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June 26, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Discussion and Conclusions

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.

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