer.

While it’s true that you can’t control the way that people see you, you can tell your own story. This helps people learn about you and you can tell your own story the way you want it to be told. If you don’t come up with a narrative for yourself and your work, you leave this important work to other people, who might not tell the story accurately or the way you would.

Create a Website

A website is your home base on the internet and determines how people perceive your business. Make sure that your website is free of typos, has information that people are looking for, and establishes a narrative for you and your business. 

Your website should, at a quick glance, explain what is unique about the work you do and how it can help people. People are always interested in what you can do for them. Also, make sure that you include your contact information, or a web form where people can contact you. This way, people can get in touch with you about new opportunities, and you can use this as a way to network.

Connect Deliberately and Thoughtfully on Social Media

Public relations or PR is a form of relationship and community building that can help improve your public visibility as a science communicator. As a science communicator, PR is likely a normal part of your daily work, but you probably don’t consider it to be so. One example of PR that you probably use already and don’t really think about is social media: your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media accounts. Whenever you post on social media, you are engaging in PR. You talk to others in your field, connect with potential clients, discuss topics on which you are an expert, gain followers, make new professional contacts, and more. If you are a science journalist, you can use social media to contact potential sources and establish new relationships that way, too. 

As a science communicator, you likely have expertise in a scientific field. You can use social media communications to do some of this work. In the marketing world, this is called ‘thought leadership.’ It’s difficult to come up with an analogy for ‘thought leadership’ in the academic science world, since each scientist is technically a thought leader in their specific field. Hopefully, this example demonstrates to you the disconnect between the world of communications and that of science. While simply naming yourself as a ‘thought leader’ doesn’t necessarily mean you are an expert, nor will it convince people that you are, you can think about ways you can establish yourself as someone who is skilled in your craft. 

Twitter is also a great place to find collaborators. I collaborated with health communicator Monisha Arya, MD, on a blog post due to a conversation we had on Twitter! You can read that blog here

By being active on social media regularly, you can develop a small, dedicated following that grows over time. Ask your audience what they’d like to read, and curate and craft content to fit their interests (while still staying true to your interests, values, and writing voice). Over time, you’ll find that people look forward to your posts, share them, and provide feedback. This will all amplify you and your work and help people learn about all of the great things you have to offer.

For more insights on ways to improve SciComm through strategic communications, read Fancy Comma’s book, Amplifying Science Communication with Public Relations.

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