Good expectations for Earth science communication
The time of a science confined to its ivory towers, reduced to production and solitary research is over. I usually tell our scientists that if they are here, at the Spanish Geological Survey (IGME), it is because they have been selected as one of the best public servants for their ability to add value. And such claim must be their daily driving force.
The Portuguese writer Gonçalo Tavares created a literary district where Brecht, Michaux, Rimbaud and other famous creators lived together. People that perhaps we would like to cross paths with – or maybe not. Some of this imagination exercise is needed in science: to turn scientists into people of flesh and blood, and not into beings of strange behaviour. Like Gödel’s isolating himself from the world or philosopher Bentham becoming a self-icon, dissected in our eternal explanation of ourselves. Because nobody talks to a mummy, like Bentham supposed, and our messages cannot be frozen in time.
The new way of communicating science demands knowledge of these new languages. Also, it needs to take into account the attention times of a fragmented and distracted public to create attractive messages that do not detract from the quality and substance of what we communicate. Without trivialising the contents but making them according to the needs of the digital consumer. But not at any price.
Our objective is to take advantage of the possibilities offered by social media channels and offer a new way of communicating: a more transparent one that helps us to overcome the barrier often caused by space limitations or the agenda-setting of media.
Fig. 1 – Media structure developed by IGME’s External Relations and Communications Area
Our work also aims to give public presence to IGME, generating a strong community to know the preferences and concerns of our users. To offer them more specialised information or to open new market niches. On the other hand, our presence in social networks allows having elements of objective valuation to extend the diagnosis of the public perception of the organisation and at the same time, optimising the resources to get a greater media impact.
Traditionally, IGME has had a reactive nature in its relation with the media due to staff limitations. Only answering the demands that the media made to the experts. But we have achieved to:
- Create a stronger brand identity.
- Increase transversal communication within the organisation.
- Intensify, through new communication tools – blog, social networks, among others.
- Improve the pride of belonging.
Communication is conceived as a way for reaching bigger targets, public relevance and visibility, making known its work as a public service and the benefits or its research for society.
To achieve maximum efficiency -productivity per unit cost-, communication actions use existing material, human and economic resources, without increasing production costs.
Is it serious for a public institution to write a blog?
Absolutely, because not only do we have the example of the American giant, whose geological service uses this format for its news, but its versatility, the multiplicity of designs offered by platforms such as WordPress and the autonomy it allows make its use highly advisable.
A lighter format does not force a comparable lightness in the contents. It brings freshness but rigorous information without that rough formalism of papers.
A lighter format does not force a comparable lightness in the contents.
And the results are better than expected: more than 56.000 visits to our blog in less than three years. If we have many loyal followers, it is because we offer them interesting matters, in other words, our research work.
The new press is called Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, and it works like a parish. On Facebook, for example, we have over 16,000 followers (with a range of 259.5k and an interaction rate of 3.4k, sometimes even higher than the US Geological Survey (USGS). However, we expect our followers to be more loyal than theirs.
Fig.2 – Comparison with other scientific institutions
Publications such as the interview with the Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities of Spain Pedro Duque reached interaction peaks of 3.8%.
Katie Perry, that sassy singer, said: “you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your tribe”. On Twitter, for instance, we have already over 10,000 followers with over 24,000 hits in all our accounts (@GEO_FPI, @MuseoGeominero, @IGME1849). Publications such as the interview with the Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities of Spain Pedro Duque reached interaction peaks of 3.8%.
We realised that many users are already tagging us in their publications to give a greater diffusion to their posts. In other words, we have become a hub in Earth Sciences. In that sense, we can timidly say that we are one of the Public Research Institutions that is growing more in presence in the network. In a world of scientists, and even more so if they wear field boots and geologist’s hammers, this communication thing is uncharted territory.
That is why the vision and determination of pioneers like Manuel Regueiro are especially appreciated. The president of the Official Spanish Association of Professional Geologists (ICOG) is committed to the importance of disclosure. As responsible for the IGME’s Department of External Relations he has bet on gaining visibility for the institution, as a reference in the field of Earth Sciences. To reach this objective, he not only restructured the press work, but also organised training courses to prepare researchers as spokespersons when dealing with the press. This improved information flows, response capacity and trained scientists to present in an effective way their work and detect what is newsworthy about it.
And along with these new formats, the classic press release, to which we have given a twist to make it more narrative, using storytelling and playing with transmedia as much as possible. Translating science into everyday language requires something of working as a trapeze artist, without a net. Keeping the smile on your face in the certainty that making everyone happy is impossible. The only thing that can be demanded is not to fail. All of us who try to popularise science are on this.
So, come on, and give the media what James Cagney gave to the Russians in that Billy Wilder movie “One, two, three…”: Good expectations.
P.S. If you would like to know more about IGME’s mission and the enthusiasm and commitment of our researchers and technicians, watch our video “We explore the Earth for you”. If you don’t feel like becoming a geologist after watching it, we have failed.
About the Author: Alicia González has a degree in Information Sciences from the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, a Master’s degree in Radio Communication and Expert in Public Communication. She currently works at the External Relations and Communication Area of the Spanish Geological Survey (IGME) and participates in WP11 of the H2020 project, GIP-P (GeoERA). Her expertise is in corporate communication and journalism, with some journalism awards as Manuel Azaña, Carmen de Burgos, Carmen Goes and more recently the U-GOB award for the best institutional communication in the Ibero-American area. She is convinced of the central importance of scientific dissemination with a marked orientation towards public service and transversality.