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Scio14 – I felt like I belonged more this year.

Posted: March 3rd, 2014 | Filed under: oceans, self-aggrandization, social media, Upwell | No Comments »

I came to Science Online in 2013 a newbie. My colleague, Rachel Weidinger, had attended in 2012 to introduce the community to our fledging nonprofit startup, Upwell, and I’d been hired a month later. When I attended last year, I was initially quite nervous and hesitant to speak up. I came from a nonprofit background, and felt that my streak for advocacy and my lack of a science background would set me apart as an unwelcome stranger amidst the crowd of accomplished scientists and journalists. I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case, and felt welcomed into the ocean blogging community. I even stayed up late sipping Kraken in the #DSNSuite, feeling like a true ocean groupie.

But something still stood out to me – I couldn’t really participate in many of the conversations. Not because I was shunned, but because they just weren’t all that applicable to what I was doing. Let me take a moment here to explain what I do – I try to make the ocean famous on the internet. I promote science-based content and try to increase the number of social mentions about issues facing our ocean – everything from overfishing to ocean acidification to marine protected areas. I work closely with scientists, government officials, and environmental advocates. I process and communicate science much like so many people in the Science Online community.

But, last year, I found that so many of the conversations focused on the actual act of writing. And how people get there. How do academics break barriers against social media? How can bloggers use narrative techniques? How can they overcome imposter syndrome? Why should scientists even be online?

I felt like there was a lack of focus on what to do after a piece of content is published. Sure, we do need to focus on creating good content, but how do we get people to actually read or see it? The people who come to Science Online are generally not only super wicked smart, but are also highly skilled communicators. They are the people who not only love and understand science, but know that it needs to be translated, and often know how to translate it.  Maybe it’s the communications pro in me, but I craved a stronger focus on outreach. I was pleased with sessions that focused on creating captivating visuals or using social media for promotion, and I wanted to see more of that.

Which is why I’m glad that there was a stronger focus this year on what to do after a piece of content is published. Not just what to do, but actually how to package information in the first place so it’s optimized for what happens after it’s out there on the web. Some topics that I loved this year:

  • Creating videos that not only explain science well, but also encourage viewership from a broader audience, and are easy to watch all the way through and entice viewers to share. #ScioPrep
  • Finding ways to inject science everywhere, not just the standard places. How do we interject pop culture, how do we use it as a hook for explaining science? #scioSciAll
  • Using social media and social media analysis and monitoring tools to understand how audiences are talking about a topic of interest. And not just that, also understanding how they feel about it and what their level of familiarity is. #ScioResearch
  • Developing press materials that are web friendly before publishing your papers. And doing it in a way that’s conscious of how journalism has changed in the internet age. #ScioPress
  • Incorporating images into your content in a way that adds meaning and also makes your content appear right on social media. #ScioVisual

I’m glad we’ve moved beyond just asking: “should we be communicating science online, and what are the challenges to being able to do so” to also saying “we are communicating science online, now how do we do it better, reach more people, and keep adapting to the changing ways people communicate and consume information online?” I found myself speaking up more, contributing information on the challenges we face on the daily at Upwell in terms of intervening in conversations, making science relevant, and helping science-based content reach broader audiences. And the responses I got were super positive. At Friday night’s Intergalactic Gala in the conference hotel, I had to keep putting my glass of wine down to reach into my back pocket for business cards for all the people who kept coming up and saying, “what you do is so cool.”

You like me - you really like me!


I’m hoping that, next year, the focus on outreach, promotion and optimized “packaging” is even stronger – maybe I’ll even be leading one of those sessions. 🙂

(As a side note, I moderated a great session on mentoring and mentorship, which, while it had nothing to do with science communication, was a much needed discussion that crosses boundaries. Not just for the scientific and journalist communities – for everyone. We talked about how to find a mentor, how to be a mentor, how to structure mentor relationships, and what challenges come along with mentoring. Check out my #ScioMentor Storify.)

(Edited on March 5, 9 am PST, to remove an offhand comment that devalued the craft of writing!)

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