Social media now complements many parts of our lives. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other social networking sites allow users to share and interact with online content and to connect with like-minded people. Its strengths – rapid dissemination and amplification of content and the ability to lead informal conversations – make it a powerful tool to use in a professional context. This commentary explains the overall concept of social media and offers suggestions on usage and possible types of scientific content. It advises researchers on the potential benefits and how to take a strategic approach towards building a social media presence. It also presents examples of effective social media use within the plant science community. Common reasons for scientists to not engage with social media include the fear of appearing unprofessional, posting something wrong or being misunderstood, or a lack of confidence in their computer skills. With the rapid changes in academic publishing, dissemination and science communication, as well as the rise of ‘altmetrics’ to track online engagement with scientific content, digital literacy will become an essential skill in a scientist’s tool kit.