Discussion and Conclusions:
Social media is new. Some sites feel as if they have been around for ages while others really are brand new and still gaining large quantities of users. But the fact is that science has just begun to chip away at the tip of the iceberg of potential for outreach and collaboration using social media. There is a great deal of information we have already gathered but even more that we have yet to discover.
With this project, my goal was to begin to fill those data gaps and answer pressing questions. Maybe one day we will have a recipe stating, “for sharing information X, use social media site Y,” but that seems rather far off. My survey instrument worked towards determining what value scientists have gained from social media use, what social media sites are the most used and most effective as well as what best practices could be pulled from the insights of a large group of scientists using and not using social media.
By utilizing the survey data and experience gained with NOAA, I was able to paint a better picture of the realities of social media use without having to specify who is the group wanting to use social media, what sites they want to use or field of study they are in. Other people have developed similar pieces, how-‐to guides and other help for scientists using social media. However, most of these guides are focused to a specific type of scientist – government employee, natural scientist or social scientist – or are based solely off personal experience with social media with no broader research or a few questions asked to a small audience. The few research projects investigating social media use on a larger scale are published in research magazines or hidden behind pay walls.
As with all research projects, there were sources of error. A few of the survey questions passed through the pre-‐testing but turned out to be confusing to a small group of respondents. For example, in the actual survey the questions were not numbered the same way I saw in the draft phases. There was one question that included a reference to a previous question based on question number, and a few respondents did not answer the question, instead stating, “there are no numbers, I do not know what question you are referring to.” Another issue was a question using a scale of 1 to 6. In my drafts, I stated that 1 quantified strongest while 6 quantified weakest; however, this did not translate into the final version and again confused a small group of respondents. I received emails stating their confusions but was unable to alter the survey instrument after it had already been distributed.
The case study with NOAA’s CSC was a valuable addition to my overall research. Social media use within government institutions requires unique exceptions and tactics for success. Experiencing that first hand allowed me to draw from that experience and add it to my conclusions in a way that meant government employees could use my set of best practices and employ them while still falling within government restrictions.
There is a large amount of potential for science outreach and collaboration by using social media. However, there is also a good bit of risk involved as well. This means that scientists and scientific institutions are at times tentative to jump into using social media and require guidance throughout the process. My project will help scientists and scientific agencies alike to feel more confident in how they utilize social media tools. There is no right or wrong way to use social media, only better and worse. I aimed to share practices for the better side of social media use.
My hope is that scientists and scientific institutions continue to utilize these tools and learn more effective ways to communicate science using social media. Science communication has become a vital element in the success of a research project, and social media has become the tool of choice. But poor use of these tools will discourage their use and result in more problems for science outreach. Therefore, developing aids, such as this one, is crucial to the future of social media use for science communication.
Chapter 11: Set of Best Practices for Social Media Use
Pulling from data gathered in the survey, NOAA case study and interviews with
experts in the field of social media for science outreach, I developed a list of 11
guidelines scientists and scientific institutions should follow when starting out in
the field of social media.
Rule 1 – Get a Good Feel for the Site BEFORE Jumping in
The Coastal Services Center (CSC) staff I worked with was tentative to start out with
social media. As I taught them more about the sites, and as they used their personal
accounts more, they became more comfortable and lessened restrictions as well as
quickened the post approval process. Before starting into a social media site, take
the time to get to know the site. See how other people and other scientists are using
the site, look at the site’s “About” page and read up on the site, and even Google
search it to see what other help pages are out there for the site. Out of the scientists
surveyed, the sites that respondents were already familiar with were the sites they
were most likely to use if starting social media for outreach. It makes sense: familiar
is comfortable. After taking the time to learn, it will not be long before you will feel
like a pro at tweeting and know all about “likes,” “tweets” and “+1’s.”
Also take the time to know your audience before you start talking. Know how they
prefer to get their information, the formats they like reading, and the social media
sites they use in order to streamline your time and effort. Take time to listen to the
conversation before speaking – something that is often easier said than done.
But throughout all of this, give yourself a cut off point. Spending months of
researching each site, talking to people and getting to know your audience will turn
into overkill. At the end of the day, the best way to get to know these sites is to use
them. So gather the background information and then dive in, you will realize what
works and what does not.
