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May 25, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Realities of Government Use of Social Media

In an ideal world, after deciding to create a social media account, you would go to that site’s website, create an account, fill out the profile and in a matter of minutes you would be good to go and start posting new information. Unfortunately, the reality is that working inside of the government, like most structured institutions, is not the ideal world. Long application processes thwart efforts for fast set up, and tentative co-­‐workers add time to the posting process. Not all of these side effects are 100% negative; yet, they still require a learning curve and preparation.

When the MMC team first applied for Twitter, the social media application process was under construction. The process should entail: filling out a rather simple form including a description of the project, points of contact for the account, and a description of why the social media account in question would benefit the greater good of the project. The application must first be approved by communication employees inside of the National Ocean Service (NOS) before continuing on for approval from communication employees inside of NOAA. Once all of these approvals have come through, you are then notified of the success – or failure – of your application. If approved, you must then go and create the account and submit the URL to the system.

The whole process sounds so simple. A tiny page-­‐long form and four people’s approval? Should not take that long. But it does. First, the language used on the form must be decided upon; if you are lucky, you can use previous language and tweak it a bit. Then you must choose the points of contact, one of which must be a federal employee. Once that is finished, you can submit the application. Then it becomes a waiting game. In the case of the Twitter application for MMC, the waiting never seemed to end. We were in contact with NOS employees in charge of NOS approval and all they could tell us was that they had approved the account and passed it on. It seemed that our account had been lost in the “we’re in the middle of transferring all of our information over to another system” void.

Finally, we were given the approval to create the account, almost two months after we had originally applied. Then the team had to decide what to post and how to go about approving each post. It was clear early on that to make everyone comfortable with our posts we needed a great deal of approving, editing and supervising. It is amazing how many emails can go into creating a 140-­‐character post!

The initial two of us that were assigned to the project turned into three when one of the leads on the project requested to see every post and approve it before posting. We learned quickly that it was easier to plan posts for a week, minimum, to increase the efficiency of approvals. As the process progressed, we have relaxed and fallen into a pattern of suggesting a week of posts, rewriting/editing if need be, approving and going ahead with the posts. It took a couple of months for this to happen.

Facebook started with a similar process. In order to create a Facebook account we need to fill out a form with a description of why Facebook is relevant to the project and the points of contact for the account. At this point, the new system was up and running meaning we did not have to worry about our application getting lost again. Completing the application and final approval took about three or four weeks – faster than Twitter but still not ideal. Again, we were required to create the account and submit the URL to the application system as soon as we received word of approval.

In terms of managerial processes, Facebook has run much more efficient than Twitter. Facebook posts are typically an extension of our Twitter posts and are therefore drafted and sent out in the same emails we send with the week’s Twitter posts. Everything can be examined and edited as need be at one time and takes little time to complete the approval process before posting. We have taken the time to add screen grabs and other pictures. These required less approval seeing as they were already posted on the main website and no changes were made while moving them to Facebook.

Other suggestions for Facebook posts include frequently asked questions, questions from specific events such as webinars, pictures from conferences, specific questions to gain feedback and examples of ways people and organizations use the MMC. Although we have used some of these ideas, some are still sitting in idea limbo waiting on approval and editing from other members of the MMC team. These longer posts of FAQs and questions from events require more extensive amounts of editing; plus, they must be posted to the MMC website before we can post them on Facebook. For these reasons, these types of posts have been a work in progress for over a month and have yet to be posted.

Overall, we have had a more difficult time – in terms of post approval – with the social media sites that lead team members were less familiar with to start out. As people became more comfortable with personal use of these sites, they became more comfortable with the MMC using these sites. If I were to repeat this process, I would take more time to teach the team members, encouraging them to create personal accounts and get to know the sites before we took on the organizational account.

May 24, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 3

Most of this is already available elsewhere on my blog, but now it’s all in one place. Enjoy!

