Saturday, November 21, 2009

Social Media, a world of new opportunities (aka Portfolio Building 4)

Lisa Lambert, research associate with the Council of Canadian Academies and former SciCommie did a two hour whirlwind lecture on social media with us. It would be impossible to fit all the information mentioned, so I'll stick with the highlights and some "words from the wise" on getting started in social media.

Social media, what is it? It's digital and computerized information that we are exposed to everyday and it is still a vastly untapped field. This includes blogs, websites, CDs, youtube videos, twitter, facebook... and these are just the popular ones.

This generation is being exposed to vast amounts of information, unlike any other generation before us. Not only can a user search out content on the internet, but they can take it and personalize it, then post it back on the internet. User generated content is huge, just look at anything on Youtube. Here is a nice science related one call the Large Hadron Rap.

Scientists, communicators and big business are really starting to tap into the field of social media.Scientific America has 60-second science. Check out this one on Dark Matter:

There are a ton more videos out there, not to mention podcasts, slideshows and more. So what's the point? New social media (if done right) can reach a lot of people and simply take off. If we as scientists and science communicators want to engage the public in science, these are some powerful tools to do so. These tools are gaining attention and were recently noted in Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's "The Intersection" blog.

Projects in social media are also a great way to build up your portfolio for the program and future employers. I realize that I have been gearing the portfolio building posts towards getting in this program, but it is a great thing to show employers too. Show them what you can do!

So... on to some tips of the trade to help you get your feet wet in social media:
  1. Have a specific goal. Social media is a vast field and you really need to narrow what you want to do, and the skills you need to learn to put it together. Floundering around will only exhaust yourself. Pick a medium, the subject goal, and run with it.
  2. Be part of the audience. As I mentioned in the science writing post, it is important to be part of the audience and learn which strategies are good and which are bad. There are some great examples of social media out there and some not so great ones. This leads me to the next tip...
  3. Trust your instincts. If you see something really funny or interesting, chances are someone else will find it funny and interesting. Chris Mah from the Smithsonian has a great blog on echinoderms called the "Echinoblog"
  4. Invest in good equipment. I'm not suggesting that everyone goes out and buys a $3000 video camera and microphone, but investing in good equipment will go a long way. Nothing turns off viewers more than really bad sound and video quality. You can do a lot with a computer microphone for less than $50. You can create your own talkshow or podcast for free online at BlogTalkRadio. Many decent flip cameras are quite affordable right now. Christmas is also coming up....
  5. Don't cross-script. This tip is more for videos and slideshows. Do not narrate or talk about something, while the picture is on something else. This will only confuse your viewers. I'm sure there are learning and psychology research papers on conflicting signals and how it is bad for learning. However, cross-scripting is just plain annoying...
  6. Have a good story. Story telling as has been mentioned many times in our program is a great way for getting knowledge across. More importantly it is interesting! The 60-second science videos are a great example of this.
  7. BE CREATIVE!!!!! This point can't be emphasized enough. This is a newish field with huge opportunities. The only thing you are limited by is your creativity and imagination.
You are bound to make mistakes, but the field is still new. It is a forgiving time in social media. You will be constantly learning because the technology is always changing and new programs are always coming out. (I learned how to embed videos into a blog today... yay for me!).

This post is a glimmer of our amazing class on social media last week. It shows one of the amazing things you can do after the program. Lisa is also a great example of how far you can take the skills you learn in the program.

I'll leave you with one last video (a favorite of mine). It is by a company by Bio-rad which makes PCR machines... PCR (polymerase chain reaction) is used amplify DNA for sequencing.

- Justin

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