Social Media @Work

Now old, but many points still stand

Notes by a former Beltane employee, Sarah West Alin, on a panel discussion which took place in November 2010 as part of the Edinburgh Beltane Communications Networking Breakfast series. Many of the insights shared there are still relevant today. N.B. The notes are not intended to be a word-for-word transcript of the event.

Quick links

The expert panel

  • Peggy Hughes (PH) – Chair – Communications officer at Scottish Poetry Library, bona fide member of the “Edinburgh Twitterati” with over 3,500 followers – @byleaveswelive
  • Nicola Osborne (NO) – Social Media Officer at EDINA: the JISC National Data Centre based at the University of Edinburgh –  @suchprettyeyes
  • John Campbell (JC) – Regional Director at Precedent, the international communications agency specialising in all things digital (social media!), brand and print design – @precedentcomms
  • Vanessa Meadu (VM) – freelance communicator specialising in sharing environmental science and linking to public policy. She is currently using social media to communicate agricultural research in the international climate change arena. Vanessa also facilitates an online training course on Social Media for International Development practitioners – @meaduva
  • Heather Rea (HJR) – Programme Manager and Network Coordinator for the Edinburgh Beltane (and recent Twitter convert) – @edbeltane

Tips for starting out

  • Start! Get involved- don’t just sit back and listen, start contributing! (JC)
  • Get comfortable using the tools personally first (VM)
  • Plan carefully: thoughtfully adopt 1, 2 or 3 tools depending on what you have to share e.g. stories (blogs), audio (podcasts), media (flickr, youtube).
  • Figure out who your target audience are and where they are to connect with specific audiences (NO)
  • It’s OK to try and fail with some social media tools, it helps you find the right one (PH)

Q: As a complete beginner, the terminology is confusing. What are ‘Nature Blogs’?

  • Blogs can be self-hosted (which gives total control and archives your work, but is time consuming) or you can host it on existing platforms. There are specialist platforms, such as Nature blogs, where you are likely to find prolific science blog consumers.(NO)
  • Understand who’s talking about your interests. There are free tools like Social Mention which search keywords to find blogs, discussions etc. about specific topics.(JC)
  • Don’t be afraid to follow- it’s not stalking, be confident and build up your network (JC)

Q: What about connecting to a new audience outside your usual demographic?

  • Look at who you want to speak to and develop a strategy. Who are you targeting? How do they consume media (facebook, blogs, printed magazines?). Put yourself in their shoes and draw up a persona- give them a name, and participate in his/her world. Then work out how you get information to them- you can’t force uptake with social media, you can only encourage them to uptake information which is available in their space. (JC)
  • You can also look at people who are already successfully engaging an audience. Learn from their effective strategy. (VM
  • Don’t forget offline routes- tap into offline networks to work out where to find them online (NO)

Q: Do young people want us on their ‘personal online space’?

  • Facebook has evolved to be a bit like Wikipedia: organisations are expected to be there and have a presence. There’s the option for people to opt-in if they want to. Some tools are more effective than others for actually engaging a young audience, e.g. YouTube where people can choose to share videos, and it is exciting for teenagers to use. (NO)

Q: What about driving readership to a blog? (PH)

  • This comes down to basic human relations – be friendly to people you respect. ‘Going viral’ is a fluke, most blogs are not overnight successes, you will have to invest time and energy. Start your blog- see who other authors are and what you can learn, and think what you can contribute to them e.g. a guest post for their blog (VM).
  • A guest post from a prominent blogger is a good way to access their audience for a short time. You can also add lots of links- e.g. if you hyperlink to another blog post, because you will then show up on that blog post (NO).

Q: We use an application to automatically generate tweets and facebook updates from our news items. Is this a good idea?

  • These can be mentally filtered out as you don’t get the whole headline.
  • The ‘real person’ and personality behind the tweets is very important, and it does make a difference to uptake and readership. (NO)
  • It can be a timesaver, but use with caution as you are giving the same information to slightly different audiences. (JC)
  • You can be caught out- someone may post a comment on facebook ‘You Tweeted this!’…then you just look lazy! (PH)

Q: How do you maintain a balance between your personal and professional presence online?

  • You can have separate accounts for different personas – professional, networking, personal etc. (NO)
  • Keeping a personal face is important with social media. People expect to see names, initials, interests etc. (JC)
  • Don’t use Twitter if there are better ways to get personal! People may not want to see a very formal presence advertising an event on Twitter- they may be more receptive to Joe Bloggs giving his personal recommendation about a fantastic event. It’s not a one-way tool and if you don’t encourage a two-way dialogue, you’re missing an opportunity. (JC)
  • It’s magical for people to get involved with a project, receive a personalised message. This is a chance to thrill people with the personal touch! (NO)

Q: My professional online network is becoming too friendly- and this has caused the value to depreciate work-wise. Is this a common problem?

  • When representing an organisation, you should represent information, not opinion and tow the party line. (PH)
  • Social media is another way of making information available to the world. If you wouldn’t send it to a paper, don’t release it on the internet! (JC)

Q: How do you manage misinformation?

