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Social media and science: listening and learning

Social media and science: listening and learning

Marilyn's avatarMarilyn Booth works in digital communications within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), enabling policy makers to utilise digital and social tools during consultation processes and beyond. Prior to that, she worked within the BIS Science and Society team. One project she worked on was Public Attitudes to Science 2011, where she ran a blog for the duration of the project.

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I was involved with the previous Public Attitudes to Science survey within BIS, so I’ve obviously got a keen interest in seeing the results this time round.

Will we see greater engagement with science? Will people’s attitudes divide them up into segments, with different and multi-layered attitudes to science?

This time, though,  I’m looking at the results from a different angle, as I’m in the BIS digital team,  specialising in digital engagement. I’m looking forward to finding out how people are using social media in 2014.

In the 2008 research, social media hardly featured at all (it probably wasn’t even on our radars when the project was being scoped). By 2011 we uncovered that 4 per cent of respondents had read a science blog. I’m convinced it will be higher this time around.  The Wellcome Trust Monitor Wave 2, published in spring 2013, is already telling us that people are getting information on science from websites.

But who’s reading science blogs? And how else are they consuming news about science from social media? Is it just scientists, or will there be more non-scientists too? I know that there is an appetite – from both my ex policy colleagues in BIS and the science and society community – to understand the online world and social media a little more, and what it can tell us about these issues.  

This year. I understand that Ipsos MORI is also using digital tools within the research process itself.  I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the social listening.  As the use of social media platforms increases, we all need to take the insights from this monitoring seriously and look at conversations here, as well as those in the traditional media which this set of studies has always included.  These are the voices of real individuals that we’re studying, after all.  

When all is considered, the combination should be a really productive one, and give us a richer understanding of how, when, and why the sciences are discussed and engaged with.

In 2011, it was obvious that social tools would be useful in helping us to reach out and share information on the project, and to generate discussion around that.  Our project blog  – which was launched as an experiment mid way through the research process -  was part of that.  This year’s blog, which you’re reading now, is bigger and better, and a great way for the project to have more transparency. 

So, I’d love to hear the views of science bloggers out there – do your stats show a marked increase in readership, or even tell you anything about the types of readers you’re now getting compared to a couple of years ago?  What do you think the PAS 2014 results will show about your readers?

Of course, it’s also important to remember that not everyone’s a social networker.  Last time, the project also provided some useful insights into how the varied attitudinal groupings used social media: I’d be especially interested in hearing from anyone in the public engagement community who has used that learning, and how it has affected their approach.   Has it helped you target your approach – particularly to using social media?  And how should that insight affect us as a Department in developing our engagement approaches?

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