Welcome to the upgraded ScienceWriters web site! Please notify cybrarian@nasw.org if you find anything that's broken or need any other help.
 

The Now Frontier: New and social media

Podcasts. Blogs. Embedded video clips. Facebook. Panelists shared tips for tapping into this expanding universe of new and social media during the session on "Who's Consuming Science, and How Do We Reach Them?" at ScienceWriters 2008 in October in Palo Alto.

 

Podcasts. Blogs. Embedded video clips. Facebook. Panelists shared tips for tapping into this expanding universe of new and social media during the session on "Who's Consuming Science, and How Do We Reach Them?" at ScienceWriters 2008 in October in Palo Alto.

The University of Oregon's Jim Barlow, director of science and research communications, and Zack Barnett, assistant director of web communications, gave a public institution perspective. "Our assumption was that we could do it (move into new and social media) cheaply," said Barlow. While they bought a high-quality audio recorder and microphone, they shaved expenses by getting a low-cost but well-reviewed video recorder and inexpensive editing software for their existing PCs. "We thought we could fit the editing into jam-packed workdays," Barlow said.

The result? The work was far more time-consuming than they expected. Their computers were not up to the task. The editing software's learning curve frustrated some users. And so much extraneous noise plagued the first outdoor video recording that the resulting clip ran with a "Listen Carefully" disclaimer.

But they've made substantial progress. "We spawned investment with success," by pushing the limits and trying new things, said Barnett. As a result, they now have better computers and editing software, and they're pushing for a better video camera.

Accomplishments include a homepage feature, complete with video clips, about the university's presence on a "green" honor roll; a video about an undergrad student's research on an antidrug campaign (which brought her an offer to apply her research in another campaign); and the university's presence on YouTube.

"When you dive in, have a plan," Barnett suggested. "Be willing to get better, to stub your toes. Be willing to say this is where we can go if we can have X."

According to Barlow, the ideal plan calls for additional staff dedicated to developing content for new and social media. It's also important to have computers with sufficient processing speed and storage space.

"I've been where these guys are," said panelist Bob Nellis, managing editor of Discovery's Edge magazine at the Mayo Clinic. "I lived for a long time in the public sector." The situation is different at the Mayo Clinic, the nation's largest private hospital. Nellis said additional staff members were hired to work on new and social media.

Publicizing Mayo's research program is crucial, Nellis said, citing a study that found that 70 percent of patients who elect to come to Mayo did so because of the research. He said Mayo has survived because of its successful media relations effort regarding that research, and also because of word of mouth--and new and social media are word of mouth.

According to Nellis, Mayo Clinic has everything from podcasts to a YouTube presence to a Facebook site. It has several blogs. And everything is cross-linked from platform to platform, he added.

Panelists from both institutions said they extend the reach of existing content by repurposing it for new and social media. For the university, intended audiences include students, prospective students and donors. Prospective patients are key for the Mayo Clinic, but Nellis says he sometimes flips the question around when leaders ask about the intended audience. "I say, 'Let me ask you this — who don't you want to know about Mayo Clinic researchers?'"

Paula Haas, a freelance writer in Overland Park, Kan., writes about health and medical topics. In her past life, she was editor-in-chief of several publications at a medical association, where her work earned national awards.