Social Media, the biggest revolution in communication since the invention of the internet has managed to cement itself into the lives of people worldwide; a variety of organisations and people have utilised the services to either bring people together or spread news and information across the world in a click.
Most organisations have a Facebook or Twitter page/feed, but how useful are they in geoscience communication?
Well, firstly let’s look at numbers;
The British Geological Survey has 2,325 ‘likes’ whereby ‘likers’ receive various stories from the BGS, that is only 2300 people on earth with an interest in the work of the UK’s Geological Survey; and how many of those people are geologists simply having a look, and how many the general public investigating the geosciences?
It’s difficult to say, but from the few people I stalked/examined who are ‘likers’ they mostly have their profiles set to private (so digging continued) with about 2/5 of followers geologists, and 3/5 of people aren’t. Which roughly means that 1400 members of the public (or 1 out of every 26,000 people in the UK) can receive various newsworthy events from the BGS..., which are less about communicating geosciences, more about showing the new stuff from the organisation.
Looking across the pond to the USGS, this has 3,185 followers, for a geologic survey in a country with a population of 300 million. Even if all those where interested members of the public from the US – thats still only one ‘like’ per a 100,000 of population – assuming only American’s join the group (which they don’t). Also, updates from both surveys don’t always appear in a users feed – even if they are interested, so in reality the numbers of people who actually see the links put up there could be very very limited. Therefore as a method of communicating geosciences using Facebook for social networking isn’t all that social.
Twitter is another incredible popular (and slightly addicting) service, which restricts messages to 140 characters, but allows links and internal search terms. On there, the USGS has an impressive following of 72,407 followers; and fairly regularly passes over information – the balance of information is fairly spread: much of it is unlikely to be of public interest (minor earthquake notification, job postings) while there are a good few links to pages on the USGS website which explain problems and solutions in pleasant ways, even answering fellow twitterers questions. The followers of the USGS appear to be mixed between geoscientists and ‘the public’ – this is successful social media. A following of 70,000 people, with questions asked and answered and a huge sector or people open to the messages from a worldwide esteemed organisation- for a very low price.
So, is social media worthwile? It costs nothing to join, update and use. It has a reach of (theoretically) millions of interested people, it’s just whether the people are wanting to be reached.