I’m going to be speaking on blogging at a fisheries meeting. Tell me what to say!

So, I’m going to be speaking in a symposium on social media at the American Fisheries Society meeting in August. I’m talking about blogging, obviously, but I deliberately kept my abstract pretty broad so that I could decide later what exactly to talk about. So, if you were attending this meeting–or if you are!–what would you like me to talk about? If you were in my shoes, what would you talk about? Here are a few scattered but hopefully interesting ideas I’ve had:

(attention conservation notice: short post ahead)

  • I’ve given a longer talk on blogging before. I can’t just condense everything from that talk into a much shorter timeslot. So I need to pick and choose.
  • It’s gonna be a broad audience, most of whom probably don’t read Dynamic Ecology, or even any blog at all. So I probably need to start with some sort of overview of what blogs are and how they’re used. Paige Brown Jarreau has data on this.
  • My goal with these sorts of talks is to be entertaining and thought-provoking. For instance, I’m thinking of arguing that blogs as a form are dying, but that they remain a great opportunity for the small number of people who have the desire, attributes, goals, and circumstances to blog really well.
  • It’s telling that almost every other talk in the symposium is about Twitter and other social media, mostly as tools for public outreach and education. So I’m wondering if I should say something about that, even though it’s not at all what Dynamic Ecology does. Following on from the previous bullet, one idea would be to talk about why Twitter and social media have mostly replaced blogs. Along the way, maybe make some contrarian points about Twitter and other social media as tools for outreach. For instance, stealing Kieran Healy’s point that “successfully engaging with the public means doing it unsuccessfully very regularly”. And people who study science communication will tell you that at least some common ways in which scientists use social media for education and outreach are ineffective and based on a flawed model of public understanding of science.
  • I’ve never been to a fisheries meeting before and have no idea what they’re like, beyond that the audience will probably include more government and management folks than my talk audiences usually contain. So there’s some non-zero risk that if I just talk about Dynamic Ecology–a blog very much written by and aimed at academics–I’ll be talking about something many audience members don’t care about. Then again, maybe people would like hearing about something very “off the wall” compared to typical fisheries conference material? Perhaps one good compromise is to try to find fisheries-related examples for some of my points. For instance, fisheries definitely has controversies over zombie ideas. (UPDATE: link fixed)

But those are all scattered, tentative thoughts. What do you think I should talk about?

28 thoughts on “I’m going to be speaking on blogging at a fisheries meeting. Tell me what to say!

  1. An idea is to speak about what can be done with blogs that cannot be done with other social media – e.g. deeper discussions (facebook and twitter often are just about sharing news, their structure does not permite engaging into a deep discussion of a topic. This is different from what Orkut used to be, for example). Whereas facebook and twitter may be used more effectively for outreach, blogs can be directed for a more narrow audience and serve as either a place to discuss ideas or as support for people beginning their carreers (in science or other fields). I’m actually inspired by Dynamic Ecology because it does both of these!
    And, on this subject, if I were to attend such a meeting I’d like to hear tips and suggestions on how to make a successful blog that actually does its job. Sometimes people start blogging just for the sake of blogging, or use blogs for stuff for which social media, such as facebook, would be more appropriate. So, summarizing, what are the objectives of blogging, e.g. in science or conservation? And how to do this well?

    • “An idea is to speak about what can be done with blogs that cannot be done with other social media – e.g. deeper discussions ”

      Yes, definitely. Though against that, one could argue that deeper discussions don’t often happen on blogs either (this one’s an exception), just for different reasons. Most blogs have small audiences, and the vast majority of any blog’s readers never comment. Most readers don’t comment in large part because people generally are much more comfortable having discussions with their friends in private than with strangers in public.