Rule 2 – Analyze your Needs and Content Before Choosing the Site
Certain social media sites are better for pushing out certain types of content than
others. Determine what types of content you have: are you filled with quick quotes
or updates on your research or do you have a long list of links to great resources?
Twitter might be the best for you. If you want to take the time to explain the link you
are posting or have great visuals (such as pictures of cute animals or cool proteins),
Facebook or Google+ might be a better option. You will also want to consider where
your audience is. Narrow down your scope – aiming to reach the “general public”
will never be successful – and determine what sites those people are actively
participating in. It will allow you to streamline your efforts and maximize results.
Many institutions do the same thing. They require research groups to apply for a social media account and ask for information that forces the group to really analyze how the social media account will benefit the project’s overall goals. It is a good practice to get into.
But know that there is no simple solution. Social media is still very new, which
means that there is no recipe that states, “if you have information X, use site Y, but if
you have information Z, use site A.” Use your best judgment based on the type of
content you have to share and what the site offers its users.
Rule 3 – Strongly Consider Twitter and Facebook
At this point, it might seem overdone, but I will say it once again: Twitter and
Facebook are currently more widely used than other social media sites. Chances are,
your target audience is already using one – if not both – of these sites, as are
colleagues and other potential collaborators. Cover multiple areas with one step:
stay current on science events, keep up with researchers in your field and in other
fields and communicate and promote your research to a diverse array of interested
Added bonus: people who already know you are on these sites. You have a built in
audience for your first posts with potential for resharing and therefore reaching out
to new audiences. By tapping into your existing networks you add traction to the
information you are sharing rather than having to build from the ground up.
Rule 4 – Have a Blog
This rule might also seem obvious but it is worth stating. Blogs teach scientists to
focus and force them to effectively communicate to a non-scientific audience. If you
are confusing, readers will tell you. It will test your communication skills while
promoting your research. A blog will also give you a source to post on your social
media sites on a regular basis – because you should aim to blog on a regular basis.
This will bring even more people to your research.
The purpose here is to create a strategy of having a space to share your thoughts
and a space to promote what you have shared. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook
create an online persona for you to develop and enhance but these sites only take
you so far. Having a blog – or even a website where you can share your thoughts –
compliments that persona and adds depth to your online presence. Blogging also
helps you break out of the typical “research, submit for publication, get published
about the time you need to be updating those results with more relevant data” cycle;
it is real time and communicates the bottom-line of research in effective ways (LSE
Even if you can only blog once a month, there is still value. Many survey respondents
noted that they aimed to blog once a month on new research, and they were
pleasantly surprised with the amount of readers they received for each blog. You
can even use the blog to attract potential PhD and masters students; the point is to
define what information you want to share and to do so in a semi-structured way.
Rule 5 – Track your Statistics…but Don’t Chase Them
Free web software for tracking statistics is readily available. Majority of the sites
you can use to manage your social media accounts, such as HootSuite, even track
statistics for you if you use their URL shortener. Take advantage of it. Determine
what content is most popular, what time of day is best to post new content, and
overall how many people you reach. All this information is useful when figuring out
how successful your efforts are, what you can improve on and how much effort you
need to be putting into each site to reach your goals. You can then take this
information and share it with funders, potential funders and group members to
show the worth of your work.
On the other hand, do not get obsessed with your statistics. Growing your number of
followers is great but quality is still more important than quantity. Have a strategy
to disseminate information and stick to it. Do not get hung up in wanting to break
200 followers or the fact you lost three followers yesterday. The important point is
that you are taking the time to share your research with more people than you
would have reached otherwise.
Rule 6 – Get Help, Give Help
If you are unsure of how to use social media tools effectively for science outreach,
find resources to help you. Find another scientist or research group that is using
social media and talk with them. Tell them to answer honestly, ask them your
questions, talk out your issues and see what sort of insight they have gained on how
best to use social media tools. Let these other scientists be the testimonies that will
help you believe in the power of social media and teach you the ins and outs before
jumping in prematurely. Seeking help from other scientists can be less time
consuming than attempting your own research on all of these different sites.
