#ExplainAFilmPlotBadly, #StupidCommonNames, #LOTRyourResearch.
Hashtag games. A few times a week, these weird, funny, quirky wordplay challenges explode across twitter, driving the most serious, and sometimes even super-serious, tweeters to pause for a moment of levity and let you know what they think Jaws is really about.
Goofy, whimsical, and extremely silly, one might wonder why scientists and science communicators would want to jump into these games, potentially compromising the reputation they’ve built up as a Serious Scientist (TM), unswayed by such foolishness.
The answer is simple: Playing hashtag games makes you a better communicator of science.
Online outreach is as much an art as a science (though you can read some of the science I’ve published on digital communications and online science outreach in two peer-reviewed papers: Digital environmentalism: tools and strategies for the evolving online ecosystem and Fish tales: Combating fake science in popular media). Reaching people on twitter requires a good writer to compress complex topics into short, easily understood statements, and carry on conversations in 140 character chunks. This is a hard skill to master, which is often why so many scientists decide that platforms like Twitter aren’t for them (note: that’s totally fine, every science and science communicator doesn’t have to be great at every single platform).
This month, Randal Munroe of the popular XKCD published Thing Explainer, a guide to science using only the ten hundred most common words. His Thing Explainer website, where writers can challenge themselves to craft their own ten hundred word explanations, has been up for a few years. While Thing Explainer is great for learning how to bust jargon and simplify language, it’s not actually a particularly good tool for learning how to write well for a diverse and non-expert audience.
I’m sure you can guess what I think is a great way to develop those pithy, brief, and informative tweets: Hashtag games.
Hashtag games let you experiment with language, practice turning complex concepts into engaging , entertaining, and informative tweets, and develop your own online voice. In addition to being tremendously useful writing exercises, they also help expand your audience and make personal connections with your readers.
And, if you’re really clever, you can use them to make important, challenging concepts immediately relatable.
So aspiring science communicators and Twitter veterans looking to polish your skills, go forth and play hashtag games. It’s good for us all.