      “And, on this subject, if I were to attend such a meeting I’d like to hear tips and suggestions on how to make a successful blog that actually does its job. ”

      Yes, good idea, I’m planning to do that. Tip #1 is “post at *least* once/week if you care about building an audience”. 🙂

      • “Tip #1 is “post at *least* once/week if you care about building an audience”.:-)” – Right, so the once-or-twice-a-year posting I’ve been doing isn’t likely to work. Got it. 😀

        And it’s actually an interesting observation about most people not commenting, considering that the possibility of making comments is one of the things that differentiate blogs from regular websites. It may be something worth commenting: “Don’t get upset if people don’t comment on your blog – that’s just the way things work. Except for Dynamic Ecology.”

      • ““Don’t get upset if people don’t comment on your blog – that’s just the way things work. Except for Dynamic Ecology.””

        Just to be clear, it’s only a tiny fraction of Dynamic Ecology readers who ever comment, and an even tinier fraction who’ve ever done so more than once or twice. It’s just that we have so many readers that even those tiny fractions add up to enough people for us to have good comment threads.

        And honestly, we worry a bit that even our comment threads are slowly deteriorating. That they’re not quite as active on average as they used to be. There are positive feedback loops here. Commenters beget commenters–and lack of commenters begets lack of commenters. It’s possible that, in the long run, blogs as a means of two-way communication (a conversation rather than a broadcast) will turn out to be a failed experiment. I certainly hope not, of course! And there are reasons to think science blogs like ours should be at least somewhat resistant to broader trends in the blogosphere as a whole. But “somewhat resistant” isn’t the same thing as “immune”…

  2. I’ve gone to a few AFS meetings. Regarding your last point, there is a very large government/management presence. If you’re able, I at least would be interested in some suggestions on how blogging on science or following science blogs fits (or does it) into non-academic positions. Can/should a government scientist maintain a blog on their research? Should a fisheries biologist allocate time to read an ecology/evolution blog? This might relate to your penultimate point; how might blogging v. Twitter/other social media best meet specific outreach/education goals?

    That said, I wouldn’t be too worried about being too “off the wall”. Most majority of attendees are just ecologists at heart. You don’t need to come up with fishy examples for folks to be interested in what you’re saying.

    • “I’ve gone to a few AFS meetings. ”

      Great, I was hoping AFS attendees would comment!

      “If you’re able, I at least would be interested in some suggestions on how blogging on science or following science blogs fits (or does it) into non-academic positions.”

      Excellent idea, but one I have only a limited ability to comment on from firsthand experience, being an academic myself. Might have to do a bit of background research on this. I do have a few thoughts on how government agencies can use blogs to communicate with the communities they serve. NSF DEB’s DEBrief blog is a great example.

  3. You should talk about the mentorship value provided by blogging. Dynamic Ecology provides informal, but incredibly valuable, mentorship to many early career stage scientists. I constantly refer to this post when discussing time demands with students, fellow postdocs, and demanding advisors.

    Many topics are too difficult or sensitive to broach with colleagues, dynamic ecology fills that gap. Posts on “big ideas or zombie ideas” also show “youg’uns” what thoughtful critique looks like.

    Thanks for the mentorship!

    • “You should talk about the mentorship value provided by blogging.”

      Good idea. Part of the value of this use of blogs is that blogs scale–you can reach lots of students and trainees besides your own. Students often turn to the internet for advice these days, so it behooves us to put our advice where people are looking for it.

      ” Posts on “big ideas or zombie ideas” also show “youg’uns” what thoughtful critique looks like.”

      My abstract does promise “zombie jokes”, so I’ll need to talk about this briefly. Of course, whether making zombie jokes about the work of others counts as “thoughtful critique” is something on which your mileage may vary. 🙂

  4. I’ve just been informed that I have a 40 min. timeslot, so it’ll be something like a 30 min. talk. That’s longer than I thought I had, which is probably good since collectively the first three commenters have already suggested 10-15 min. of material. 🙂

    And since it’s a keynote to kick off the symposium (that bit I already knew), I’m definitely going to want to speak a bit about what blogs vs. other forms of social media are good for. Will have to reread Meg’s post on why she uses Twitter. 🙂

  5. If you’re not already in touch with Natalie Sopinka (@phishdoc), I’d recommend posing her some of these questions. She’s a fisheries ecologist (recently moved from B.C. to Ontario) very interested in scicomm and creativity in science. (No, I’m not mixing up which post I should be addressing :).) She’s done AFS symposium keynotes on the aforementioned “off the wall” topics, and does a lot of blogging and related activities not totally aimed at “broader public” audiences. She could be a valuable insider perspective for several reasons.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I do also have a fisheries colleague in the office next door to me whom I’ve chatted with a bit as well. But he’s not much involved with social media.