  • The worst thing is to stay silent- the journalist who picked up the tweet will be looking for another side to the story (VM).
  • The US airforce has a good set of guidelines for sifting out spam, and publicly replying to misunderstandings or misinformation (NO).
  • You can always say ‘thanks for mentioning us…, but this link here contains more accurate information’. You acknowledge you are glad of the interest and also provide accurate information (NO)
  • If part of your remit is to encourage others to blog, make a paragraph available which states the blog contains personal opinions which do not reflect your organisation, and provide some other basic ground rules (NO).

Q: How can I make an e-Bulletin more engaging?

  • There is still a place for simply providing information. This helps bridge the two types of audience- those who want to be informed, and those who want to get involved (NO)
  • eBulletins are not very friendly for people accessing email via mobile phone, for example. You could create an eBulletin as an aggregation of blog posts, tweets etc. This will look like a traditional newsletter, but actually be an interface to engage with the community, and there are tools to help this happen (JC)
  • Feedburner allows you to add a ‘subscribe’ option to your blog- this also helps traditional users follow you without having to visit a blog regularly (VM).

Q: How do I counteract critics who feel that Twitter cannot be taken seriously?

  • This is a case of finding champions, serious people who are peers to the critics. It is important to create a positive experience for critics. HJR first saw the value of Twitter during an academic conference, where she could see what other delegates were thinking and follow parallel sessions (HJR).

Q: How do you keep the level of your tweets right? It’s easy to exclude a general audience if you pander to other experts and the level of interest/knowledge goes above their heads.

It’s all down to good content, but also creating experiences in the right place. Twitter is a better tool for holding conversations, but deeper discussions should be moved to LinkedIn discussion groups. (JC)

  • LinkedIn has another benefit of the kudos associated with engaging people in a space where your CV and background is open-access (NO).

Q: How do you know if social media has made a difference?

  • It’s difficult with science research because there are no clear leads or sales that you can track. It’s a new domain with mainly qualitative impact rather than outputs. (VM)
  • You can measure ‘Buzz’ by subscribing to lots of RSS feeds and pulling out interesting mentions of your project. You can track how many people you start to engage with, how they start to mention you and also see your profile raised in different spaces. (NO)
  • It’s sometimes easier to see impact online, because you can’t track offline conversations and word-of-mouth information (HJR).
  • You have to look at trends over time, and use a dashboard with business metrics. Think of social media on a campaign basis, so monitor it over events and eBulletin pushes. See what works for you, and what return you are getting on your time investment. Set targets, and see how things are changing. (JC)

Q: Any tips about hashtags?

  • You need to set up something to archive your hashtagged tweets if you want to save them. Edinburgh Beltane used to use Twapper Keeper, which is now part of Hootsuite.
  • They can be a good way of drawing in people who are not following you, for example if we use ‘#poetry #edinburgh’ we draw in an extra audience of people who are interested in Edinburgh. (PH)

Q: Any tips for festival or events organisers?

  • A Twitter feed can be useful and interesting for followers, but it has to be a conversation so there needs to be a dedicated person assigned to following and engaging with the feed (HJR).
  • More and more conferences include a social media strategy. This can increase reach and impact, and makes it possible to get really involved online (follow the hashtag, subscribe to live blogs, watch live videos, see everyone tweeting from parallel sessions). It does need to be well organised. (VM)

<h3Q: Aren’t live Twitter feeds at events annoying?

They can be engaging for people who aren’t actually able to attend, and also useful for pulling together a long term record of the event. There needs to be different channels for different things- such as live tweets and live blogging. (NO)

Q: How long does it take? I’d like to get involved but I don’t want to get swamped!

  • This has to be taken seriously if it will work, and integrated into the day job (or passed on to an enthusiast!). Social media isn’t an optional marketing channel nowadays, it’s essential to allocate time and really work at it. Just as we all incorporate checking our emails into the day, it needs some time of the day set aside to check this. It may only take ½ day per week to interact meaningfully with an online community. (JC)
  • You also have to accept you will miss some stuff- you can’t monitor it all. But in return you can build up an amazing online network very quickly- which would take months to build up offline. (NO)

Q: What are bookmarking sites?

Some social media is better for internal communications and collaboration, rather than outreach- for example, Stumbled Upon and Delicious. These are totally underused in academia, but are really easy ways to keep track of resources. You can pull everything together with tags, collaboratively tag bookmarks to build up a collection of resources and bring together everything you’re thinking about. (VM)

Q: Is the podcast past it?

  • It’s such an important medium, and it’s so easy to do a 2 minute podcast. (PH)
  • Some people listen to podcasts all day- it’s much shorter than an audiobook, instantly personal and a great way to get a flavour of lots of different subjects and viewpoints. (NO)

Q: What is your best personal experience of Social Media?

  • Crowdsourcing- we use Twitter to make new connections and bring people along to our events. It’s an enjoyable experience! (HJR)
  • It’s a new opportunity now times are changing and it’s hard to engage with people through direct mail. (JC)
  • We had a poem featured on football TV, due to someone noticing on Twitter that SPL (Scottish Poetry Library) is the same as SPL (Scottish Premier League). (PH)
  • Adding a blog to a traditional, static, web 1.0 website doubled the downloads of publications. More people were finding out about the research, and more people were interested. (VM)
  • Making useful contacts and connections through Twitter with people who I go on to meet offline. (NO)

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