Social Media for Science Outreach – A Case Study: That social media thang

This was initially posted at: as part of a series of case studies exploring how academics use social media.

Jon began university life as a geologist, following this with a treacherous leap into the life sciences with a course in biodiversity and taxonomy. Now undertaking a PhD in tetrapod biodiversity and extinction at Imperial College London, there was a brief interlude were Jon was sucked into the world of science policy and communication. He blogs at, tweets as Protohedgehog and co-runs an [infamous, probably] podcast series called Palaeocast. Jon can usually be found procrastinating in pubs, trying to exchange bad science, usually about dinosaurs, in exchange for food and beer.

Tell us a bit about you and your social media project

I’m currently a PhD student at Imperial College London, investigating the biodiversity patterns of tetrapods (anything with four limbs/wings/flippers) about 145 million years ago to see what we can figure out in a macroevolutionary sense, and whether we can find a ‘hidden’ mass extinction in the fossil record. I commit some of my time to 3 major social media platforms: bloggingtweeting, and podcasting, with a bit of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and others on the side.  These activities are less of a project, per se, and more just stuff I do in parallel, and often with overlap, with my PhD research.

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The values of social media and blogging for academics

This was originally posted at:

At this years European Geosciences Union General Meeting (Vienna), I’ve been asked to be on a panel discussion describing the ways in which I think using social media and blogging can enhance academic careers. Sometimes, talks of this kind can be very echo-chambery, and there are plenty of really cool guides already out there online. This was a chance though to actually directly target a group of academics who may not have any experience of these things though, so was an opportunity to mobilise a new wave of ‘web 2.0’-active academics. Of course, I’m writing this in advance of the actual discussion, so it might be the case that only a few people turn up and live-blog the entire thing, in which case it might be viewed as a little preaching-to-the-convertedy.

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Results show that you’re clean, and also something about Twitter functionality

Twitter is awesome. Users tweet over 340 million times a day, and the information load coming through it, and the speed at which it comes from the real world, makes it incredibly addictive as a social media or microblogging tool. In terms of the functions it offers though, how much is really understood? Everyone knows what tweeting, retweeting, and favouriting means on an anecdotal or personal level, but what about more generally. I set up a poll last week to gather data on what ‘favouriting’ a tweet means to different people. The results were pretty interesting, and make for a nice comparison with the results from another similar recent poll, on the ‘multiple personalities’ of the favourite function.

Here are the results from the data gathered on what motivates people to favourite tweets:

Results from 209 votes

The top 3 are pretty obvious:

  1. Bookmarking something to read later
  2. Bookmarking something for future reference
  3. Analogous to the ‘like’ function on Facebook

The other poll had similar results, from 81 votes:

  1. Bookmarking
  2. Highlighting testimonials
  3. Analogous to the ‘like’ function on Twitter

The author of the other post, Sherry Nouraini, suggests that this multiple-use signal is perhaps a flaw in Twitter’s design, based on uncertainty on the unity of its purpose, especially when it comes to community-building. I’d go one step further, and suggest that perhaps some innovative whizz kid out there can capitalise on this data (OK, it’s not an overwhelmingly huge data set) in some way to improve the services Twitter, or one of the multiple platforms it can run through, currently offers. Maybe. Feel free to keep voting on the poll btw, it would be interesting to see whether the pattern changes through time or with more data.

Bookmarking is the shining star of these li’l polls, both for future reference or to either tweet or read later on. I like the idea of it being used as a Facebook ‘like’, and wonder if those who voted for this are part of the ‘Facebook’ generation, as opposed to perhaps a more scholarly older generation who see beyond such a monotonous use. What do these data mean to you? I’m no social analyst, so it would be interesting to see what others think these patterns, and also discrepancies between data sets could possibly indicate.

For those who voted, here’s a pic of two dinosaurs having an apocalyptic bonk. You’ve earned it. No peaking if you didn’t vote.

What does the ‘Favourite’ function mean on Twitter?

Recently, Sherry Nouraini created an intriguing poll regarding the ‘multiple personalities’ of favouriting a tweet on Twitter. From a personal viewpoint, I use it similarly to the ‘Like’ function on Twitter, although anecdotal evidence combined with this poll suggest a wide variety of different uses. However, the sample size for this previous study was quite small, so it would be nice to a) see what happens if more people vote, and b) to have a comparative data set to see if the same trends are detected (I suspect the two of us are associated with different ‘internet crowds’).

So yeah, hopefully this poll below will work, and get a decent enough input so we can begin to see how favouriting is used as a social tool. You can select 3 choices, and I’ll post the results after a week or so (or longer if more people are getting involved). Some of the options do cross-over to various degrees, but I figured this captures pretty much the whole range of possibilities.

Thanks for voting! Please spread the word too – the more data the better any trend can be explained! 🙂