    • Yes, if there’s time, that’s a point I want to make. I might steal your graph in addition to using DE’s stats, just to show that the point is general. I think Stephen Heard and Andrew Hendry also have published data on their traffic growth.

      Relatedly, the influence of a blog is mostly not via individual posts changing lots of people’s minds. It’s the diffuse, cumulative influence of lots of little nudges to the thinking of lots of people.

      p.s. I’ll probably also sober people up by showing them other data on DE reader behavior. It’s from third party sources so of somewhat dubious quality, but I’m sure it’s close enough for government work. Like the fact that the average visitor to DE spends something like 1 min. on the site. Ok, you can skim a fair bit in 1 min., and perhaps some readers are. But the truth is that raw traffic numbers give a rather misleading picture of how many readers we have. Many visitors do not actually read any of our posts. I’m sure the same is true for pretty much any blog.

  6. Jeremy, I was so excited to open my reader this morning and see your post title! I am a former high school/community college English teacher, and after budget cuts/lay-offs, completed a MSES in Environmental Communication through Green Mountain College in 2012. During that time of study, I heard and read over and over and over again the need to communicate the science to the mainstream. I then started The Ecotone Exchange here on WordPress, to tell positive stories about the environment. Here are some of my thoughts on the question you pose above: 1. I agree that it is significant that blogging does invite discussion, whereas Twitter and FB don’t; 2. even if/when the comment thread trickles, we can see in our stats who is giving a piece a “visit” and who is actually reading it–this is a huge distinction with the stats on FB that suggest most “readers” comment based on the click-bait of the title; 3. readers can come back to blog topics again and again over time–for example, one of our top-read pieces is about the beginnings of the Sea World controversy; beyond that hot button, I am often amazed by what readers select in terms of smaller topics on the EE. That said, I get it… I feel like I spend hours/days researching and crafting a piece and 20 people, tops, read it… but, we do have over 4,000 followers…and I know I’m creating a rich array of information for them. 4. I think it will be extremely important to acknowledge the “news hole” for science news–in my mind, blogs create that source that mainstream media doesn’t save space for. 5. Publication in journals, etc., takes time–another huge issue in science communication is lag time–blogs are immediate. 6. Lastly, I recently took a class from this woman (link to follow)–she was one of the very first WordPress bloggers and consults to them… she has many tips about logistics and possibly statistics that might help you answer some of your other questions.

    I am so excited about your presentation. It really motivates me at a time when I’ve lost a little blogging steam myself! Please keep us posted on how it goes!

    Here’s Lorelle’s blog: https://lorelle.wordpress.com

    • Thanks for the perspective Neva. Good to have some input from someone who blogs for the purposes you do. As Paige Brown Jarreau’s data show, your sort of science blogging is much more common than the sort we do here at Dynamic Ecology. So I’m acutely aware that I need to think hard about which aspects of my own blogging experience might generalize, and which don’t.

      Re: filling gaps for science news in mainstream media: what do you consider “mainstream”? Local and national newspapers? Network news broadcasts? Cable news channels? HuffPo, Buzzfeed, Vox? I ask because in my imagination, people who want science news do have lots of big outlets to which they can turn: Wired, Scientific American, National Geographic, the science section of the NYTimes, etc. Many of which of course host popular science blogs, often by professional science writers. And hasn’t it long been the case that people who want science news (besides science news with direct relevance to their lives, like coverage of a chemical spill in the local river or something) turn to specialist outlets like Wired or NatGeo or the science section of the NYTimes rather than to their local newspaper or CNN? So, do you see big professional popsci outlets like Wired and NatGeo as filling the same “gap” that you see you blog as filling? Is there even a sense in which they’re your “competition” for traffic, and if so, how does that shape your approach to blogging? All honest questions, definitely *not* trying to imply that you should just quit science blogging and leave it to Ed Yong or anything like that! Just genuinely curious to hear more about the niche you see yourself as filling.

