Science and social media in new Zealand

How is New Zealand science dealing with social media?

Screen-Shot-2015-06-05-at-2.04.57-pmThe latest report* from NZ’s Science Media Centre answers that question (see Social Media Snapshot – how are our research institutions using Twitter, Facebook etc.).

It concludes that “science and social media make comfortable bedfellows” because:

“Most research institutions have some form of social media presence and several have amassed tens of thousands of followers, helping them to stay engaged with a broad audience who “share”, “like” and “favourite” their content.”

That is good news, on the whole, but it does tend to be a “cup half full” interpretation because it doesn’t analyse why some of the scientific institutions are failing when it comes to social media. It’s great that 91% of the country’s 45 major research organisations engaged in scientific research have an official social media presence. But what about those 9% which don’t?

Which institutions are the slow uptakers?

First the good news:

“The University of Auckland, GeoNet and Te Papa have the most followers for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube respectively.”

But apart of Auckland University, Auckland Museum, Te Papa and Geonet the main users of social media appear to be the universities. Although smaller sections of the research community – including university faculties, departments and research labs and collaborations – have been slower to adopt social media. Facebook appears to be their preferred platform.

What sticks out like a sore thumb to me is the absence of the larger Crown Research Institutes. My old institute, AgResearch, certainly wasn’t among the front-runners in this report – despite the fact that it is the largest Crown Research Institute and involved in research vital to this country’s main industries. However, on checking I found that AgResearch does have a Facebook and Twitter presence. It’s just that the likes (Facebook) and followers (Twitter) are very low compared with the front-runners. For example, its about 1100 Facebook likes compares with University of Waikato’s 35,000!

At least it is something, I suppose. From my memories of the conservatism of the heads of communication departments in my day I was half afraid they were shunning social media altogether. Mind you, with this low performance I can’t help feeling their approach to social media is possible only luke-warm.

If this is the case, I suspect it could be a common problem with Crown Research Institutes which tend to be bureaucratic and unwilling to allow uncontrolled or unsupervised contact of staff members with the public. I guess that is a human organisation problem but it is a pity because these institutes do have large “client” or “customer” groups which already use social media and would willingly connect via such media. Probably more so than through the limited industry meetings, conferences and field days – and centrally managed press releases.

This is not a suggestion that these institutes turn away from their tried and true communication methods – far from it. Just a suggestion that supplementation via social media can enhance and widen such communication.

*Download the report here.

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