On harnessing media: Or, learning to tame a fire-hose

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Ever heard of the phrase, the Twitter fire-hose? That’s a colloquialism for all the data coming out of Twitter. And there’s a lot of data! Roughly 50-times the data available via the standard stream. On average, there are over 6,000 tweets sent each second. And that’s only Twitter we’re talking about here. Just think of how many Facebook and Instagram posts, snaps, and emails are sent each second (hint: it’s well over 1.3 million, every second, even accounting for the fact that about 50% of emails sent are spam).

Let’s say you read the last two blogs in this series: you have done some research in collaboration with a protected-area manager, it has clear management implications, the academic journal article is freely-available online, and you’ve written a short one-pager for the management audience. How are you supposed to share your work when you’re competing with the unfathomable amount of data your audience (and you!) are sifting through every second of every day?

Well, that’s the subject of this blog – so keep reading!

“I love reading email!” Said no one, ever.

When we were starting up OpenChannels circa 5 years ago, John Davis and I did a number of elite interviews with people we thought would benefit from the service. Every single person we interviewed said the last thing they wanted from anything was more email. “Don’t be like LinkedIn!” we were told, countless times. Though as the interviews continued, that’s exactly what these same people would ask for: more email. “I don’t have time for [insert social network here], so I’d prefer an email.”

No one likes email. But strangely enough (for at least that academic and management audience that we work with) email is king. If you really want someone to read something, email it to them. But don’t just send them any old email…

Boring is best

You know those fancy MailChimp newsletters we send out each week? Don’t do that. Don’t send people HTML/MIME emails with tons of formatting or pretty pictures (especially images that have nothing to do with your message: generic charismatic megafauna are so cliché, people!). We only send newsletter-style emails like that because we have to: we simply have too much content to fit legibly in one plain-text email a week. But in this scenario, you’re publicizing your work, not the work of the entire marine conservation community, so you can do it the right way!

Plain-text emails are less likely to get caught up in spam filters. They’re also readable when forwarded to any listserv (have you seen a newsletter-style email forwarded to Coral-List? No, because the formatting – and all attachments – get removed by the listserv.). And if you’re emailing academics or anyone working with government, chances are a good portion of your audience will be using antiquated email systems that simply can’t read HTML/MIME emails. At best, they’ll be stuck reading the raw code of the message, which might as well be Aramaic. Otherwise, they’ll just see a blank email. Not exactly helpful.

Furthermore, plain-text emails just feel more personal to people. From our experience, people are much more likely to reply to a plain-text email than they are a newsletter: and that’s even if I’m using mail-merge to send a plain-text email to hundreds or thousands of people! True story: I used Thunderbird and the mail-merge add-on to send super-simple plain-text confirmation emails in response to a training we were offering with the Udall Center. I received “thank you!” responses from well over half of the 500+ recipients. That’s never, ever happened with our fancy HTML webinar confirmations. And we’ve sent out over 10,000 webinar confirmations! See what I mean by plain-text being much more personal?

Spam: bad. Spam musubi: good.

No one wants their email ending up in a spam-folder, so here’s some advice to dress up your email to get in the door:

  • Spam filters don’t like science-y words like test, sample, solution, or trial. They really dislike words like free (which is why we use “OA” in the Literature Updates) and sex (sorry, reproductive scientists!). Use too many “forbidden” words and your email will go to spam.
  • Never, ever put test as the first word in your subject line: spam filters will think it’s a testing email and will almost always send it to spam.
  • Only link to secured websites. For reasons that make little sense, spam filters think too many links to http sites are spammy, but links to https sites are completely legit. Google’s URL shortener defaults to https, but with Bitly you’ll need to add the ‘s’ yourself. This is why we use the URL shortener, https://oct.to, in our Weekly Updates: it doesn’t matter to spam filters that the real (long) link isn’t “secure,” just that the link in the email is.
  • Don’t include images or attachments, if at all possible. Spam filters don’t like them. Also, if people forward your message around, chances are the images and/or attachments will be lost.
  • Don’t start your email with “Dear [insert name here],”. Spammers love to start their emails formally like this. Also, it’s 2016, no one greets another person (especially a person they don’t know very well) as “dear” – it’s creepy.
  • Avoid exclamation points. While this guy loves him some exclamation points! Spam filters don’t. Apparently they weren’t programed to understand joy or irony.

The social networks

Beyond email, it’s very important that your content looks as good as it can in social media. The big networks like Facebook and Twitter offer special treatment (i.e. embedded summaries and images) in shares from websites that supply the proper metadata.

Assuming you have a website for your research/lab group (and if you don’t, future blogs will cover setting up a free website!) make sure you have a unique webpage for the one-pager you want to share with the management world. Facebook uses the Open Graph Markup: you’ll want to put the relevant meta tags in the “head” of your page to tell Facebook what you’re sharing and where it’s located. Most importantly, you’ll want to include a description and image that will appear in the News Feed. Twitter offers a very similar service with Twitter Cards.

Keywords are the key

With any social network, your following is key. But, let’s be honest here, most conservationists don’t have thousands of Twitter followers. And if you’re just starting up an account, you’re not going to get 300,000 followers in your first hour (unless you’re Edward Snowden, that is). Using the right keywords, however, will make sure your work reaches the right people.

People in positions like mine (who are jacked-in to The Matrix 24/7 scanning for the right news and research) rely on keyword searches to find relevant content. The secret to my job is a combination of Google Alerts and social media searches via HootSuite – which are both free, so try them out! If your work is of use to marine protected areas, be sure to spell out the whole word on your website and in at least one social media post: academia loves alphabet soup, but search engines do not. Try a Google Alert for “MPA” and you’ll get mostly irrelevant content. But, try a Google Alert for “Marine Protected Area” and you’ll get what you’re looking for.

Repetition doesn’t hurt, either. Kate Wing recommends posting in threes: that is, for each piece of content you want to share, you should post it to each social media outlet at least three different times, and in different ways. If you look through the Twitter page of any major news publication, you’ll notice this exact trend. Perhaps the newspaper will post one tweet in the morning, switch up the headline for an afternoon tweet, and then post that same article one more time in the evening with a different message. The important thing here is to switch up how you’re presenting the information in each post so you’re not annoying people who follow you closely with the same information over and over again. And with 6,000 tweets being posted every second of every day, you need to repeat your sharing so it’s at the top of the feed when your audience is scrolling through their social media accounts.

Ruby Tuesdays

One of the best tidbits of information I’ve learned over the years came from someone at the University of Washington’s Advancement Team. They’re the people that solicit donations to the school in various forms. The team examined their productivity in terms of emailing people and asking for things (money, yes – but also to give commencement speeches, lectures, etc.) and found Tuesdays are the best days to ask for something. No surprise: Mondays and Fridays were the worst days. So when you’re emailing your work to the management community, be sure it’s on a Tuesday.

Editor's note: This is the third blog in our series on "making your marine science matter" — a recent talk MARE gave at the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC4). You may read the other blogs in this series by following the links below.

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