Chapter 3: Proposing Social Media to the MMC

When I first started working with the MMC team, they focused on spreading the word about their product through rack cards (half a page in size and loaded with facts) or info pages (full page of photos and facts). Members of the team passed out the pages at conferences and used them at info sessions. It seemed to be working; a decent number of people visited the website each month – around 12,000 webhits each month – and user feedback stated that there were people and organizations relying on the product for site suitability and other purposes. But that process of disseminating information just did not seem as efficient as I felt it could be; so I suggested social media.

I investigated the four primary social media sites I introduced in Chapter 1: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. I then wrote up proposals and presented them to the MMC team, which comprised a group of about ten NOAA employees. We made the decision to go forward or wait for each social media site, notifying the BOEM representative to gather her input before actually moving forward. This chapter includes each of the four proposals. Out of these four, only two forms of social media were given the go ahead. Flickr and YouTube were denied based on manpower and the fact that Facebook encompasses many of the same tools.

Proposals have been edited to remove names of employees.

Twitter Proposal For the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre

I would like to discuss the possibility of obtaining a Twitter account for the MMC Viewer. It would be separate from the Center’s Twitter account due to the fact that it is a group effort involving other agencies. After speaking with CSC employees involved in social media or general outreach I have come up with potential pros and cons to pursuing this idea as well as why we should consider this.

Potential Benefits of Twitter:

  • –  The content is already there. According to NOS and NOAA guidelines tweets must link back to content already posted to a website. Therefore, this account would be tweeting updates to the Viewer, posts on the RSS feed, additions to the Support tab, etc.
  • –  Our users and partners are already on Twitter.
  • –  There is high potential for user engagement. Can reply to users and have conversations without having to maintain a special internal webpage for discussions.
  • –  Easy to maintain with minimal effort.
  • –  Great form of outreach.
  • –  Other forms of social media (FriendFeed, etc) are not as effective.

    Potential Drawbacks of Twitter:

  • –  Lots of red tape to go through with NOS and NOAA. Another employee already familiar with the process is getting back to me with specifics.
  • –  Current expectations are that each Tweet needs approval by the Head of the Communications Department (might be able to get around this because it is not just a NOAA project).

Twitter is rapidly growing in popularity. The general rule is that if a business or agency has stakeholders on Twitter, that agency should be on it as well. Twitter allows for a discussion without creating an internal site specific to that discussion; it can serve to monitor our users and their needs to better serve our users.

Since the MMC site has begun an RSS feed with updates coming at least every two weeks there is added reason to consider a Twitter account. Many users that might subscribe to the RSS feed will not check the feed (or forget it in their email/Google Reader) as often as they check Twitter. A Twitter account will allow for increased outreach and publicity of what is being updated and added to the MMC website while allowing for direct feedback from our users.

Facebook Proposal for the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre

“Even if you create a wonderfully designed website, you still need to direct traffic to that site. If you build it, they might not come.”             – Emily Crum, NOS Director of Communications, Facebook 101 Seminar

Facebook is a highly interactive social media site with over 750 million users, 52% of which log on every day. The Multipurpose Marine Cadastre (MMC) is currently gaining users and gaining potential uses with the inclusion of new datasets and the integration of site services such as ArcGIS Explorer Online. But is Facebook right for our needs?

Facebook has the power to bring more traffic and a wider, more diverse array of users to the MarineCadastre.gov site by reaching out to those 750 million users and spiking their interest in the MMC. The MMC site succeeds at meeting the needs of users and partners, thus far. However, Facebook can expand that success by allowing for two-­‐way communication not limited by 140 characters, by communicating with our partners and stakeholders already on Facebook in a comfortable setting and by growing our audience more effectively than with hardcopy material.

