Two Free Books Teach About Social Media and Virtual Events

4 03 2011

Two free books, Social Media: A Guide for Researchers and Virtual Events for Dummies offer to fill a gap in knowledge about new media for both Virtual Events for Dummies coverresearchers and communicators. Also importantly, they help to increase the comfort level with this unfamiliar realm, given that researchers may be reticent about plunging into blogging, tweeting, and virtual eventing.

Particularly germane for scientists is that Social Media: A Guide for Researchers emphasizes the practical uses of social media in aiding both research and career advancement. And, the book presents a realistic picture of social media. Thus, wrote the authors, “We are not trying to present social media as the answer to every problem a researcher might experience; rather, we want to give a ‘warts and all’ picture. Social media have downsides as well as upsides, but on balance we hope that you will agree with us that there is real value for researchers.”

The book is extensive, covering how to use the full gamut of social media, including blogging, microblogging (e.g. Twitter), social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn), wikis, social bookmarking (Delicious), social documents (Google Docs), project management (Bamboo), and multimedia (Flicker, YouTube, SlideShare, SecondLife). It draws on extensive interviews with researchers who use these tools, offering examples of their specific applications.

The book is refreshingly realistic about the time required to productively develop a social media network: “The process of building, curating and filtering useful networks is a skill which needs to be practised,” wrote the authors. “Most tools offer you ways to find people who might share your interests however, and once you have started building a network it becomes useful very quickly.”

And, the book emphasizes that swimming in the social media pool need not be a marathon, but perhaps only a comfortable dog paddle. Scientists could choose to be major bloggers or Facebookers, or merely comment on others’ blogs or “like” Facebook posts.

The book’s realistic assessment of social media includes a full account of criticisms, including the concerns about encroachment of technology, invasion of privacy, and information and workday overload.

And usefully, the book illustrates how social media can enhance the “academic research cycle” of knowledge identification, creation, peer review and dissemination.

Virtual Events for Dummies, while narrower in scope, is nevertheless a good introduction to the topic. While it is published by the commercial webcasting company On24—and while it emphasizes business events—the advice it offers is helpful to researchers and research communicators. For example, the section on using webcasts and webinars for “training” could be applied to using them for research seminars.

The book’s major point that virtual events are far cheaper than real events will resonate with university researchers whose budgets are tight. And the points that virtual events are global and can be archived for long-term access emphasize important advantages over a one-time live seminar.

The book explains the spectrum of virtual events, including audio streaming with slides, video streaming, text-based chat, and discussion forums. It also helps readers better understand the role of virtual events by comparing them with physical events, and by comparing types of virtual events—for example, webcasts versus web conferences.

The book’s chapter on best practices offers practical advice for attracting participants, targeting and engaging audiences, and interacting with them.

Besides these books, more extensive resources on social media are available on the references and resources page for the chapter on social media on the Explaining Research Web site.

NSF’s “Science360” Offers a Panorama of Science

17 03 2010

The National Science Foundation’s Science360 News Service Web site and daily e-mail news feed offers an engaging selection of interesting science and also a great opportunity for scientists and communicators to highlight their work. Anybody can subscribe to the news feed by just entering their email address in a box on the site. To learn more about Science360, I interviewed Dana Topousis—acting division director for public affairs in NSF”s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs:

How did the idea for Science360 originate?

NSF decided to create the Science360 News Service in 2008, when we realized that science coverage in the national mainstream media had dwindled.  Most of the remaining science reporters were covering space and health, and NSF funds basic science and engineering across the board. We also began discussions with public information officers (PIOs) at universities and institutions around the country whose researchers receive NSF funding. We wanted to find ways to collaborate with those PIOs to help promote research results across all aspects of science and engineering.  We wanted to create a service to draw reporters’ attention to the amazing discoveries being made every day that they may not have time to track themselves.

What is the editorial mix for the service?

We seek breaking news, fresh video and audio content, engaging images with a brief caption, science blogs, and current highlights from science journals and publications.  Most of our submissions come from public information officers and other federal agencies.  We seek any science-related content, and we don’t limit the News Service to only NSF-funded research news.

What kind of distribution does it have now?

Our distribution list includes mostly journalists, freelance writers, and public information officers, all of whom are welcome to use the Science360 News Service content for ideas or for use on their respective websites and publications.

What kind of impact on science communication do you believe the service has had?

We’ve seen an increase in both subscribers and contributors, and we’ve seen content from Science360 News Service carried on websites such as Popular Mechanics, U.S. News & World Report and Each item in the News Service has an RSS feed attached, and we’ve seen items picked up on Yahoo News, Twitter, and other outlets.  We also post some of our News Service content on NSF’s Facebook page.

How are the articles, releases, videos, podcasts and blog posts chosen?

Every day, we receive submissions from public information officers and federal agencies. We also look through EurekAlert! for fresh content. Our editor reviews science coverage and news items to see what topics are popular or what gaps we might fill. We choose our blog posts from Discover, Scientific American,, public information officers and researchers.  We also have a multimedia editor who contacts public information officers and federal agencies on a regular basis about submitting video and audio content; some of that multimedia content is from regular-running series. Every Monday, we feature a new episode of Science Nation, a video series that NSF creates—in collaboration with the former CNN science and technology team—that highlights innovations in science and engineering.

Do you do some of your own production?

Yes. We produce video and audio slideshows, videos, and podcasts. We also write our own press releases and feature stories.

How do you choose those stories?

We select our stories based on current news items.

What advice would you  give communicators about developing the best content for Science360?

We look for fresh content and content that showcases the vast array of science and engineering research. We also ask communicators to provide us as much advance notice of their upcoming stories as possible. And we welcome communicators to write to if they have any questions. That email address is also how communicators can submit their stories for consideration.

How Not to Tweet Twaddle

15 02 2010

My piece “How Not to Tweet Twaddle” has been posted on the Oxford University Press blog. It covers what the experts are saying about Twitter logothe best way to use this stunningly popular medium. Take a look. I hope it offers some useful insights. Also, thanks to a tweet from a friend, I just discovered this nifty Twitter Guide Book by Mashable.