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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!)

Upwell Diaries, Chapter 1: Social Media Lessons for the Marine Community

Posted: October 31st, 2012 | Filed under: oceans, social media | No Comments »

I’m experimenting daily with crazy campaign ideas at Upwell, and with all that I’m learning, wanted to share some of it with you here. In this first installment, some tips on using social media to promote marine/ocean issues. The basic social media lessons go without saying. I am a fan of transparency, immediacy, reciprocity. But there are unique challenges in this field – advocating for something that is hard for most of us to see, feel and touch. Explaining the myriad complicated issues that are bound to exist in such a diverse ecosystem. And moving beyond our fascination with charismatic megafauna to inspire action around the less cute or sexy issues, like ocean acidification, marine protected areas, and forage fish.

This is not an exhaustive list, just a few things that have been… swimming in my head recently.

1. Communicate based on shared values, not shared knowledge.

The ocean is so big, so vast, there are so many things that you can know about, and after years of campaigning in this space I still learn stuff everyday, so how can I expect to get massive amounts of social media traction on something that requires baseline knowledge about an ocean conservation issue?

Tap into an emotion we all share, as opposed to tapping into a specific set of knowledge that only a portion of people have. When thinking about how to campaign with social media around ocean issues, you have to understand that there is a lack of knowledge. When you’re campaigning on women’s issues, you’re not fighting that same information deficit. There is a base of knowledge, even if there isn’t a base of activism. When it comes to ocean issues, the knowledge and activism circles are pretty much one and the same.

One of the most creative ways to get people to share, to get a message to spread farther is how can we compare the ocean to things we take for granted in our everyday lives. Tap into our basic human nature, and the things that drive our daily decisions as opposed to into some pre-existing ocean ethic, which is not as widespread.

Seafood Fraud image macro

What else gets mislabeled in the world that people do know about?

2. Use people’s love of the ocean to inspire them to act.

Everybody loves the ocean. Even if we’re not all ocean conservationists, people  innately love the ocean, even it they’re scared of it. Even if they won’t swim in it, they love it. People love putting whales on T-shirts and shells in bathrooms. The ocean is part of our everyday existence. It has a good aesthetic. It’s beautiful.

The idea of abundance is deeply set in our culture. People believe that the ocean is abundant, that coral reefs are lively and colorful all over the world, and that our oceans are full of fish. There is a doom and gloom aspect in working in this field which makes you want to say, ‘Actually, we’re killing all the fish and all the coral reefs are dying,’ but like we did with Shark Week, it’s really important to meet people where they are. If they’re already thinking from a frame of abundance, hammering them with a message that things are dying is not something they’re going to want to share.

As much as we can use enthusiasm and love for ocean life to activate people, rather than a message of death and gloom, I think that that is much more powerful. We saw it happen during Shark Week. There were so many people who were excited about sharks. Sharks are awe-inspiring, and if you can acknowledge that, while also taking an opportunity to talk about the threats that face sharks, and use messages of awesomeness and abundance, you’re creating community with people who feel that way. If they see you as part of their community, and as sharing some kind of aesthetic, or personal, or moral value, then they’re that much more likely to listen to what you have to say. You have to establish a lot of common ground with people.

If you’ve got a Facebook Page and all you’re posting are negative things, you’re not going to get a lot of likes. You’ve got to celebrate what’s wonderful about the ocean in order to get people to understand that there’s something worth saving.

3. Embrace the meme. Combine images and text.

Memes are driving the discussion. People are engaging intellectually via memes. It’s not a vapid thing.

4. Look to other causes for inspiration

Just because we believe our issue is special, and especially important, doesn’t mean we are interacting with a different Internet than the rest of the nonprofit world. Look at what the Humane Society is doing. Look at what Human Rights Watch is doing. Some of the cutting edge nonprofits are doing social media work. You can just copy what they’re doing for ocean issues.

Don’t be afraid to copy what works.

Some thoughts on conversational tone and campaign messaging

Posted: October 31st, 2012 | Filed under: design, language, politics, social media | No Comments »

I was sorting through email on a flight the other day and started thinking about all the subject lines I was seeing. Quickly jotted this down before we landed in LA.

Over time, the difference between paid and organic content, between mission/brand-oriented and unaffiliated-human-created content, has become more and more blurred. (By paid content I mean not only traditional “paid media” – i.e. advertisements – but also content placed by paid employees – social marketing and content created by employees for their employers’ online presences.)

Advertisements use social language. Presidential campaigns send email blasts with the subject line “Hey.” Nonprofit organizations create photo petitions and video contests so they can hear and feature the voices of their supporters. Organizations, businesses and individuals who are spending money or paid time on social content are trying more and more to approximate our authentic social language.

With that, our ability to discern between paid and organic content has also evolved. I can tell spam from a mile away. And as much as President Obama’s campaign team tries to become the embodiment of a “friend,” I’m never fooled by their “friendly” language. We are evolving with new media, marketing and campaign strategies. Our personal boundaries, while they seem to be disintegrating with the increasing transparency of the social web, are in fact staying as solid as ever.

So what is the takeaway for the creators of paid content? I don’t believe that steering toward conversational tone is misleading or misguided. Neither do I believe that this content is 100% inauthentic. I’m sure our President does say “hey” from time to time, and I know several of the individuals who manage the social media properties of national NGOs, and I can assure you the tone of those properties reflects their individual personalities.

No – we shouldn’t steer away from this trend. It reflects increasing transparency in institutions, and, by extension, reflects increased opportunity for impact and engagement on behalf of the consumer/supporter/subscriber. But with this shift toward transparency, we mustn’t lose true authenticity. I don’t buy the “Hey” messages not because I don’t support Obama (I do), but because I know it’s actually not Obama saying “hey.” But when I see a tweet from NWF saying “hey” I know exactly which staff person that’s probably coming from.

If you are going to project authenticity, be authentic. Or else your efforts will come across as thinly as a 1950’s advertisement for a pack of cigarettes (“Great for your health!”).

Authenticity and Genuine Connection

Posted: April 29th, 2011 | Filed under: social media | No Comments »

Yesterday, tornadoes hit the South. People lost so much. Lives, possessions, homes. It’s heartbreaking.

In the past several years we have seen the ways that out of tragedy, people build community online. Facebook and twitter are being used to foster real connections between real people, and to improve the lives of those affected by tragedy.

Yesterday, someone created a facebook page to post pictures of photographs and documents found after the tornadoes, in the hopes that those belongings are returned to their owners.

I work with nonprofits who often look to those examples, searching for ideas for building their own communities. The internet has a lot of noise. How do these efforts break through and connect people? How do you create an “if you build it, they will come” experience?

Answer: It must come from the community, and not be forced on it.

I think this page is a great example of how social networks are successful because they make personal connections between people, and those connections can feel authentic (they don’t always, but it is possible). I hope the lesson organizations take away is that in order to gather user-generated content, you have to provide a payoff (could be a payoff to greater society, doesn’t have to be individual payoff) that seems worthwhile, genuine, and real.

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