Potential Benefits of Facebook:

Many of the MMC’s users and partners are already using Facebook. BOEMRE and DOI have Facebook pages as well as the EPA (full organization and all regions), DOE, Geo-­‐Marine, Woods Hole Group and others. And as I’ve said before, a general rule of thumb with social media and businesses is that if your users are on these sites, you should be too. Even when the direct agencies the MMC is targeting are not on Facebook, their employees most likely are using this site and can therefore translate posts to coworkers and bosses.

Facebook allows for easier facilitation of discussion by posting comments and replies directly below the original post. Notes and messages allow for more ways to communicate; one can post a note describing a specific topic meant to directly encourage a conversation (such as FAQs), while messages are between two people and private. Facebook is an easy, personable way to communicate with our stakeholders and receive direct feedback on datasets, updates and support. Unlike Twitter, Facebook is not as limited by character length (420 character limit) thereby allowing these conversations to last longer and become more in-­‐depth than would naturally happen on Twitter. Links, pictures and other media forms can be included directly into posts and comments to direct viewers back to the MarineCadastre.gov website (or to other .gov websites of focus) and the same URL shortener used for Twitter can be used in Facebook to track analytics.

One of the largest benefits Facebook holds is to reach new audiences. Of the over 750 million users on Facebook, over 50% of them are between the ages of 23 and 49, and as stated above, 52% of all users log in every day. The National Ocean Service (NOS) estimates that their posts are seen between 3,000 and 5,000 times. With the addition of new datasets such as marine mammals and the AIS viewer, as well as the integration of ArcGIS services such as ArcGIS Explorer Online, the MMC has the potential to serve a much larger group of users. Moreover, Facebook recently released new updates that are likely to bring in more users and increase daily activity of users therefore increasing the MMC’s potential to reach new stakeholders.

Potential drawbacks of Facebook:

Managing comments is the major issue with Facebook. Facebook users are not 9-­‐5 users; they are online 24 hours a day, posting comments and feedback. This might lead one to believe that those of us with control over the site need to be monitoring the account 24 hours a day. This is not true nor is it possible. According to Emily Crum, Director of Communications for the National Ocean Services, as long as the site is checked regularly and some form of comment moderation is put in place there should be no major issues. It is also good to note that the majority of people who would have issues with negative comments are within the “9-­‐5” crowd; during this time, comments can be easily monitored by members of the Marine Cadastre team.

Overall, Facebook holds a great deal of potential to open new doors for the MMC. It will broadcast the MarineCadastre.gov site to a much larger audience and help to increase the use of cadastral data in new and innovative ways.

Flickr Proposal for the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre

Flickr is primarily a photo posting website which, for Marine Cadastre, could be useful to share screen grabs, product pages, rack cards and conference photos. But it also is becoming a video sharing website. This means that Marine Cadastre could create one account to serve both purposes.

Potential Benefits to Flickr:

Flickr at the basic level is a photo sharing site that allows unlimited uploads of photos and limited uploads of videos (Pro allows unlimited video uploads). Users of Flickr can seek out “friends” and share specifically with these users or share publicly and even control the copyright. A Flickr account would allow storing photos for use on Twitter; Twitter stores photos that have been tweeted but you cannot add extra photos. This way, Marine Cadastre could link to screen grabs that could aid in user support.

A Flickr account would be very easy to manage and require little manpower. Photos and videos would be uploaded and then comments would be moderated on a semi-­‐ regular basis to check for inappropriate comments, questions or other comments that require response. Out of a short list of stakeholders, NOAA, NOAA Research, NOAA NSSL, NOAA Ocean Explorer, NOAA NOS, American Wind Energy (AWE), EPA (US and regional), EcoTrust, TNC (US and regional), and the Ocean Conservancy all have Flickr accounts.

Potential Drawbacks to Flickr:

One shortcoming of Flickr is that the video sharing is limited to 2 video uploads per month. In order to get unlimited uploads the account must be upgraded to Pro which is $24.95 per year or $47.99 for two years. It seems that 2 uploads per month might be realistic apart from the initial set-­‐up of getting existing videos on to the account, and the price is not outrageous, we would just need to allot for it in the budget.

