As keynote speaker David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) noted, there have been numerous revolutions in communications over the course of human history…oral language…the written word…the printing press…the telephone…and social media. Whether you are an early adopter or a luddite like me, there’s no denying that social media has transformed the way we interact with each other and the way we communicate our science.
Led by NOAA biologist Sean Lucey, the American Institute for Fisheries Research Biologists teamed up with the Fisheries Blog, to host a session at the American Fisheries Society’s annual meeting to examine that topic: Fisheries Science in 140 Characters – the Role of Social Media in Our Science. See below for some quotes and highlights from the session’s speakers. For an alternative synopsis of the session, please check out David Shiffman’s Storify: #SocialFish at #AFS146. And, a BIG #SocialFish thank you to all of the sessions sponsors for making the event such a success: The American Institute for Fisheries Research Biologists, The Fisheries Blog, Smith-Root, Oregon RFID, and the AFS Fisheries Information Technology Section.
A short concise statement is almost always more difficult to construct than a verbose, jargon-filled treatise. As social media lends itself to the former, it trains scientists to speak and write more clearly – a trait useful for general scientific writing as well. In doing so, social media makes it easier for experts to talk with each other, the public, journalists, and policy makers. It removes the traditional “gate keepers” of information. This is a good thing in that it makes science accessible instantaneously. But, it is also a bad thing in that the misinformed, the extremists, and the self-proclaimed experts have just as much opportunity as anyone to post information, often making it difficult for the average reader to discern the wheat from the chaff.
While traditional “web logs” have fallen out of favor, newer style blogs, created as more of a public information source, can fill specialized niches and reach audiences with particular interests. Scientists can use them to “be their own journalist,” provide an open access source of specialized information in a less formal mode than scientific papers, discuss or critique trends in the field, and provide professional advice. As we can attest at the Fisheries Blog, blogging does require investment but it can provide a complimentary mode of communication to peer-reviewed papers and other scientific outlets.
The five members of the Fisheries Blog collaborated on an analysis to examine the relationships between twitter activity and citation rates. As scientists, we recognize that social media is an additional time commitment on top of everything else. And, like most, we were curious to see if there are any professional returns on that time invested. The bottom line is that Twitter provides a good gauge of initial reactions to papers and is a good companion to traditional citation rates in measuring impact of scientific work.
If 62% of Americans get their news from social media and 85% of users view social media as affecting decision making, why wouldn’t we be using it for fisheries management and conservation? Social media can be tailored to specific interest groups, such as recreational anglers, to help target information and engagement to the right audiences.
“Be opportunistic with PR – traditional media can serve as your social media launching point.” – Travis Moore
While some people view social media as a “shiny new tool,” traditional media, such as tv, radio, and newspaper, can often segway into social media outlets. If you have a good story to tell, like Norman the Sturgeon at the Missouri Department of Conservation, it will hook audiences in any forum.
Often, scientists see social media as a way to disseminate their information to others. But, social media can be much more interactive than one way communication. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, for example, uses a Facebook page to monitor trophy bass catch.
Because of its global scope, social media can augment the reach of citizen science and conservation efforts. For example, the International Game Fish Associations Great Marlin race has conservation-minded angling teams sponsor satellite tags for billfish and social media tracks the billfish “race” — impressive distance swims all around the world.
With social media, as with any form of communication, audience is key. Whom are you trying to reach with your message? If you have a very specific stakeholder group, such as the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), you don’t need big numbers to achieve a big impact. Through social media, the IPHC reaches more than 20 times the number of people that can attend its public meetings.
Humor is a great asset to any social media campaign. Popular references can make science subjects more relatable (see: leechnado and gar of thrones) and puns can pique public interest. Showing people science can GARner support and inspire conservation for a lifetime.
“Do you think about what you post before you put it up?” – Kevin Polly
Social media is becoming an increasingly effective tool in law enforcement. As of 2013, 96% of police departments used social medial and over 80% said that it has helped solve crimes. For game wardens, such as in the Missouri Department of Conservation, something as simple as a Facebook photo of a trophy hunt or a stringer of frogs can lead to more effective enforcement of regulations.
While social media make self-promotion possible for the masses, it’s important to recognize that there are people who are professional communicators. They are specifically trained to answer the “so what” questions and can greatly assist with strategic and consistent messaging across multiple platforms, from a short tweet to a full press release.
As new communication technologies change how we communicate, what impact does that have on education? According to Don Orth, Thomas Jones Professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech and the 2016 recipient of the American Fisheries Society Excellence in Fisheries Education Award, teaching needs to evolve with the times and social media can be effectively incorporated into teaching pedagogues. The important point is that fisheries students need to slow down to connect with the resource and retain information. Social media can’t do that by default but, if used effectively, can help make connections between visual and auditory sections of the brain and promote learning. An added bonus of changing technologies for educators: now “it’s ok to say: I don’t know; let’s google it.”
Joining the fast-paced world of social media can be daunting and overwhelming, but taking the first step may be easier than you think – you have a built in audience: your professional community. From there, you can broaden to a network and then the greater interested crowd.
“Platforms evolve, but content is king.” – Patrick Cooney (@FisheriesBlog)
Communication isn’t all that different from fishing. To catch a certain fish, you use a particular gear; to catch a different fish, you need a different gear. Similarly, if you just communicate through scientific publications and presentations, you will only reach your peer audience. Social media provides alternative platforms to reach new audiences but it’s always important to remember the end goal – the message: the content and what it hopes to achieve.
Evolving with the times, the American Fisheries Society and hosting chapter made those members with children feel welcome at this year’s national meeting by providing childcare. We at The Fisheries Blog could not be more thankful. Without this childcare, all five members of The Fisheries Blog would have had to wait at least another year before being all together in the same place for the first time.