If you are an institution attempting to encourage your research groups and
scientists to start using social media, give them the tools to feel comfortable. Take
the time to develop How-To guides, find people that are willing to serve as points of
contact that other people can go to with questions, gather testimonies from the
others using these tools to create a testimony page/pamphlet/book for new
scientists to reference. Creating resources will help facilitate and encourage social
media use and increase science outreach.
But do not waste time re-inventing the wheel. There are amazing resources already
out there that you just need to find and distribute to your employees or use for your
own research. Granted, there will be institutions that prefer to have their own
guides and sets of testimonies, but feel free to pull from these other valuable
resources. Also, do not simply talk to one person and think that is the end all be all.
Everyone has a different opinion and even three people that all believe in social
media will have slightly different perspectives on how best to use sites and which
sites are best for which purposes. You need to talk to a wide variety of people to
gain a real picture of social media use for science outreach.
Rule 7 – Be Consistent, Be Committed
One key to social media is to have a schedule and stick to it. Make a pact with
yourself to blog once a month or once a week, tweet three times a week and post on
Facebook twice a week, for example. Set aside a day, an hour, a period of time to
work on your blog. Set aside 10-15 minutes a day or every other day to respond to
comments. It does not need to be much, but choose a schedule that works for you
and stick with it. This way social media will have less of a chance of falling to the
back burner when you get busy.
The other benefit to having a schedule is when new people find your site they will
notice that you post at certain time intervals and the blog or account is active. There
is nothing more disappointing than finding a new and interesting blog only to
realize the last post is from months or years ago and who knows when new
information will come through. Readers and followers want to know that following
you or reading your blog will be beneficial to them in terms of gaining new
information. Where is the return on investment if the blog you follow only posts a
new blog once a year?
Rule 8 – Don’t Let Social Media Take Over
It all has to do with discipline and balance. Dedicate time to social media but do not
get sucked in to the point where you lose track of your research or the other things
you need to be doing. Keep in mind you have to be participating in the real work in
order to have good information to bring back to the social media sites (Neeley
2012). There are tools available to make sure you do not miss anything big, such as
alerts for mentions or comments, and if there is big news it will stick around and be
promoted enough for you to see it even if you are not constantly monitoring your
sites and accounts.
Social media can be described as a river, as opposed to a lake or body of water – you
do not need to read every tweet, blog or post within the well of information. Merely
dip into the river when it is useful and do not worry about what is flowing past
when you are not there to witness it (Neeley 2012). It is simply impossible to keep a
constant eye on everything that is happening on social media while still
participating in research and other aspects of the real world.
Rule 9 – Keep it Simple
You have all heard the saying, KISS – Keep it Simple, Silly (or other, not as nice
names). But the saying holds true. Keep what you are saying at a level that people
will be able to understand. Think of your audience and meet them where they are in
terms of jargon and language use. If you are targeting GIS technicians, like the MMC
does for the most part, it is okay to use GIS related terms. But if you are targeting
elementary school children, do not using high school level language, you will not be
Think of your content before building something complicated on the Internet. Start
your blog with an idea and a focus and then as readership grows, expand to suit
your audience. For example, bloggers Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson started the
blog, “LSE Election Blog”, aiming to share election information in the UK in 2010
(LSE 2012). The blog gained popularity and quickly transformed into “British
Politics and Policy” that covers all aspects of what its name states. This was due to
the demands of readers. However, there is no reason to put in the effort to create
this ornate project at the outset; you will wind up tiring yourself out before you
have even reached the point of success, and you do not know what your readers
want until you gather readers in the first place.
Rule 10 – Share the Responsibility
Over half of the survey respondents stated that sharing the responsibility of social
media over the entire research group or lab group would encourage their use of
social media for outreach. Posting a blog once a week does not sound as daunting
when there are five authors contributing – all of a sudden you are only responsible
for blogging every six weeks. Monitoring comments on the blog, Twitter and
Facebook sites can consume a good amount of time. But splitting that responsibility
between the same five people means that it requires 10-15 minutes of your time
once or twice a week to monitor. The bottom line is that every lab should tweet and
blog (Wilcox 2011). Note: every lab, not every scientist. Spread the effort over a
collaborative team because that is how science is done – collaboratively.