As with all government NOS accounts, content (including photos) posted on this site needs to be posted to a government site first and linked back to it. Screen grabs are allowed as long as the link leads back to the original source of the screen grab (website or map), and Twitter or Facebook can be used to broadcast these photos and other photos/videos on Flickr as long as the photo/video includes a link back to the MMC website. Overall, Flickr could have benefits of easy storage of photos and potentially videos with little manpower. It will also increase the power of the MMC Twitter and Facebook accounts and allow it to link to photos and videos.

YouTube Proposal for the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre

The use of YouTube to broadcast support videos and past webinars, in the case of Marine Cadastre, will allow a wider audience to easily search for MMC videos.

Potential Benefits of YouTube:

YouTube is a potentially powerful site allowing your content to “go viral.” Users do not need to be registered to YouTube in order to view its’ contents, and content can be found using a simple Google search. YouTube is low maintenance and takes little manpower to keep up; videos previously created for the Marine Cadastre website, webinars that were recorded, or even other conference presentations that were recorded can be uploaded to YouTube and comments can be monitored once a week or more (depending on time available) to check for unruly comments or comments needing response. YouTube also does a decent job of monitoring comments in this way. These videos are then available for all users and future users to access.

Tags can be added that will allow this content to result in a Google search of terms such as ocean data, GIS, wind energy or any other tags deemed appropriate. Within the description section, a link to the original source of the video (within the Marine Cadastre page) can be included to direct users back for more information, which is required within NOAA guidelines.

Potential Drawbacks of YouTube:

A seemingly difficult aspect required by NOAA/NOS is that all videos with sound need to have captions. YouTube is experimenting with its own captioning software, and it works well but still has the occasional error. NOS lists captioning software available for use such as QuickTime Pro, Caption Reporters, Closed Caption Maker, Automatic Sync Technologies and others listed here: https://webstats.nos.noaa.gov/socialmedia/youtube_process.html.

The biggest issue with a YouTube account is that NOS requests that all line offices use the main NOS account to submit videos. This is due to the fact that YouTube wants to limit government use of its services. BOEM would have to be consulted in order to determine if using the NOS account is a viable option. The other potential solution would be to use Flickr’s video posting capabilities (see Why Flickr?) or to post videos through Facebook.

Overall, it seems that NOS is willing to support and post Marine Cadastre videos if BOEM is comfortable with this option. However, it seems more beneficial to investigate Flickr or utilize Facebook’s abilities to upload video so the videos are not directly associated with NOAA/NOS.

May 21, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Introduction to the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre

The Multipurpose Marine Cadastre (MMC) is a joint effort between the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coastal Services Center (CSC) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The project works to create an integrated marine informational system providing jurisdictional, legal, physical, ecological and human use data in a geographical information system (GIS) framework (marinecadastre.gov). The result is a website – marinecadastre.gov – that gives users information concerning where the data came from, who provided it, access to the downloadable data, extra tools to analyze the data, examples of how other agencies or planners are using the data and links to ArcGIS Explorer in order to load the data into an online map.

The website also includes a data viewer. This viewer is designed and maintained by people at CSC and allows users to view and work with data without downloading the data first. The viewer offers the possibility of adding multiple datasets to a map, positioning the map to focus on a specific area, identifying areas and many other functions available in desktop GIS applications. Then, the user is able to save the map and retrieve a link that can be shared with other partners to view the map exactly where they first left it. While the website possesses most of the information and the downloadable data, the viewer is a very important product and one of the more used tools.

The MMC was designed to cater to ocean planners, specifically wind energy and other renewable energy sites. Much, if not all, of the datasets within the MMC are vital to determining a suitable site for renewable energy in the ocean. There are the obvious datasets such as jurisdictional boundaries, wind energy predictions and ocean uses. The MMC also includes datasets that pose helpful in the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assessment such as marine mammal densities, critical fish habitats and physical characteristics of the ocean – such as seamounts. All of this is in efforts to decrease the length of time needed for approving a wind energy site.

