Guide to Social Media for SciArt Groups - Part 1


The past several years I have participated in forum discussions, Twitter chats, moderated sessions and presentations for a number of groups at the art+science boundary. One problem I have had is that these talks have been somewhat walled-off and exclusive to each group. So here on Symbiartic, I'd like to rectify that by amalgamating letters, talks, notes and my ego-tastical opinions on how science-art groups can use social media actively to help the group and its members.

Hopefully this will be of use to (and not limited to only these groups): the GNSI, AMI, SONSI, botanical art societies, and more. Chances are if you're a member or organizer of a pay-to-join science art-illustration group, I'm hoping you'll find parts of this useful and share your own experiences in the comments below. If budgets are an issue, everything I am sharing is free (+time, +internet connection).

There will be multiple parts to this guide. To find them all quickly, click the "sciartgroups" tag at the bottom of the post.

Why am I writing this?

Beyond my Scientific American Blogs bio, I'm a fine artist and illustrator interested in science with a BFA Honours degree in art studio. You can find my portfolio here, and some talks and interviews here. I have been blogging for almost 8 years, starting my art blog The Flying Trilobite in 2007. When I was starting out, I was daunted about joining various illustration groups by the fees: paying down student loans made them an investment I wasn't sure about. So I kept blogging.

After blogging for several years, my work was being noticed by scientists, science bloggers and publishers. I've done work ranging from science tattoo design to museum display to book covers. So paying to join groups became less pressing as successes came in their fits and starts.

So in what way am I equipped to write a guide for sciart groups?

  • It is likely I am not the only potential member you've missed due to this experience.
  • Outsider perspective = necessary evil.
  • What would compel me to join? I'm telling ya straight .
  • These tips could be how to get the vibrantly active world of science communication (or as it's known by its hashtag, #scicomm) to notice the wealth of talent in your groups. Cha-ching.

Let's dive in.

Why do sciart groups need social media?

Show the world your group is active - Static websites are boring, so many arts groups pump life into them by having a slideshow of recent members' work, awards or news articles. Even so, it can be hard to tell if the group is still functioning, or if the slideshow spins on after the heart of the group has stopped pumping. Having a Twitter or Pinterest widget on the front page of your website changes that. "Oh, they tweeted an hour ago," is the new business card.

Show potential members what they are paying for - Want to have a forum online to discuss technical issues? Free, with LinkedIn. Face-to-face chats with members? Free, with Google+ Hangouts. Camaraderie amongst peers in your field? Make a free Twitter list. One of the biggest ways science art groups are making themselves undesirable is by charging for things up-and-comers can find for free just by using social media.

What do you offer I can't easily get for free using social media? That's what I want to hear about.

It's where your clients are - Everyone from textbook manufacturers, to lab equipment companies to educators is online and on Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and more. You go where your business is. Retweeting or amplifying a potential client's message on social media may sound facile, but could get your foot in the door for your next job. Arts groups with strong ties and a reputation for being active amongst clients will help their members get work.

A common rookie mistake by artists online is to make a blogroll or list of people they follow that contains only other artists. I accidentally side-stepped this when my blog went live by using my blogroll as a kind of rss feed for science bloggers I enjoyed reading. Sure enough, they noticed the incoming clicks from my blog and questions about contracts started happening. I wasn't trolling for work: I was reading work by bloggers I enjoyed.

It's where your members are - (Or need to be) The single biggest reason for using social media in my opinion, is to amplify the successes of your members beyond what they can do themselves. Consider this: sites that aggregate or curate content and stories like io9 and Boing Boing are partially successful due to quality, but also partly due to volume. An individual artist who produces a new work once a week just won't have the same traffic as a site that shows off that work, and ones by a dozen other people a day.

Whether your science arts group has a couple of dozen members or a couple of hundred members, the amount of potential amazing and important work to show off and attract people to the group is immense. If, as an artist, I have more Facebook or Twitter followers than the arts group I belong to, then in what way are my members' fees helping to promote me?

Convinced? Here's what to understand next

There's a cycle to social media. For a science-art group it might go something like this:


I try not to post on all the different media using tools like HootSuite that blast your message to Twitter, G+, Facebook and LinkedIn from a central login. Every one of those has different parameters for images, length of message and so on. Take a moment and personalize it for each one.


Coming soon:

  • Part 2: What social media should you use? Gonna get specific here.


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