Just make sure through all of this collaboration that you are communicating with
your social media team members. No one needs to see the same thing posted five
times or his question answered five times. Communicate with the other members of
your lab or research group and determine who is blogging when, who is posting
new content, who just tweeted that link to breaking science in your field, and who
answered that Facebook fan’s question. With the power of emails, texts and phone
calls, even if you are not actually in the same physical lab or office you can still
communicate to the team about your social media happenings.
Rule 11 – Go in with a Plan
Creating a new social media account or blog site is exciting. It makes you want to
jump in, write that first welcome to my blog post and feel like you are ready to go!
However, the more successful blogs are the ones that have been thought out before
they begin. Meet with your editorial team, research group, anyone that will be
working on the blog with you and draft the subjects – not the full blog – for the first
ten posts. This forces you to develop a template so that you can determine what
your blog will be about each week/month without having to strain yourself coming
up with something new. For example, if you are researching different varieties of
stingrays you could do a feature on each species. If you are going into the field for
two months, you could blog daily – or when Internet connection allows – and do a
“notes from the field” angle. The important question here is: what will the blog look
like in six months? Then go about planning to make sure it ends up that way
Chapter 9: Gathering Survey Results
For this one, I will refer to the online version. This is where I get into a lot of the raw data from my survey and there are too many graphs and figures to enter into WordPress. I will, however, give you a bonus chapter!
Chapter 10: Coming to Conclusions
In order to draw conclusions, we need to first look back to the research questions. As I stated in the introduction, I designed this survey to investigate the use of social media in science outreach. More specifically, I wanted to determine if social media could reach a larger audience than previously attained, what value scientists and agencies found from social media use and which social media sites proved most effective for the overall goals of outreach. I also wanted to gather rules and guidelines scientists and institutions used to govern social media use in order to design a set of best practices.
The case study with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Services Center (CSC) on their Multipurpose Marine Cadastre (MMC) project gave me the most insight into whether or not social media could effectively increase the audience size for outreach. The simple answer is yes. By pushing the MMC’s content out through social media, especially Twitter, we were able to increase the total webhits by 100% with a growing number of followers. Certain social media sites are more suited to different goals; Twitter was much more effective for our purposes, while Facebook has taken a much longer time to catch-‐on and still has not reached the status we would like. Therefore, it is wise to scrutinize the type of content you will be producing, your audience and your needs based on what each site offers, before choosing the social media site you use.
Many of the scientists that responded to my survey also stated that they used social media sites to reach a wider audience than they would previously be able to attain. When asked for their biggest reasons for using social media, many said that they were able to reach an audience outside of the scientific community, they were able to reach an important market, expose more people to science, promote their science and communicate with a wider audience. Most social media sites have user numbers in the millions with many socioeconomic backgrounds represented. This means that no matter your intended audience, you can find a social media site that will help you to reach it, effectively.
The majority of the scientists surveyed stated that networking was the biggest value they gained from social media. This included networking with scientists in other fields, scientists they are currently working on research projects with (to keep everyone in the group updated), and even networking for funding opportunities.
Many scientists describe the sense of community they have gained with other scientists in and out of their field of research that has helped them gain exposure for research opportunities and co-‐authoring. Other scientists stated that social networking helped them to land jobs and research positions in addition to helping them connect with a larger public community than they would have otherwise.
Another value gained from social media is the ability to hone and improve communication skills. Scientists said that writing blogs forced them to focus on their topic and clarify ideas in order for a wide variety of audience members to comprehend their research. Scientists also enjoy the aspect of learning new science research without having to seek out the information themselves. Scientists are able to read about interesting discoveries they might have otherwise missed while the information is passed to them through an easy medium.
Institutions, such as CSC, have found value in being able to quantify their reach and determine the amount of people relying on their projects. That way, they are able to give quantitative data for why that project should receive funding, not get cancelled, or require additional resources. Today, it is more important than ever to be able to show data proving that a project is meaningful and necessary in order to continue receiving funding and support. Social media, and using web statistic software, can fill the void for finding relevant data.
