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Posted by on Apr 1, 2012

Taking stock of social media: lessons learned from a botanical database

The last post I wrote on the use of DISQUS for crowdsourcing academic data has led my wandering brain to this one, a post taking stock of close to two years’ worth of effort in social media. What I did do that worked; what I didn’t do that worked. What I did do that didn’t work. Once again our focus is a botanical database that I am the lead Marketing/Education/Communication person on. And before we dive into any actions taken, we should try to understand our motivations for doing so way back when.

Why Social Media and Why 2010?

This botanical database was being resurrected after a hiatus of inactivity and I had worked on its previous incarnation. So, I was asked to return and help out as much as I was able. I needed a few things and I needed to be able to get them up and running without any significant resources of any kind (money, time, or people). I needed a voice and I needed plant science to be less staid than it was perceived to be. It isn’t staid by any stretch of the imagination and I had experienced how passionate these scientists were about what they do and it was inspiring. I just needed to translate that a bit into communication, a pulse.

Social media offered me the ability to do so and to do so quickly and resource efficiently. So, I started with the following:

  • Twitter
  • WordPress
  • Flickr
  • Vimeo
  • Delicious

Twitter

I surrendered Delicious relatively early on and decided to double down on the rest as they were producing some results that warranted a bit more investment of time. Twitter gave me a pulse, a shot of activity designed to bring value to our community and give us, the environment itself, a voice. This takes time so we pushed on. First, I had three messages scheduled daily, which I scaled back to two, and now I rest at one a day and I am completely satisfied with that. We inch up in terms of retweets and followers, but more importantly we had an immediate, albeit staccato, voice. Minor success. Not that I think Wordle is the most refined tool in the word for textual analysis, but I do find that it helps me determine if I am staying on message and even what my message wants to be.

 

WordPress

A blog is a slow burn, a real slog, but a useful one. A blog isn’t antiquated or a passing trend as long-form exposition is still a useful medium. Occasionally, we need to craft a narrative with words as dressing and a blog is the fastest, most accessible way to do that. After two years of weekly postings, at least once a week, it seems to have found its voice and its mark. It is also, from a purely self-serving perspective, the most gratifying effort in communication that I perform in any given workweek.

Vimeo

Vimeo was truly the most qualified success we have had in social media and it all started with an idea that I stole from someone somewhere, but I have yet to remember where. We bought five Flip cameras and sent them to five Global Plants Initiative (GPI) partners on five continents and had them film whatever it is they do on a daily basis. In the field, at the office, introducing staff, whatever. I wanted to give them a voice and let them use their own words and we would merely act as a hosting and discovery tool for this output.

It has worked to the tune of 600,000 views since May 2010, an unqualified success for a bunch of short videos of scientists talking about plants and what they do to protect them. We have seen good use across a wide swath of geography, including some areas where GPI has little to no presence, a very promising metric.

Ultimately, video just worked for this community. It was a dialogue and it was personal. It wasn’t always that exciting, but it is the social media medium I am most proud of, at least professionally. I think any social media adventure needs to match its intended audience, perceived or unseen, in terms of medium and message and this just did. I wouldn’t necessarily employ it with other disciplines; I might, but I would try to determine that ahead of time without assuming this would work across the board.

And this is my favorite series of videos from this project, an expedition by the good people at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (E) and the National Herbarium and Plant Laboratories of Nepal (KATH) to the Himalayas for a plant collecting expedition. In case you were wondering (E) and (KATH) are the partner codes that are so critical to the DISQUS forwarding I described in the last post. I didn’t include DISQUS here although it is the most social of all this social media precisely because I already rambled on about it.

As for Flickr, I am beginning to phase that one out if only because it detracts a bit from the interplay of the social media mediums I already have employed. Video lends itself to text and images can be used in the blog, so ultimately I didn’t mind letting that one go. Pinterest (and yes, that is my Pinterest page) might have some use for us in the future, but I would need to make sure it has some legs before committing too much time to it. When it is just you doing the social media, I find I am a bit more conservative in my adoption.

Either way, this combination worked for us and I would approach another project in much the same way; experiment and keep what works. Discard the rest. Social media as toolkit to listen and talk (in that order).

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  1. Social activity around content as % of overall use: Trying to measure impact/value « Michael Sean Gallagher - [...] 1.5 million type specimens, reference works, art, and other primary sources. I have written about our social media ‘strategy’…

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