      • Hi Jeremy, I love this discussion thread. To answer your question about “mainstream,” well, yes, it does beg clarification. I tossed the word in as the buzzword meaning daily news cycle, such as TV reportage, local, national, global daily papers, and big periodicals like Time, Newsweek… I agree that several of the fine publications you list aptly cover enivronmental/ecological news, but more in a feature story sense rather than in terms of events reportage. Best, Neva.

  7. Although I won’t be there to hear your answer, I would like to hear about how you (yourself or the various writers of the blog) decide on what topics to blog about.

    I think that a major challenge with blogs is to figure out which topics are worth a post. You need to write something close enough to your own interests that you have something about the topic, but it also has to be something that others want to read and learn about. So how do you know an idea or thought is worth sharing, and isn’t just of interest to you? A number of blogs I have come across seem to have more of an ‘autobiographic’, self-interested tone, which is of no interest to me.Given the amount of discussion happening on this blog, Dynamic Ecology has clearly been successful in finding that sweet spot. Is there an implicit or explicit set of guidelines?

    • Thanks for the request/suggestion. Since you won’t be there, I can give you an answer now. Speaking only for myself–Brian, Meg, and I all operate independently, we don’t coordinate our choices of topics.

      We have an old post on what we *won’t* blog about that partially answers your question. I’d add to that post that we don’t choose post topics based on guesses about what will draw traffic. Doing that might boost your traffic in the short run, but in the long run I think chasing traffic is a sure way to *lose* traffic. You’re not going to build an audience, at least not one worth having, if you aim for clickbait.

      Which leads into the answer to your question: I write about ecology- and academia-related topics I care about. I enjoy discussing ideas–often quite obscure ones!–with other people who share my interests, and I want to see good ideas win out over less-good ideas. So having an audience isn’t an end in itself for me, it’s a means to an end. You can’t have discussions, or any influence, if you’re just talking to yourself. I’m pleasantly surprised that there’s an audience for the stuff I blog about. If there weren’t, I’d stop blogging, rather than blogging about something else that would draw an audience.

      Fortunately, building an audience is very much a cumulative, long-term thing. Jeff Ollerton once said that blogging is a marathon, not a sprint, which is spot on. There’s no point in worrying about whether or not a particular post on a particular topic will draw an audience. Individual posts don’t matter in the long run, which is a good thing because the audience for any particular post is very stochastic and impossible to predict with any precision. As a blogger, you build an audience via a body of work. So I don’t worry at all about having written some posts that basically nobody read. 🙂

      If you’re wondering how I choose specific topics from within the limited, idiosyncratic universe of “ecology- and academia-related stuff I happen to care about”, the answer is I don’t know. My muse is fickle. Whatever I feel inspired to write about, I write about. I keep a list of ideas for posts, but some of those ideas have been on the list for years. I just haven’t yet felt inspired to flesh them out.

      Re: autobiographical tone, blogs of course grew out of online diaries, they’re sometimes defined as “the unedited voice of the author(s)”. Personally, I find that most of the blogs I like have a distinctive voice. But yes, they’re mostly not autobiographical, or at least they don’t come off that way to me. Like you, I have no interest in reading a stranger’s online diary, even one that’s just focused on their science or their professional life in academia. If you’re going to talk about your own personal experiences, I think you need to do so a way that resonates with others (unless you don’t care at all about whether anyone reads you, which is fine too–different bloggers have different goals). We do sometimes tell personal stories, when we think that hearing those stories will be helpful for others. For instance Meg’s post on how she almost quit grad school and my post on how I almost quit science.