Social media also allows institutions to be more accessible to audiences that previously felt disjointed and lost in the void. Government institutions, for example, become more open to direct communication; the average person is now able to tweet the President, NOAA, or other institutions. Depending on site monitoring and volume, that person might not be replied to in a timely manner; however, he or she has a much better chance than previously in getting a response from any of these agencies.
There are a wide variety of social media sites. New sites pop up almost daily and no one can ever tell which sites will stay around and which ones will fall to the dust. Based on my research, both scientific institutions and independent scientists use Twitter and Facebook more than other social media sites; blogging sites come in a close third (independent scientists actually use blogging more than Twitter and Facebook). Twitter is estimated to have just reached 500 million users, while Facebook announced last year that it reached over one billion users (Bennett 2012). A previous study done investigating social media use by research scientists found that 27% of scientists use social media sites such as Facebook, 14.6% of them use blogging sites, and 9.2% use microblogging sites such as Twitter for research purposes (Nicholas et al 2011).
An important aspect to consider, however, is active users. Active users are defined as users who log on to the social media site at least once a month. Facebook is estimated to have 750 million active users (Crum). Another important aspect is amount of traffic on the site per day; Twitter has over 140 million tweets per day (Crum). Within just those two sites, there is a great deal of potential for distribution of your message.
There are still many questions regarding social media use left unanswered. Two of these questions turn up in almost every conversation with non-‐social media users: How do I know what I am reading is trusted without peer-‐review? And how do I protect my research from being scooped by another researcher after I have posted it online? The first question is easier to answer. There is no formal peer-‐review process for social media; if there was, we would be back to the long cyclical scientific process we are trying to break away from in the first place. However, there is an informal process that helps readers to trust the source. After a scientist posts a blog, other scientists and people all over the Internet have the opportunity to read the blog. If there is something fishy in the writing or statements not backed up by facts, readers will call the author out. The author then has the responsibility to back up their claims, fix their errors, take the blog down, or risk loosing all credibility on the Internet. What this means for other readers is that you need to be an educated reader; take the time to read – or at least skim – the comments to check for these types of call outs.
The second question, how to protect your ideas, is not so easily answered. The Internet is a tricky place; once content is posted, it is out there forever, for all to see and use how they see fit and is almost impossible to monitor. This means that when you put your content on the web, you run the risk of someone else taking it and scooping your idea. This is one of the main reasons a majority of medical professionals are not involved in social media (Zivkovic, 2011). Unfortunately, there is no good way to handle this issue as of yet. It might seem overly optimistic, but the community that has formed on social media comprised of scientists from all areas of research does a great job of protecting each other and their research. There is a seemingly unspoken rule that says, help to protect other scientists’ ideas and they will help protect yours. Whether or not this is true, it is at least a known issue and one that is consciously being worked on.
Chapter 8: Talking with the Social Media Experts
After creating the initial draft, I contacted multiple social media experts – professors using social media, social media professionals, etc – and set up meetings, if possible, to discuss the questions I had created. I wanted to make sure that the questions targeted my research questions and would gather the information I desired. I also wanted to know if these professionals were interested in any information on social media use that I would be able to gather for them. They were much more knowledgeable concerning current data gaps and I wanted my survey to help fill those gaps when possible. For example, the questions regarding what blogs scientists read and scientists’ feelings towards social media came from a social media professional (Neeley).
Talking with these experts gave me a better sense of social media within the science world. I was under the impression that those scientists not using social media did not understand the full value of social media, were simply stuck in their ways or did not know of social media. However, there is a large group of scientists that feel hostility towards social media; these scientists know the basics of social media and yet are very offended by the popularity of it (Neeley) due to the lack of peer review process and subsequent apparent lack of credibility.
Apart from giving me valuable insight into scientist’s perspective of social media, these experts assisted me in wording and developing my questions. My question that discussed possible sources of help for social media use was greatly aided by expert input. Seeking out the opinions of people that had directly worked with scientists to further their social media skills allowed them to give amazing insight into what help could be offered to really assist scientists, such as speaking with someone trusted (Neeley); as opposed to my generalized guess work of what seemed helpful.