There is much more to the MMC than just wind energy siting. The data registry inside of the MMC allows access to federal datasets at a national-­‐scale that can be used in decision-­‐making processes. This service has helped other agencies, such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC) cut costs by not having to collect this data themselves (Digital Coast). The MMC can also be used for less obvious reasons. By taking the MMC data and importing it into an ArcGIS Explorer – an online GIS application – or downloading it to a desktop GIS application, it can be combined with other datasets to complete a number of tasks. One example is that a dive shop operator could use MMC data in combination with his own data in order to determine great dive sites for customers.

The MMC currently houses over 80 datasets with the list growing and updating rapidly. It is an important government tool, especially in terms of the country moving towards renewable energy sources. This project deserves more credit and recognition, a goal I aim to serve throughout this master’s project. 

May 19, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 1

Introduction to Social Media

What is social media? One definition of social media describes social media as electronic communication platforms that convey content generated and exchanged by networks of users (Auer 2011). In a general sense, that would seem true. Social media sites are online communication tools that allow users to communicate in a fast and effective manner by a variety of means with various multimedia types. Depending on the site, users can share text-­‐based messages that can link to photos, other websites, videos, and much more. Other sites allow for the sharing of specific multimedia but most will still allow some form of text-­‐based communication whether in the form of comments or something similar. After speaking with Bora Zivkovic (Chief Editor of blogs for Scientific American) I decided to focus on four main social media sites. Here, I will describe them in more detail.

The first site is Twitter (Twitter.com). This site is a microblogging site, meaning that users share text-­‐based messages no longer than 140 characters in length – this includes periods and spaces. These 140 character messages are known as “tweets” and help to deliver news and information to the users of Twitter (Twitter.com). By following other Twitter users, their tweets will show up in a feed on your page, allowing you to gather information on topics that interest you. Many people use Twitter simply as a listening tool; news stations, major networks, large science foundations all use Twitter to disseminate information and regardless of whether or not you contribute to the conversation, you can still listen in on what everyone else is saying (Twitter.com), and there is never a loss of information to listen to.

One of the best qualities of Twitter is that the short form of tweets force users to be concise in their statements. This means that the reader can gather a great deal more information in a shorter amount of time and still obtain main points. If the user then wants more information on a topic, they can follow the links within the tweet – assuming there are links, which most tweets have but it is not required – to learn more details. Another great feature of Twitter is the mobile platform. Twitter.com developed its’ own mobile application for Twitter. This allows users to tweet from virtually anywhere, anytime and get updates at the same time. With Twitter, you are always connected and never at a loss for information. The second site Zivkovic recommended is Facebook. This site allows users to share long form text-­‐based posts – 420 characters, pictures, videos and links to other websites or other multimedia. Most people are familiar with Facebook in terms of social networking – catching up with friends, sharing pictures from the latest social events and keeping tabs on people you are out of touch with. Thus far, few people have thought of using Facebook for distributing actual information. But more and more, Facebook is expanding towards this purpose. Facebook pages allow users to create a page devoted to a specific topic, cause, organization or anything else a person has in mind. The page can then gather “likes” – when people are interested in the information the page posts and want to show their support, they can “like” the page – allowing you to share information with more and more people.

Facebook is a large social media site, boasting the largest and most diverse number of users. This means that is has great potential for sharing information on any topic to a wide variety of users. Facebook is also available on a mobile platform allowing users content on the go.