      • My blog has a more autobiographical tone than some (especially than Dynamic Ecology) but certainly less than others I subscribe too. It’s become less autobiographical over time but I still use my own life to illuminate particular subjects, where it’s relevant, and particularly where a subject is topical. For example my latest post deals with the forthcoming European Union Referendum and links back to earlier posts that included some personal (arguably autobiographical) observations of how the British environment has changed over time.

        For the record, I have never run a marathon 🙂

      • I’ve never thought of it in these terms, but I guess my posts tend to be more autobiographical than those of Brian and Jeremy!

        As for how I choose what to blog about: for the most part, it’s the things that I just can’t stop thinking about. Writing about them helps me get them out of my head and clears up head space for other stuff.

  8. “tools for public outreach and education”

    I think a key thing to hit on if you think you’re talking to mostly non-blog non-social-media-for-work researchers, is to point out that these two types of online engagement need to have a specific audience. I don’t think people think about that clearly. And it’s my opinion, that Twitter and its ilk can be used well for public outreach if done well, but that if you write a blog for outreach disconnected from other activities (e.g. citizen science, in-person science outreach), you’ll have no audience, and therefore no impact.

    Blogs, on the other hand, are great for fostering conversations about academic culture and science among researchers. I don’t think they’re dying in this regard. They’re just finding their niche. By contrast, short-form social media doesn’t work as well for this.

    So talk about audience. Anyone who publishes will understand audience. And more than that, I bet a bunch of fisheries people are very applied. (Is there a fisheries equivalent of ag extension?) So they will get the concept of audience, too.

  9. As an active AFS member and attendee of these meetings, including the upcoming one in KC. The audience will certainly be different than those of us who may read your blog. That said there will be academic types that enjoy reading your blog and thinking about how we can use a blog as tool to communicate our science. The majority of folks there will be state, federal, and tribal management agencies as well as some NGOs. From a management perspective, the issues we are dealing with are becoming increasingly contentious with lots of stakeholder involvement. Organizations like BASS, Trout Unlimited, and other well-organized angler groups can wield strong political pressure and are very interested in communication about fisheries management as it pertains to the critter or system they are interested in. Additionally, other stakeholders representing water use, recreation, tribes and so on are interested in management and decisions being made. So in my opinion, blogs as a communication vehicle to these stakeholders might be of interest, as well as some of the pitfalls therein. For example, blog post may have to be vetted by the agency prior to posting to ensure communications are not detrimental to ongoing management or promise undeliverable outcomes. Also, seems like everybody has an opinion about how to manage a body of water or fish population, how do managers deal with reader comments that may be less than constructive? Lastly, I have seen a few management agency blogs. In most cases they seem to become derelict with only a few posts early on or ones with 2-3 posts a year. From a content perspective, is better to think about larger blog that might umbrella agency communications or a project-specific blog that

    • Thanks Mike, this is very helpful.

      It perhaps might be of some interest to this audience for me to draw on my understanding of the economics blogosphere. I read a fair number of econ blogs in my spare time. Economics is interesting in that it’s pretty much the only academic field with a critical mass of blogs aimed at professionals in the field (as opposed to outreach). That’s for various reasons, but one big one is that there are a lot of “amateurs” of various stripes interested in the same topics that interest the pros. So the same econ blog can be of interest to economists, policymakers, and a large critical mass of the general public. That creates a strong incentive for economists to blog, because there’s a big potential audience. And it affects how they blog. For instance, to be an econ blogger you have to have infinite patience with comments from keen amateurs who think they know more than they do. And you have to have to be comfortable talking politics, since of course there are often tight links between economics and political issues. Sounds like there could be some (loose?) analogies here to the situation in fisheries.

      Re: management agency blogs that hardly ever post: I agree that there’s little point to that. The #1 rule of blogging is that you build an audience by posting often over an extended period, and that you lose your audience when you stop.

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