I sought out the help of professors and students at Duke as a way to pre-‐test the survey. I distributed it to professors and students both using and not using social media and requested them to take the survey and let me know if they had any questions or comments. These pre-‐testers were able to catch technology errors within the survey application – I used Qualtrix.com – as well as insight into how to better format and phrase questions. I also sent the survey to my co-‐workers at NOAA CSC to pre-‐test the institutional survey. Only minor changes were made after this pre-‐test.
After speaking with the experts and pre-‐testing with professors and students, I felt confident enough to distribute the survey to the rest of the people and institutions I had listed as ideal candidates. I then proceeded to post the link to both surveys on my blog and send them out over my personal Twitter and Facebook accounts to distribute to an even wider audience than I would have reached otherwise.
Chapter 7: Survey Design
The goal of my survey was to question the scientists and science-oriented
institutions using social media and determine how they are successful. I wanted to
know if these groups of people had rules that governed their use of social media,
what social media sites they use, what value they find from social media and any
other thoughts they had concerning social media. I aimed to use this information to
draft a set of best practice uses for social media – a set of guidelines that would
assist scientists and scientific institutions alike with using social media.
Another aspect of my survey was to determine answers to why some scientists and
scientific institutions are not using social media sites, whether or not they could be
convinced to start using these sites and which sites they would use first. Before
designing the survey I compiled a list of scientists and scientific institutions that I
would send the survey to when completed. I made sure to include people and
institutions that did not use social media so that I could split the survey into two
sections: one for social media users and one for non-social media users.
I first took the time to develop definitions for terms I would use within the survey. I
defined “Social Media”, “Institution” and “research group” to make sure respondents
would have the same understanding of these terms in order to answer the questions
with directly comparable knowledge to start off. I gave definitions at the beginning
of the section they pertained to – “institution” and “research group” definitions were
only used for the scientific institution survey.
I began drafting the survey by covering the basic demographic areas I wanted to
cover. Age, field of study, line of profession, gender, general exposure to social
media, whether these people use social media for personal use, and how frequently
they use social media for personal use were all formatted into questions and added
to the beginning of the survey. I included the same demographic questions in both
surveys to get a base of knowledge on the people managing institutional social
media accounts. Most questions had a “prefer not to answer” or “other” option in
order to give respondents the freedom to share more or less information than
For the independent scientist version of the survey, the next section dove into that
scientist’s use – or lack thereof – of social media for scientific purposes. I split
respondents, using skip logic, into two groups: those that used social media to
promote scientific research and those that did not. To the respondent who did use
social media for this purpose, I further asked what sites they used, if they read blogs,
if they track statistics on their sites, if they took time to respond to comments and if
so, how much time they took to respond. I also asked what was the biggest reason
they started using social media, if they followed any self-imposed rules for social
media use with examples and what was the largest value they felt they have gained
from using social media.
For the scientists that answered they did not use social media for scientific
purposes, I asked how social media made them feel, what the biggest reason was
that they did not use social media, what sources of help could encourage them to
begin using social media and if they could be encouraged, what sites they would
most likely begin to use. I asked every respondent if they have any additional
information to share concerning social media use for science outreach.
I designed a separate survey for scientific institutions using – or not using – social
media for science outreach. I targeted individuals that managed social media
accounts for an institution, work project or research group and people that were
employed by institutions that held potential for using social media. I began with the
standard demographic questions and then asked whether or not the institution that
person was employed by supported social media use.
To the respondents that answered yes, I asked if their institution required the use of
social media and detailed questions regarding whether or not theirs was a
structured process one had to go through to obtain a social media account and how
involved that process was. I then designed questions targeting the amount of
involvement that the institution takes after the social media account is created, what
sites the institution or research group uses, whether they use web statistics
software to track analytics or any other means of tracking success and if they took
time to respond to comments. Lastly, I made sure to ask whether or not the
institution enforced rules or guidelines on social media use with examples.
To the respondents that answered no to social media use, I asked if the institution or
research group had social media accounts that are currently sitting inactive,
whether or not the research group or project would apply for an account if the
option were available, and whether or not the person believed that social media
would benefit his institution’s or research group’s outreach efforts. I also designed
questions to determine what sites the group would be most likely to use and what
kind of support from the larger institution would help encourage social media use.