A great site for video sharing, also widely known, is YouTube. This site can be a great way of sharing video content in an easily searchable format with the addition of tags and descriptions to allow searching users to know what your video is about before viewing it. Uploading your video to YouTube also allows users to embed videos within a post on a different social media site or within a blog. YouTube has updated and adapted its website in order to give users a more friendly and inviting social networking experience. YouTube now suggests videos within known subjects’ fields of interest, tracks which videos are most popular and allows users to connect in more ways than before. YouTube also lets users fully design their “channel” by creating categories of videos uploaded, “favoriting” other users videos and interacting in more ways than before. YouTube, as with almost all other social media sites, also has a mobile version. However, the mobile version is geared towards searching and viewing videos, not towards the social part of YouTube’s new online interface.

Lastly, Zivokic suggested investigating Flickr. This site is geared towards sharing photos but does have limited – unless you pay for it – video sharing capabilities as well. Flickr is the photo version of YouTube. Users can share photos, create photo albums, follow other users, add captions and tags to their own photos and even instill copyrights and sharing capabilities to their photos before interacting with other users through comments and “favoriting” others’ photos (Flickr.com). Flickr allows search options for photos using the tags you created, current events, places, and galleries, just to name a few. It is a great site to house all of the photos you post on your blog in one central location. Furthermore, you can organize the photos by categories, expand on the photos from your blog and add more photos from the same event or on the same topic. As you might have guessed, Flickr also has a mobile version. This application works similar to the website, in a much simpler way, and allows you to take photos from your phone and directly upload them to Flickr. A bonus social media site that I have been talking about – albeit indirectly – through all of these other descriptions is blogging. Many people do not consider it to be a form of social media, but I would argue against that perception. Depending on the platform you use to blog – I use wordpress.com – you can interact with other users by following their blog, searching for them using tags and categories and comment on their posts to start a dialogue (wordpress.com). Blogging is extremely long form text-­‐based communication. There is seemingly no limit to word count, number of other places on the Internet you link to, photos or videos you embed or any other aspect – as with all things, I am sure there are limits, it would just take a good bit of creativity and effort to reach them. A well-­‐written blog can be an invaluable tool in communication as well as the source for content for other sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Most, if not all, blog platforms are formatted for viewing on phones and tablets allowing readers to access your information anywhere and anytime. Some platforms, such as wordpress, even have mobile version of their platform in order for writers to post new blogs from their phones or tablets. Blogging is a valuable tool in the social media tool pack, without a doubt.

These five social media products do not even touch the tip of the iceberg of social media as a whole. There are sites that cater to compiling everything your friends do on all other social media sites and putting it in one place for you (FriendFeed.com); sites that work towards science collaboration and research paper citation such as Mendeley.com (mendeley.com); and sites that mimic the previously mentioned sites, such as Tumblr.com, which is very similar to Flickr. There really is a social media site out there right for everyone’s needs and purposes. You just have to look. 

May 18, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Materials and Methods

I started off collecting data over the summer while working at CSC. There, I researched – using primarily the Internet – each social media site that I then proposed to the Multipurpose Marine Cadastre (MMC) Team. While at CSC, I gathered perspective on how government agencies handle social media accounts, the applications involved, the process involved in terms of post approval and the overall mindset towards social media. After leaving the office, I stayed connected with the office and worked with them to develop and maintain Twitter and Facebook social media sites. I analyzed changes in web traffic based on these social media sites and extrapolated those markers into successes and failures of each social media site.

In addition to the information gained from working with CSC, I designed and distributed a survey instrument to independent scientists – at Duke University, through contacts in the field and over Twitter and Facebook – as well as to non-­‐ profits, government agencies, universities and private institutions – through personal contacts and over Twitter and Facebook. This survey delved into social media use on a personal level as well as for scientific purposes. It asked average use of social media for both, whether scientists responded to comments, tracked web statistics, found value from using social media and whether they followed any rules or guidelines in their social media endeavors. The survey also worked to examine the reasons and feelings behind scientists and institutions not using social media. The survey questions investigated feelings towards social media and what it would entail – if anything – to encourage scientists to begin using social media as well as what social media sites they would use. Lastly, as with all surveys, it left a question open to any feelings the respondents had on the subject of social media use for science outreach.

