Communicating science via online platforms comes with its own particular traps and pitfalls. So what should communicators be on the lookout for? How can we avoid the snares of misconceptions and misinformation?
Philip Roetman discusses the elements of research, education and engagement – keys to bilateral exchange of information: giving information to the community by showing how to get involved and getting them interested. “I’m a great believer in the power of the voice of the community” and the different groups, organisations and demographics – reaching vast areas over time, but still need the right platform for the right people. We still need a mix of traditional and the new.
Jacqui Hayes, as the Digital Editor of Cosmos Magazine, discusses the different audiences for the digital and magazine versions of the publication – they’ll be relaunching the website soon with entirely new content! There’s a lot a ways to look at a business plan with online communication being a big part of it, and it has the largest audience. What she does is try to build the online audience and get people involved (Facebook, Twitter, newsletter) – all for free and people get to know the brand and are funnelled up through the products due to getting to know and trusting the content and writers. “We’re going to try a bunch of things and see what works!”
Dr Paul Willis, Director of the Royal Institution of Australia, talks on the real world events and online events. “We always like to reach more people – what we’ve established so far is an effective mechanism for reaching internationally – last night’s Xenotransplantation event had the online audience exceed the live audience!” People follow from all over the world – US, UK. Their discussion from the Mawson Base in Antartica that they live-streamed were getting tweeted questions from around the world. It’s about getting people familiar with that format and so it becomes a valid form of entertainment, become participants – “it’s not science communication, not a one-way street – I want the ‘boffin’ answering questions, becoming more engaged and getting more information and seeing how science affects their lives”. He stresses the importance of improving productions, both video and sound – even in straight blogging, we expect good writers and an effort being put in to communicate well and clearly.
Professor Barry Brook, says when he first started blogging on climate change, he was often asked to do traditional means of communication like radio and found the blog a way of aggregating the content he was producing. He could provide links and more details on papers, things that were difficult to get across otherwise. Also a good way of soliciting information from a wide audience, part of an ongoing, pertinent dialogue. Using Twitter and a blog, he finds the blog is limited as it’s towards particular posts, whereas the “microblogging” element of Twitter is broader – diversifying is not a problem and a part of getting the message out as many ways they can!
SocMed ‘burnout’ is a furphy. Filtering and selective attention is not that difficult; spammers are easy enough to block if they’re interfering with information streams. It’s the subjects that engage people – being a good writer, a good presenter contributes to building an audience that then tunes into and is receptive to your content. It still has to be good content and engaging… no matter what platform you’re on.
You do have to be realistic, realise that a certain audience is going to identify with your content and that’s who’ll you’ll reach. N.B - curate any live-streams of Tweets if they go live on a wall at an event! Helps focus the event and avoids spam / abuse of Tweetwalls. Paul extolls on the wonder of being able to go online late at night /early in the morning and follow a conference via Twitter on the other side of the world! A great shout-out to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Jacqui talks about the process of getting content out and the interesting process that takes place that can be a part of writing.