Twitter and other social networks as communication tools in science education
By Arnaud Tomasini, France, former trainee of master’s degree in scientific communication at the Maison pour la science en Alsace (House for science in Alsace)
Initially appearing as a means to allow people to stay in touch and exchange on the web, social networks have gradually entered the major media spheres of everyday life, and have gained those of all organizations, companies or institutions. In 2017, we can say without too much fear that there are few legal entities that are not present on Facebook, Twitter and their professional counterparts such as LinkedIn or Viadeo. Social networks to display its presence, its existence, and to talk about what we do. But when it comes to using these technologies, which are necessarily recent on the scale of our history (as a reminder, the democratization of Facebook in France took place in 2007/8, not even ten years ago), we have to think about their use, and communicating in this way will not always be easy.
To support my speech, I will take a recent event from the Maison pour la Science en Alsace (MSA) in which I participated on January 27th 2017: it was a videoconference given by teacher Annabelle Kremer live from the Dumont D’Urville polar base (located in Antarctica, nearly 17,000 km away) from an amphitheater of the University of Strasbourg filled with 500 primary/college students. These classes were brought together that day as the culmination of a long-term project called “Embark in Antarctica” during which they were able to follow Annabelle Kremer’s journey to the Dumont D’Urville base from day to day and to understand the reality of the scientific field in extreme environments. There were several objectives, and in particular to show on the one hand the inter-disciplinary nature of scientific research, but also – and above all – the importance of the jobs that do not belong to Research and that are present on the base: because a researcher can be the most brilliant of scientists, one would rather count on the expertise of a plumber to repair a pipe problem – or a baker to make bread. And so on and so forth.
A live conference, therefore, preceded and followed by multiple interventions from representatives of the organizations involved in the project, for which I was entrusted with the mission of ensuring the animation on the social networks of the MSA. Smartphone in hand, onboard camera and cameras, a 4G connection in hand in the amphitheater: the necessary equipment to make 2.0 events. But still, we should think about several points:
-Who am I going to communicate to? Who will I communicate with?
-How can I interest my audience?
-What is/are the message(s) to be conveyed?
-What communication media should I use (photos, texts, illustrations, videos)?
-What point of view should I adopt?
The reflection on the action of the communicator cannot be summed up in a list of 5 questions – and I don’t pretend to have the answer to everything, but in the simple mission of a “social network animator for a morning”, a lot of leads can be derived from it. In the first place it was the axis of communication. For example, the “event” side seemed to me to be essential: it’s not every day that 500 children get together to make a Skype live from Antarctica. This exceptional character was to be favored, because obviously it will be easier to challenge people by showing them something exceptional, but also because for the image of the MSA – and of the other actors involved – there is a very strong message to be conveyed by showing what it is capable of accomplishing by bringing together forces, knowledge, means and motivations from all horizons. Playing then on the atmosphere, the playfulness (we are in the presence of hundreds of children, let’s remember), a certain idea of “fun” – but at the expense of the seriousness behind it all? And the scientific aspect? What about research? And the experimental approach? Making a choice also means giving up, and on this January 27th it was unfortunately not possible to show all the aspects of the project – to put in parallel the risk of saturation of social networks, since too much information kills information.
Secondly, how to communicate? Twitter, Facebook and others offer possibilities, both in form and content. Showing enthusiasm, using quotes from the speakers, but playing a lot on the live side as well: photos, videos – even live streaming the conference on social networks on Skype (a live broadcast of a live event, you follow me?), these were my choices to maximize the impact of this morning, and the communication all around. With rather convincing results since the live broadcast was consulted by more than a hundred people, that the publications were appreciated – and on Twitter, and on Facebook afterwards, and that initial web data showed us a strong increase in traffic to the site from the moment the communication on this #AntarcticLive, as it was named, started.
Just look: 10,000 people on Facebook, 37,000 on Twitter, have been touched in one way or another by this adventure. While these figures are limited to the month of January, this represents more than half of the capacity of the Stade de France. Not bad, isn’t it?
A success to be highlighted with the chosen axis of communication, although we must now focus our efforts on the more “serious” sides of this event, and of the project as a whole. Efforts that will continue in the coming months and will also be discussed here: to be continued…
By way of illustration, I refer you to the Storify below, a very handy tool that gathers all my activity on the Twitter platform during these few hours. You can see the multiple possibilities offered in terms of communication on the Twitter network.
To go further: Elena de la Maison pour la science recommends the MOOC SCIENCES TAG: CULTURAL AND SCIENTIFIC MEDIA IN THE ERA OF SOCIAL NETWORKS, available here, in French.: https://www.my-mooc.com/fr/mooc/sciences-tag-les-mediations-culturelles-et-scientifiques-a-l-ere-des-reseaux-sociaux/