I then took the time, consulting with experts in the field, to analyze the survey results and compared and contrasted the results to what I discovered in the case study with CSC. Using all of this information, I developed a set of best practices for social media use for all scientists and science research institutions. 

May 15, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Introduction

For those of you who would like to take your time and read my lengthy master’s project chapter by chapter, here it is. Enjoy and please leave me questions and comments! Also, I apologize for the citations without links, most of the articles are hidden behind paywalls but I will post the bibliography if you are so interested.

Introduction:

Science is a distinct process. Scientists complete research, write up a paper describing their research, submit it to a scientific journal, and wait to hear the results. Fellow scientists review the paper (a process called “peer review”) and either accept or reject publishing the paper in the journal. No matter the outcome – acceptance or rejection – scientists repeat this process over and over again until the researcher has enough papers published to feel accomplished. This process holds many benefits: readers know scientific journal articles are factual and trusted sources. However, this process has a negative side as well.

The peer review process hides research papers within costly journals and communicates science in a manner only readable to fellow scientists. Politicians are not able to easily pick up a journal article and understand the information enough to use the science to support legislation; some politicians work with scientists to better understand current research, however these are few and far between. Scientific journal articles also present problems for laypeople. The scientific jargon typically used inside journal articles keeps laypeople from truly understanding the scientific research taking place and leaves them confused and in the dark concerning recent scientific discoveries and advancements.

At first glance, one would not find this a major issue. Science is for science’s sake and why does it matter if other people can or cannot understand, correct? In light of the recent changes with the economy and environment, however, the above statement is not holding true. More and more funding agencies want to see scientists prove their worth (Zivokic): why is their research important to society? How does it pertain to the larger picture of what is going on in the world? Once you have discovered what you are hoping to discover, what can we do with the new information (cure a disease, solve the energy crisis, etc)? This information is also vital to support smart pieces of legislation. Unfortunately, scientific journals do not answer these questions, forcing scientists to realize the validity of sharing their research with a larger audience.

A variety of resources are available to scientists to help solve this communication issue. Scientists have begun using social media sites – such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging – to aid in disseminating their research to a wider audience. Social media are electronic communication platforms that convey content generated and exchanged by networks of users (Auer 2011). These powerful tools allow for fast information sharing which many scientists use to exchange with other scientists, policy makers and laypeople (Zivkovic); social media is a way for scientists to communicate with people who care, for free (Girald 2009) potentially throughout the globe (Lines 2010). There is no formal right and wrong way to use social media, however there are techniques to help facilitate success and make using social media easier and more enjoyable. The issue is then encouraging scientists to use social media and teaching scientists these good social media practices.

The aim of this master’s project is to investigate the use of social media as an aid to science outreach. I combined information gathered from a case study with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center (CSC) as well as information from a survey distributed to other structured agencies such as non-profits, other government agencies, research institutions and private organizations as well as to scientific researchers. I asked the question of whether social media could help disseminate information to a larger audience than previously reached, what value scientists and agencies find in social media, and which social media sites prove most successful in order to determine a set of best practices for social media use whether you are an independent scientist or within a structured institution.

By working with a NOAA agency, I was able to experience first hand what it is like to utilize new tools, such as social media, inside of a government agency. Social media is a toolset that has the potential to connect the government to the average person in an easy, informal way. However, as with most government agencies, nothing is simple. To many of the people I worked with (if not all of them), social media was a brand new concept; they knew of social media but had never used it before. New things can be scary, especially with today’s government mentality of “screw up and risk losing your job.” Therefore, I had to determine how best to teach my colleagues about social media while reassuring them that we were correct and would be successful. Since then, everyone has relaxed and is now much more comfortable with the idea of social media. Some of them have even embraced personal social media accounts and are working towards spreading their own science opinions and knowledge.

