The Role of Social Media in Fisheries Science

Brandon Peoples (@FisheriesBlog)

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.

fish-nokia-cellphoneWith 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!

Despite my initial skepticism, I recently began to understand the necessity to use social media or run the risk of quickly losing scientific relevancy.  That is why I started writing for The Fisheries Blog.

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.

Julie Defilippi (@DefilippiJulie), a session moderator presented on a recent survey of social media use in AFS.  The survey was designed to “…help AFS parent society, sections, divisions, chapters and individuals communicate better.”   The results of the survey are soon-to-be published in Fisheries magazine.

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.

Be sure to “Like” The Fisheries Blog on Facebook and follow us on Twitter (@FisheriesBlog).  Also, be sure to enter your email at the top right of this page to have us email you our weekly article.  


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Great article, Brandon, thanks for compiling! In January 2013 the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program (@ACCSP_Fisheries) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (@ASMFC_Fisheries) sponsored a “Social Media for Fisheries Communications” Workshop. The workshop findings can be reviewed in this report:

  2. hornyhead says:

    Ok Brandon, you and Patrick are convincing this old-school young guy that this social media thing is a powerful tool. One of my biggest hesitations with broader use of social media by scientists is the potential for circumventing the peer-review process (science's big QAQC tool) and ending up with bad science, anecdote, or opinion getting dumped on the public with no filter. At a time when public trust in science is waning, how do you make sure the integrity of our field is maintained?

  3. Good question, Jeremy. This probably was (and is) my biggest skepticism. Firstly, I don't think social media should replace peer review. I think they should accompany one another. I think social media is most powerful after that process. Secondly, I think the new communication tools can (note I didn't write “are”) be a great filter in 2 ways:

    1: Traditional peer review only goes through a few people; personal style can play heavily on a paper's success or outcome. With the new tools, content is instantly judged by thousands. Bad science can get published through any process, but it “should” be outed much quicker through a more open process.

    2. Getting your science out to a wider audience should bring challenges and critiques to your work you may not have encountered in your sub-discipline. Outside audiences probably will force you to think about your work in new and different ways. This should make it better by exposing flaws to be improved.

  4. Steve says:

    I was pretty focused on my own symposium that turned into the education session, so I completely missed this symposium, otherwise I would have contributed. Outside of the more recognized social media, it is worth noting that the anglers themselves have set up a number of online forums that offer ready-made opportunities to interact with and educate anglers. I am a member of several of them, and have come to consider them a great asset to my work. Not only do they allow you to get your message out and increase the “fisheries IQ” of the user groups, they can provide insights into the areas you work, including important historical perspectives, local knowledge, and even access to private property for you to conduct research. I have always found a big welcome from the anglers on these sites – they enjoy the opportunity to have someone to ask pertinent questions or get get “expert opinions.” One group of online anglers that I have become associated with throw an annual get together at a local restaurant, where they reserve the entire back room and have myself and other biologists come in to talk about their favorite fish: the shoal bass. Associating with these folks really helped me considerably shorten the learning curve about this little-studied fish.

  5. Now, if there was just a 'like' button here for all these great comments, and a great blog entry! Keep up the good work!

  6. Marina Lake says:

    Jennifer is right; you should include a Like button — and Share buttons so people can distribute your posts widely. You're off to a great start!

  7. pcooney says:

    There is a great place to share…at the bottom of the article, there are little icon buttons that you can click on to share the article with Facebook, Gmail, Blogger, and Twitter. Please let me know if you are unable to view these icons!

    And by the way, thank you for the comment. We have been at this now for 2 years!!!!

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