Let me tell you a little secret: I don’t have a smart phone or keep up with Game of Thrones. As a matter of fact, for a younger guy, I’m pretty old-school. Accordingly, I was a huge skeptic of online social media…but I’ve always seen the value of non-technical communication in science. In fact, some people (e.g. M*A*S*H's Alan Alda) would even argue that communicating with the public is a scientist's foremost responsibility.
With success stories like Deep Sea News, Science Sushi, Southern Fried Science, and The Fisheries Blog, it’s hard to ignore the value of social media in fisheries science. Even chapters of the American Fisheries Society are getting in on the action. Hell, even this fish found value in the use of a smart phone!
Melissa Marshall asks scientists to talk nerdy to her!
Plenty of others are beginning to agree. Many of them recently convened in Little Rock at the 143rd Annual AFS Meeting in a symposium dedicated to sharing ideas about using social media to better communicate fisheries science. The symposium was hosted by the Fisheries Information and Technology Section of AFS (FITS).
Instead of summarizing each talk myself, I asked several speakers to give us their “take-home” message…
Anne McElhatton (@bcsanswers), who writes the blog Beach Chair Scientist, outlined the different platforms fisheries scientists can use to communicate more effectively: “...A general rule of thumb is to ask “Is this essential to the core message?” Blogging can be an effective way to share additional information to those interested in further details.”
Julie Claussen of the Illinois Natural History Survey convinced us that Twitter is an incredibly useful source for job seekers in fisheries. Julie (@FishConserve) encouraged us to “Get out of your science comfort zone and broaden your community using Twitter. As in any community, you can stand back and listen, or jump right in and interact... and you might just find a job!”
The Fisheries Blog's very own Patrick Cooney (@FisheriesBlog) compared readership of research published strictly in traditional scientific journals versus those promoted through online media: “Publishing is only the first step in properly disseminating scientific research. Recent analytics show that without using social media to share your work, you and your co-authors will most likely be the only people that end up reading about your hard work.”
|The Fisheries Blog, AFS-FITS and others kept members who couldn't attend the conference updated with their Twitter and Facebook accounts.|
State management agencies also had a nice showing. Tom Lang of Texas Parks and Wildlife spoke about how TPWD uses its Facebook page as a fisheries management tool. According to Tom, “When it comes to fisheries management, leaving people out is like playing a football game and leaving your defense in the locker room…Social media is how the public is communicating and if we don't embrace this societal change then we are greatly risking the erosion of our own social relevance.”
Thom Litts of the Georgia DNR gave a nicely quantitative presentation on the effectiveness of GDNR’s social media communication strategies. GDNR uses Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, and automated license renewal notices. Thom studied the influence of these communications on angler license buying behavior. The presentation described some of the methods and limitations encountered while trying to answer this question.
So all you scientists out there, I understand your hesitation to jump into the mix of social media. But take it from an old-school guy like me who has seen the results: there is a huge return in scientific relevancy with a very small investment in the use of social media. As for all you non-scientists out there...be ready for us to talk nerdy to you!
Check out 2 recent articles on social media in fisheries science in the August 2013 issue of Fisheries.
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