Science Communication Conference, 25-26 May 2011: Report on the ‘Social Media and Public Engagement’ Workshop

The aim of the workshop was to introduce some different types of social media applications and show how they might be used as ways of enhancing public engagement, and perhaps more generally, in science communication.

Three social media applications were introduced in the workshop: Twitter (http://twitter.com), WordPress (for blogging) (http://wordpress.com) and Delicious (for bookmarking web pages) (http://www.delicious.com). Participants could try all of these, or choose the ones they were particularly interested in. On arrival at the workshop delegates joined a table to look at a particular social media application, and could move to another table depending on their interests. The tutors running the workshop took charge of a table each, and helped participants to logon to their chosen application and then work through a series of exercises to help gain familiarity with it.

In this report I will briefly cover Twitter and WordPress, but concentrate attention on Delicious, for reasons explained later.

Twitter is a microblogging application. Posts (‘tweets’) are limited to 140 characters, but links to web content can be included (which can be shortened using an application like TinyURL, http://tinyurl.com), as can photographs, using one of several uploader applications (e.g. TwitPic, http://twitpic.com). In the workshop, participants learned to post tweets, search twitter for tweets containing particular keywords, and retweet other tweets. These are the important basic skills needed to get started with Twitter.

WordPress is one of a number of blogging sites available, but it is very detailed and flexible with an impressive degree of functionality. In the workshop, participants were shown how to logon to WordPress and post a blog. WordPress has a useful feature that so-called Widgets can be installed on the main page to show, for example, the user’s Twitter feed and Delicious links. In that way the three applications covered in the workshop are brought together, and this was demonstrated at the end.

Because I already use Twitter (http://twitter.com/robajackson) and have a WordPress blog, my particular interest was in learning to use Delicious. This involved initially logging on using a course username, and searching for some specific web sites and bookmarking them. Delicious is more detailed and has more functionality than the bookmarking sites I have used previously. When a site is bookmarked, it can be tagged to make it easier to locate, and notes can be added so that potential users get some information on what it might contain in advance.

As an illustration of how to use Delicious, take the example of looking for web pages dealing with Science Communication. Using Google (for example), one would type ‘Science Communication’ into the search field, and a series of entries then appears which can be clicked on for further information. For example, currently the fourth entry in the list is the ‘British Science Association: Science Communication Conference’. Clicking on this entry then gives the web page for the conference. The web page address (URL) can then be copied, and saved as a web page in Delicious by logging on to Delicious and clicking on ‘save a new bookmark’. The copied URL is then pasted into the URL box, and after hitting ‘return’ tags and further information about the web site can be input. The resulting bookmark can be made private, but if it is left public, other users can see it and make use of it.

As mentioned previously when WordPress was discussed, Delicious links can be displayed in a blog using a widget. This is shown on my blog (here), where the Twitter feed and Delicious links are listed down the right hand side. In between the Twitter feed and the Delicious links is a further list of links headed with ‘Blogroll’. These links are added within WordPress and provide another way of listing useful links in a blog.

The workshop was useful and well-organised; the tutors were very helpful and showed a detailed knowledge of the applications. Although I am an experienced Twitter and WordPress user, I found the workshop very useful, particularly because I learned how to use Delicious and realised how useful it can be when combined with other social media applications.

Finally I would like to thank the organisers for the award of a bursary that enabled me to attend the conference.

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2 thoughts on “Science Communication Conference, 25-26 May 2011: Report on the ‘Social Media and Public Engagement’ Workshop”

  1. Thanks for this and the introduction to Delicious–will have a look. What is the most important benefit to you about Twitter, and how much time to you in particular devote to it.

    In my case I find that it builds relationships and allows for greater visibility.

  2. I use Twitter for a number of reasons, but in chemistry and science communication it is to make new contacts and publicise activities – similar to you.

    I definitely recommend Delicious as a way of organising web links.

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