I designed the survey to investigate the more general research questions I had concerning social media. By distributing it to both independent scientists as well as to those individuals that maintain social media accounts for larger institutions, I was more able to gain insight into all sides of the issue. I made sure to ask basic questions concerning social media use on a personal level and background knowledge of social media sites. I also expanded my questioning into broader areas involving scientists and institutions not using social media to determine the reasons and concerns behind this choice in the hopes of addressing them in my conclusions.

The ultimate goal of this master’s project is to create a set of best practices for social media use to aid in science outreach. There are many basic rules and guidelines posted on the Internet concerning how to use social media effectively, many of them focused on scientists’ use. However, an overwhelming majority of these guides are based on personal experiences of the author and not a broader survey of social media’s use. My project will fill this gap and give scientists a guide they can use to be successful with social media no matter if they are using it to promote their own research or the research of their organizations.

February 12, 2012 / caitlynzim

Persuading the MMC Team: Why YouTube?

The use of YouTube to broadcast support videos and past webinars, in the case of Marine Cadastre, will allow a wider audience to easily search for MMC videos.

 

Potential Benefits of YouTube

YouTube is a potentially powerful site allowing your content to “go viral”. Users do not need to be registered to YouTube in order to view its’ contents and content can be found using a simple Google search. YouTube is low maintenance and takes little manpower to keep up; videos previously created for the Marine Cadastre website, webinars that were recorded, or even other conference presentations that were recorded can be uploaded to YouTube and comments can be monitored once a week or more (depending on time available) to check for unruly comments or comments needing response. YouTube also does a decent job of monitoring comments in this way. These videos are then available for all users and future users to access.

Tags can be added that will allow this content to result in a Google search of terms such as ocean data, GIS, wind energy or any other tags deemed appropriate. Within the description section, a link to the original source of the video (within the Marine Cadastre page) can be included to direct users back for more information, which is required within NOAA guidelines.

 

Potential Drawbacks of YouTube

A seemingly difficult aspect required by NOAA/NOS is that all videos with sound need to have captions. YouTube is experimenting with its’ own captioning software and it works rather well, however, still has the occasional error. NOS lists captioning software available for use such as QuickTime Pro, Caption Reporters, Closed Caption Maker, Automatic Sync Technologies and others listed here https://webstats.nos.noaa.gov/socialmedia/youtube_process.html.

The biggest issue with a YouTube account is that NOS requests that all line offices use the main NOS account to submit videos. This is due to the fact that YouTube wants to limit government use of its services. BOEM would have to be consulted in order to determine if using the NOS account is a viable option. The other potential solution would be to use Flickr’s video posting capabilities (see Why Flickr?) or to post videos through Facebook.

Overall, it seems that NOS is willing to support and post Marine Cadastre videos if BOEM is comfortable with this option. However, it seems more beneficial to investigate Flickr or utilize Facebook’s abilities to upload video so the videos are not directly associated with NOAA/NOS.

 

SIDENOTE: As with Flickr, I wrote this proposal before we decided to go with Facebook. We’ve now chosen to use Facebook’s video capabilities in order to avoid associating MMC’s videos with NOS or NOAA. The MMC is a joint venture with BOEM and we pride ourselves in promoting both groups equally.

 

How does this apply to you?

YouTube is a great site for sharing videos. It has been around forever, shows up high on Google searches, and has new features to make it even more desirable.  Keyword searches allow easy searching and YouTube now offers even more suggested videos, suggested channels, trending topics and popular videos. This, combined with users’ ability to subscribe to your channel makes YouTube a great way to share science videos.

Beyond that, you can use YouTube to embed your videos inside your website (then direct viewers to your YouTube channel to find more great science videos), save favorites, edit videos, allow for captions (using YouTube’s captioning software), the list goes on.

Not sure what a “science video” is? Well, take a look at PsiVid blog on Scientific American. It showcases great science videos, some of which are created by research labs! So search around, get inspired, get a YouTube account and get involved in science movies!