At Econnect, the communication projects we bring to life often rely on using several media platforms. They range from traditional forms like newspapers, radio and TV to the current popular online platforms such as Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Some people still refer to online platforms as “new” media, but they’re all now well established. Likewise, they may be referred to as “social” media, but just how social are they really?
In this month’s newsletter, we focus on Choosing the right media tool to communicate science. When talking about science (or any other field), the main thing to keep in mind is to use the platforms used by the audience you want to reach, and which suit your message.

In Econnect news, we welcome Jas Smith to the team. Jas is helping with our administration and workshop preparation.

We hope you enjoy this newsletter, and welcome your feedback.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam: Jenni MetcalfeToss GascoigneClaire Heath Michelle Riedlinger, Madeleine Stirrat & Jasmine Smith.

Choosing the best way to spread your science news

By Toss Gascoigne

As people who organise events, make announcements, publish research results or try to change behaviours, what’s the most effective way we can reach our audiences?

Social media or newspapers? Bakelite radio or Facebook?

As always, it depends on what you have to say and who you’re trying to reach. And—crucially—how old they are.

As Douglas Adams said, we’re comfortable with anything that is in the world at the time we’re born, but stuff invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things. Be wary of trying to reach pensioners or teenagers via Twitter.

Bakelite radio, 1945. Image: Joe Haupt

Despite the much-heralded demise of the traditional newspaper, I’m still a print-media person. The day begins with Radio National Breakfast with Fran, marmalade and toast, and the Sydney Morning Herald. If I’m your target audience, that’s the pathway.

Are there any concessions to this, and what about choices? Yes, on-line versions of the major dailies and news sites are fine: Guardian, Herald, ABC. And The Australian, for headlines; only subscribers can read the details and I’m not planning to make the Murdochs any richer.

As for choices, my friend Cathy says she decided the world was not big enough for Facebook and Twitter, and she went for Twitter as her avenue of business communication.

If you want to be really scared about what the future holds for media, spreading ideas and who is going to control things, read how technology may be taking over control intelligently!

Be contagious with your social media content

By Michelle Riedlinger

Social media communities are defined by the content they share, so one way to build an audience is to make your science content extremely sharable.

This newsletter piece is inspired by the work of Jonah Berger, who wrote the book Contagious: Why things catch on.

Author Jonah Berger with the cover of his book. Image: Abby Glassenberg

Jonah has lots of free stuff on his website, including a handy guide to what makes sharable social media content.

Jonah recommends crafting your content to contain:

  • Social currency—to make readers feel smart, cool and in-the-know
  • Triggers—to represent what’s happening in the world so your content is easily recalled
  • Emotions—to make people care and therefore want to share with others
  • A public face—to make your content visible in the world (e.g. research into sustainable tuna fishing in central and western Pacific Ocean could be linked to the best canned tuna to buy in the supermarket—when people see that canned tuna they think about sustainable tuna fishing research)
  • Practical value—if viewers can use it then they’ll want to pass on content to others
  • Information packaged in stories—to tell stories that others want to re-tell.

Think about the last news story or video that you thought about reposting on social media. Which of these features did it contain? What could you do to make it even more sharable?

Choose your three favourite platforms, and use them well

By Claire Heath

It’s an enticing idea: to harness the power and reach of social media to share knowledge and discussions with your growing network.

It can be fun.

And it works best if it is still fun months after the novelty of starting out has worn off.

Many beginners make the mistake of signing up on all the popular platforms of the moment and setting off at a sprint, posting content and comments across all of them.

But being active on social media is an endurance sport: it takes time and energy to keep up the demand for constant input.

You will also need time to moderate and reply to comments made in your social-media spaces. There is a trend among some well-known large organisations such as the US National Public Radio and IMDb to disable comments and reviews because of the time it takes to manage them and because social media attracts destructive, anti-social commentary.

Some good advice I received from Brisbane publisher, writer, editor and dog-lover Belinda Pollard is to start by choosing your three favourite platforms, or three that you like and that your network or audience uses.

You can always expand once you’ve established yourself in these spaces.

There are plenty of tips on the web for doing social media well. My favourites are to:

  • Let your personality shine through—social media is about being sociable, so drop the formality that is more appropriate elsewhere
  • As Belinda says, make friends, not sales (or formal connections)—people quickly become wary of others pushing a line or themselves too hard
  • Be sincere
  • Sometimes re-post others’ work, with a meaningful additional comment of your own—not only do you get a rest from creating only original content, you also give others a boost
  • Have fun.

Using visual tools on social platforms

By Madeleine Stirrat

Social media platforms are primarily visual spaces. Take a moment to think about the visual choices you make to engage viewers by appealing to their perspectives and behaviours.

After choosing the platforms that work best for communicating your research, consider how the visual choices you make on one platform might be used to engage with groups on another platform. For example, animated and interactive graphics are popular in online journals, but they also have impact on platforms like Instagram or Twitter.

Viewers on Instagram are motivated by quirky and innovative visuals, and animated and interactive graphics are useful on Twitter, where communicators have limited space to get a message across.

Infographics help viewers see complex relationships or processes without the burden of too many words. They encourage viewers to associate big-picture concepts with small-scale examples drawn from their everyday lives. They are most effective when they incorporate consistent typography and design, and a generous image-to-text ratio.

When using photographs, consider how colour choices engage viewers. Do contrasting colours help highlight a key concept? Or does a lack of colour remove distraction and give your content cohesion?

Social media spaces offer new and exciting opportunities for engagement when viewers are encouraged to think visually, as well as critically—so take some time to think about the aspects of your research that can be represented visually in these social spaces.

Media—new, old, social or specialist—it’s all about pictures

By Jenni Metcalfe

Newspapers put their best pictures on pages 1, 3 and 5. Why? To draw readers to those stories. Scientists close to their research objects make great newspaper pics. Think Professor Rick Shine and cane toads.

Rick Shine with his slippery subjects. Image: Terri Shine

TV news stories need loads of different pictures—about 26 different ones for 90 seconds.

And the best radio talent speaks in pictures. I still remember Dr Mark Norman (now at Parks Victoria) describing a giant squid: “This animal was so big we had to borrow a ute to drive it around, and it hung off both ends. It had calamari rings the size of truck tyres.”

Social media traffics in pictures. Some interesting stats just released from Hub Spot marketing include:

  • People following directions with text and illustrations do 323% better than people following directions without illustrations
  • Tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than tweets without images
  • Articles with an image once every 75–100 words are shared twice as much in social media as articles with fewer images
  • More than 500 million people check Instagram every day (and Instagram is all about pictures)
  • 85% of videos on Facebook are watched without sound.