Lastly, I again asked both groups if they had any additional thoughts to share
concerning social media use for science outreach within a scientific institution.
The link to the full master’s thesis is now on the sidebar for if you’d rather read it all at once.
Chapter 6: Struggles of Facebook for the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre
The MMC Facebook page was much more difficult to manage in comparison to Twitter. For Twitter, we posted information and found organizations to follow and then it seemed that the followers just started coming in. With Facebook, however, we posted information, found organizations to like and yet the fans did not hang around our page. People might visit the page, but no one was motivated enough to actually click the “like” button. After the first few weeks of the live account, we had three fans consisting of myself and the other people working on the MMC team in charge of the Facebook page (currently, we have 33 followers). Facebook is a work in progress but there are some key struggles and ideas to fix. I will discuss those issues here.
Setting up the Facebook Page
Facebook is unlike Twitter in more ways than not. One main difference is that once a Facebook page is created it needs activity before people will notice the page or want to “like” it. Those of us in charge of the page took time to fill out the profile, add photos – screen grabs in our case – and include extra posts that covered basic information about the MMC as well as some of our new information we were pushing out on Twitter. That way, if someone were to stumble onto the page before we promoted it and got into the regularity of posting, they would see a full page and not just a blank screen. This works to demonstrate to potential fans that we have a good deal of information to share and that the page will not sit dormant if they were to “like” the page.
I also took the time to get comfortable with using Facebook pages. Facebook can be a complicated world of likes, pokes, games and posts and adding pages to that mix just adds to the confusion. For starters, once the page is created, you are the administrator of that page. You can add any of your friends as administrators and can add or remove administrators at any time. The tricky part comes when trying to post as the page and not as your personal account. Facebook allows you to see the pages you manage in two ways: first, pages are listed on the left-‐hand side of the Home page on Facebook.com and when clicked it will show you the page and allow you to interact as your personal page. In other words, when clicking the side link I can post on the MMC page as Caitlyn Zimmerman, not as MMC. Second, by clicking on the top right corner dropdown menu, you can choose to “use Facebook as page” and then interact with the page and other people/pages as the page. So after doing this, I can post on other pages as MMC or update the MMC’s status and it will show up that the MMC posted something new.
All of that confusion is just the tip of the Facebook page iceberg. I made sure to become familiar with all of these caveats and explain them in depth to the rest of the team and people who would be interacting with the page. In order to have a chance at success with Facebook we needed to be comfortable with how to use the features.
If You Build it, They Might Not Come
We quickly realized that even after “liking” other pages and tweeting about our new Facebook page, people did not “like” our page back. Just because we had created what we thought was a great Facebook page did not mean that people would automatically flock to it like they did with Twitter.
So we had to get creative. We sent out email blasts to the other team members, people we knew in the GIS field and co-‐workers at CSC. That got us a few more “likes” but nothing substantial. I then decided to play around with the “recommend” feature. I went through all of my personal account friends and chose the friends that I knew were interested in GIS; I then recommended they “like” the MMC page. That got us the highest number of new fans at any one time. We went from around 10 fans to 26 fans. The plan is to now have the other Facebook administrators recommend the MMC to their friends to increase our reach.
We have also tried to promote the Facebook page over Twitter without much luck. It seems that Twitter users are not as interested in heading over to Facebook for additional information. Our next steps are to add more extensive information than what is currently posted on Twitter and to solicit more feedback. We would like Facebook to be the place people go to let us know how they are using the MMC, what data they are looking for and any suggestions or questions they have about the MMC.
This experience has allowed me to realize a few things about Facebook. First, it is not as easy of an outlet for information as Twitter is. My personal opinion is that Twitter users are seeking out information while Facebook users are still predominately interested in using Facebook for personal and social purposes. Second, the MMC does not have the typical things that draw people into a Facebook page. We do not have fun pictures of people partaking in interesting activities or pictures of cute animals and we are not giving away promotions. Apart from information and earlier notification of new data releases and website updates, the MMC Facebook page is nothing special to a Facebook user.
