[Science & Social Media:  New Ways to Talk; Craig Stoltz, Susanne Rockwell, Andy Fell]

In this session, we heard about how social media (like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, delicious, LinkedIn, etc) are changing the face of journalism.  It was interesting to note the amount of grey hair in the audience.  Many people seemed to be coming just to find out what the new media was all about, and many seemed to work for universities and wanted to know how these tools could be used to inform the public about research being done at their institutions.  However, a couple straw polls of the audience were interesting — most were on Facebook, many used RSS feeds, and most were on LinkedIn.  “How many people think LinkedIn is working for them in any sort of useful way?” asked Craig Stoltz, however, and most of the raised hands dropped.  Hmm.

One thing that Craig Stoltz asked us was, “How well can social media tools do our job for us?”  Are these good tools for us?  How well does it let us communicate science to the public.  We shouldn’t embrace social media for its own sake, but rather because it lets us complete our essential task — to inform the public about science.  Much social media becomes what he calls a “web fashion statement” — we have nice Facebook pages and pretty blogs (or, in my case, great clothes on my Second Life avatar), but they should have a purpose. And, he believes, that it can.

The old way to get information out was for a big established media outlet to publish a story and push it out to the readers, one-way.  Information went out from these established portals like a beacon to the soon-to-be-enlightened.  That’s not how it works anymore.  Readers don’t generally hit a story through a media outlet’s front page (say, ScientificAmerican.com), but rather through some side door, like a search engine, social platform, a blogger’s post.  It turns out that 60-80% of readers of an online story find it through one of these side doors! The publisher themselves are no longer central, they now have to compete with all the other voices on the web, like crackpot scientists and viagra ads, as well as smaller publishers.

Some of his recommendations for people to use this new journalistic ecology were the following:

  1. Get yourself to the top of the search engines. Use keywords in the headline, first paragraph, and the URL for the story.  Write good short blurbs that grab the reader in the first sentence or two, while keeping the intellectual integrity of the piece
  2. Open the side doors.  Distribute your stuff through delicious, publish2 (which is like delicious but for journalists), and blog comments.  This allows your readers to find you through the side doors.  Don’t pimp yourself through your comments, but if you do have some content to add, do it.
  3. Practice link journalism.  Link generously to work that’s related to your own — not just the original scientific report that you’re writing on, but push people to other high quality content related to the topic.  That gives added value to your reader.

The rest of the talks were from UC Davis about how they’ve used Facebook, their Egghead blog, and iTunes U to get content about their university out to the public, but I left the session to go learn more about how to market myself as a freelancer.