Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator and a certified science geek. She is the illustrator of three popular science books: Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at www.kalliopimonoyios.com and @eyeforscience.
Katie McKissick is a former high school biology teacher turned science writer and cartoonist based in Los Angeles, CA. Her first book is called What’s in Your Genes? and will be in bookstores December 2013. She tweets @beatricebiology. Her work can be found at www.beatricebiologist.com.
How to use social media sites for large groups of artists engaged in science might seem baffling. This post tries to shine some light where it's needed.
This is Part 2 in a guide to social media for groups, clubs and organizations committed to members who work in various disciplines of science art. To see all of the parts, click on the tag sciartgroups here or at the bottom of the post.
The idea that these sites are a waste of time should be left behind. Like so many things in life, garbage in, garbage out. Don’t worry about how other people use these sites: they are tools. This post is about how science-art organizations could potentially use them.
Last time I covered why SciArt groups need social media. This time let’s dive in and look at specific social media sites that could be useful to your organization and its members.
Blogs – Your Home Base
At minimum, a blog should be updated weekly to be considered active.
The term blog is short for “weblog”. Each entry on a blog is called a post. “I put up a new post on my blog” is correct; “I’m going to put up a blog” is not.
Blogger and WordPress are both excellent free templates for starting a blog. Blogger also has an optional feature called Dynamic Views that’s worth exploring. Both platforms can take just a few hours to set-up, and do not require hiring developers to tweak and fix.
A blog should have an RSS feed. This is sometimes called “Really Simple Subscription” and allows people to receive automatic updates whenever you have a new post.
Most blogs feature comments,and comments should be moderated for spam and for tone. It creates a safe and constructive atmosphere.
Don’t treat each post as if it is a feature article: fast, short posts (“Stunning New Image from X Studio”) often do very well in short-term.
Very long interviews or explanatory posts (“Casting Relief Work in Bronze – Part 1”) have a different life-cycle: they perform poorly in short-term but very well in the long term as they become information-rich points of reference online.
The most popular art and science blogs are a mix of educational posts, personal posts, event announcements, and sharing news of interest from other bloggers (perhaps members).
The blog should typically serve as your starting point in social media. Post something there, and promote on other sites like Twitter and Facebook. Discussions will ensue all over, sometimes even leading to your next blog post.
A blog should clearly state copyright somewhere on it, usually the sidebar near the top. Don’t hide it at the bottom.
Blogs should not worry about providing too many useful links to other sites. The idea is not to trap people on your blog, but to share. Other sites will notice when traffic starts arriving from the blog.
Use some form of analytics like Site Counter or Google Analytics to keep track of traffic and patterns, as well as where people are coming from. If you never receive incoming traffic from LinkedIn to your blog, maybe it’s time to try another type of social media site like Twitter and see if it’s more successful. (Of course, it’s entirely possible your LinkedIn page is a thriving forum of its own, and the traffic just doesn’t go to your blog.)
There has been a downward-trend in comments on blogs: many people find the link on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook and then comment there.
Twitter – the Conversation
Twitter should be posted on daily; in my opinion it is no longer an optional place to be. You need to be on Twitter. Thank me later.
Drop any ideas that Twitter is only a place for young people to post what they had for lunch: that statement is as true as cars are only used by young people as places to play music.
Twitter only allows for 140 characters per tweet. It automatically shrinks URLs linking to other sites, and creates an URL for photos uploaded to it. It’s possible to have a brief tweet of about 94 characters and include a photo and link.
Following on Twitter is asymmetrical: it’s not necessary to follow everyone back who follows you.
As a SciArt group, make sure you are following your own members at the very least!
Follow more than your own members: follow potential clients. Keeping your members top of mind shows off the group’s expertise and can maybe even help them score jobs.
A visible Twitter feed should be placed on the blog. That way, in between blog posts it is clear the organization is vibrant and active even if the site page isn’t updated regularly.
Twitter is fast-paced and very in-the-moment. See this great comic by xkcd to get an idea of how fast important news travels by Twitter.
People posting on topics they wish others to find use hashtags. Using a hashtag is simple: put # in front of the word or term.
Popular hashtags at the intersection of science + art:
#scicomm – science communicators: researchers who blog, science journalists
#sciart – artists, illustrators and cartoonists involved in science
#STEM or #STEAM – “science, tech, engineering & math” or “science, tech, engineering art & math” Popular with educators.
When using a new hashtag, it’s worth doing a quick search to see if other people are already using it. It will expand the reach.
Think of Twitter like a patio party: you move from conversation to conversation, and contribute new topics of your own. Some are serious, some are sharing a laugh. Follow or unfollow people who are interesting and positive about the organization.
Twitter allows for publicly visible lists to be created out of followers. Why not make and sure a list of all the members in your group?
Twitter is fast. (Have I said that already?) Questions should be answered quickly, within a few hours if possible, certainly within a day.
Twitter can do more than promote members of your group. If you’re into paleontology, why not post a science article about new discoveries? If you’re a botanical group, why not liven things up with a discussion of GMOs?
Facebook – the photo album
Facebook is terrific for amateur, off-the-cuff photos from events, such as an annual meeting banquet.
You need to set up what’s called a Facebook Page (sometimes called a business or fan page).
Do not tag your group’s members in photos. Let them tag themselves. They may not wish to have a photo of themselves with wine in hand from an annual meeting at dinner show up across Facebook in the newsfeeds of their friends.
Big drawback to Facebook: setting up an organization’s page must be done using an individual user’s Facebook account. There can be no stand alone group account. More than one person can then be added in different roles.
Hashtags are currently possible but not useful on Facebook.
Google+ – long-form, multi-functional Twitter
Posting on Google+ should happen at minimum several times a week.
Think of Google+ as a long-form Twitter. Videos, images and news can all be shared easily.
Google+ allows people to press “+1” on an organization’s page or individual post. A high number of +1’s on posts with a theme (ie: fractal art) or a hashtag (ie: #sciart) will return that user higher in the rankings for keyword searches.
It’s important to press +1 or comment (or both) on other people’s pages. Especially recommended that your group’s Google+ moderator +1 your group’s member’s pages and individual posts.
Hashtags are terrific on Google+.
Tumblr – the flotsam of the internet
Tumblr is a specific blog platform, with easy sharing that differs from WordPress and Blogger both in function and in culture. Many Tumblrs are about hyper-specific topics.
The idea behind Pinterest is to create different Boards based on themes, with images pinned on them. If your group’s moderator pinned an image of say, an anaconda skeleton from hypothetical “Zoomy Zoo Artist Studio” on their Reptile Anatomy Board, anyone clicking on that image of the skeleton would automatically go back to Zoomy Zoo’s site.
Pinterest is used by an increasing amount of educators as a place for visual bookmarks. I imagine museum curators and book editors must be finding it useful too.
Set-up your boards on specific topics. For birdwatching illustrators, it could be by region, or Family. Alternatively, it might be more useful to a group to sort by media: oils, digital, and pencil drawing.
Pinterest allows for rapid sharing and is totally visually based. It’s ripe for some serious science-art groups to start jumping in.
YouTube – curating video playlists
YouTube could be useful for creating a playlists of members’ pre-existing videos from their own channels. Videos are often made for art technique tutorials, exhibit promotions, or sometimes shared when local news features a studio. This would allow someone who found the playlist to find even more videos with the same expertise and raise the profile of all members.
I don’t know everything, so leave your comments below. And please let me know if you found something useful!