I believe the biggest issue is the lack of personal touches. On Facebook, people want to know that they are interacting with someone, not just a page. As I said, we do not have pictures of people – merely pictures of screen grabs – and the language we typically use sounds formal and closer to “government speak.” As we get more comfortable with Facebook posts, we are moving away from the formal tone of voice; however, we still need to determine how to show a face of Marine Cadastre.
Also, advertising the MMC Facebook page poses no real benefit. The people and organizations already following the MMC are satisfied with interacting and gaining information over Twitter; they most likely do not see the draw in adding another site that gives them essentially the same information. I think by adding more to the Facebook page giving more and different information compared to what is posted on Twitter, we could change this feeling.
Chapter 5: The Successes of Twitter for the Multipurpose
As much as Twitter seemed to get off to a slow start in terms of approving posts and
gaining followers, it has far surpassed expectations. We currently have 201
followers with an average of 105 hits, or clicks, per link. Our number of website hits
has jumped from around 12,000 per month to over 24,000 per month. The MMC
Twitter account has only been around for six months and we have seen a 100%
increase in web traffic. On average, we get a new follower each day.
We have noticed that more of our partners and established users are on Twitter, in
comparison to Facebook or other social media sites. Number of followers tends to
fluctuate, which is natural, but we have definitely seen a steady climb in followers.
Out of our current 201 followers, 105 are individual people and 96 are organization
accounts. The fact that more of our followers are individuals could mean that our
data are more appealing to individual users; however, many of the individuals are
employees of companies utilizing MMC data. There is no great way to determine
who is using the data in what ways just by looking at the follower composition.
The best, most basic way of tracking success is to use the number of hits, or clicks,
each link receives. By using a URL shortener, and in the case of government
accounts this is a specified shortening service, we can track hits per link and where
that link directed users. Using this information, we can calculate average number of
hits per link based on destination as well as overall average number of hits. It is
important to note that although there was not an equal number of tweets
concerning each destination, we can still break the shortened URLs up into
destination categories to determine which were most popular. The map gallery
destination was the most popular overall, with an average number of hits at 190 per
link. The home page was the next most popular destination with 114 hits per link on
average. The updates page and map viewer were the next most popular with 105
and 102 hits per link on average, respectively. The support, data and tools pages
were all in the range of 70-100 hits per link on average. Table 1 in the Appendix
shows these values in more detail.
There are other aspects of analyzing the number of hits per link that were not taken
into account here. A tweet, or post, needs to be interesting and engaging in order to
grab a follower’s attention and make them want to click the link. Therefore, it is
possible that followers are genuinely more interested in the map gallery, or it is
possible that those tweets were more engaging and the phrasing caused more
people to click the link. Unfortunately, there is no good way to measure engagement
or appeal of a tweet; personal opinions on what is appealing differ far too much.
CSC has tracked monthly webhit totals since October 2011. By comparing these
values as “Before Twitter” with the monthly webhits since the beginning of August
2011 as “After Twitter,” we can determine visual trends for the increase in webhits.
Since October 2011 there has been a steady increase in webhits with the total never
exceeding 14,000. After the implementation of Twitter, there is a period of time with
little to no change in webhits and then it becomes obvious that Twitter makes a
significant difference in amount of website traffic the MMC website receives. When
graphically comparing before and after implementation, the slope of the best-fit line
almost doubles after implementation. If the graphs are redone to include the lag
period after implementation with the “Before Twitter” data, the slope of the best-fit
line for “After Twitter” is almost triple that of “Before Twitter.” It is clear that
Twitter had a positive effect on total webhits and website traffic.
Overall, the MMC project has seen positive results in all aspects of implementing
Twitter. By using Twitter, we are able to reach a more diverse audience – especially
if we extrapolate the reach using retweets and mentions – and receive informal
feedback valuable to the advancement of our overall project goals. With 105 hits per
link posted, we are ensuring that new data, new blog posts and highlighted areas of
the website are seen by more users than previously. This is supported by the overall
increase in webhits to the website. All of this data helps prove the value of the MMC
and demonstrates the variety of benefits to data seekers that the MMC provides.