Reaching Audiences Through New Media: Lessons
We Are Learning From the International Year of Astronomy
What It Is
Blogs are weblogs, online journals or diaries that are updated frequently by individuals (bloggers). They commonly are avenues for expressing opinion and are not overseen by an editor prior to being updated. Most blogs have the option for readers to post comments. Twitter is a type of blog (a microblog because it is restricted to 140 characters), and other social media such as Facebook and MySpace have blog components.
Who’s On It
Yeah. It’s hard to find the number and average age of bloggers. We’ll divert your attention instead of giving you data by saying that such numbers are not important to the matter at hand. Specifically, you should not be worried about the demographics of others who blog, but the demographics of those you may attract to read your blog. And that depends on what you blog about and how you advertise.
How It Might Be Used
Blogs are ideal for sharing information in depth. You can explore science topics, generate conversations, and share resources and upcoming activities in detail.
There are a number of blogging tools that can be integrated into webpages, and an even greater number of software options and sites willing to host blogs. The latter range from free (e.g., Google’s Blogger, Yahoo) to not-free (e.g., TypePad, WordPress, software can run ~$100 with monthly fees of ~$10). Typically, the more you pay, the greater the number of bells and whistles and the higher the level of support. Each of these options has a tutorial.
Blogs are created by individuals for different reasons, but the bottom line is that everyone online can have a voice, which is a good thing. Where the landscape starts to get confused is helping the public discern between uninformed opinion and informed scientific knowledge. Repeating (retweeting?) some of the opening comments, as a translator of science, you need to maintain credibility. Stay on message, be professional, and be up-front about who you are and for whom you are working. Cultivate a strong, professional, positive image as you present on behalf of your team. You have a responsibility to get the science out, get it right, and maintain a boundary between your blog and blogs with opinions that are less, or un, informed.
A few thoughts as you begin blogging:
- Know that blogging takes time and planning. Determine how frequently you want to blog (and let your readers know what they should expect). Identify, ideally with your team, a number of blog topics before you start. Help your readers feel informed after they spend time on your blog. Be their resource for information about your project.
- Talk with your readers, not at them.
- Allow readers to comment – better – ASK them to comment; social media is about being social. Ask questions, but remember that they may express opinions that are contrary to yours. Carry on a conversation. Reflect on what your readers are asking and saying. They may give you new ideas for blogging.
- While humor can be tricky to convey, when done well it is appreciated.
- Place your project in the larger context of “why is this important?”
- Be consistent. Staying on message means that your project’s science is presented coherently and your readers will know what to expect from you.
- Share the process of science and the human face of science.
- Be persistent, it takes time for blogs to catch on
- Choose simple, catchy titles for your blog site and your individual blog posts.
- Put a date on your blog entry so that readers know when this was posted.
Once you have your blog in place, leverage your other social media tools to advertise the blog. Let science bloggers (and online news media) know that you have posted so that they can share it with their audiences. Consider listing your blog with an online community that connects readers and blogs of interest, such as BlogCatalog or MyBlogLog.
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