Going viral: Using social media to publicise academic research

Only a tiny fraction of the research done in universities gets covered by newspapers. So I feel an unbridled sense of satisfaction if I get a research story mentioned in the mainstream media. I'll admit to punching the air when listening to the Today programme and hearing one of our academics talk about their research. But there are increasingly new techniques for sourcing, and promoting, stories using social and digital media.

Take the story about, Alex Baker and Chris Rose, two PhD students that sent a helium balloon up to the edge of space, with two cameras in an insulated box suspended below. They uploaded the resulting footage on YouTube, along with an explanation of how they built the device, with the whole endeavour costing only £350.

What's most remarkable about this story was how I came across it – one of their fellow students posted it on Twitter, and I happened to come across the tweet as it mentioned @sheffielduni.

Once I'd got the extra details from the students and chosen the pictures, the release needed to be written. This wasn't the first time amateurs had sent up a device, but the low cost made it unusual, so it when I sent out it, targeted at science correspondents, that's the angle it had.

Publication Date: 
April 11, 2011
Journal Name: 
The Guardian
United Kingdom