Sea Grant Communications Network Devise Best Management Practices for Effective Use of Social Media
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Written by Paul C. Focazio, NYSG's Web Content Manager

Clearwater Beach, Florida, September 15, 2014 - While in the Sunshine State for Sea Grant Week in September 2014 - a once-every-two-years gathering of employees from the 33 coastal science programs throughout this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration network - Communications specialists  (including New York Sea Grant's Paul C. Focazio, seen above in orange swim trunks) took part in "The Great Bay Scallop Search" at Honeymoon Island State Park. During this citizen science project, we snorkel-ed set transect lines in hopes of discovering bay scallops among the Tampa Bay seagrasses. Though we came up with none, we did find some fish during an exercise with seine nets in the waters on this barrier island across St. Joseph's Sound (see inset picture).

The every move of Sea Grant's Communicators while conducting the searches was recorded up high by a drone, provided by Louisiana Sea Grant's Roy Kron. We later reviewed the aerial footage shot by the drone, which offers a whole new perspective to the area we've been exploring. Oregon Sea Grant's Pat Kight documented the day's field work with some great still photography as we learned first-hand about human impacts on once-abundant scallop populations and nearshore Gulf ecosystems. Photos: Pat Kight, Oregon Sea Grant

Also during the week, Focazio moderated and presented at sessions on "The Effective Use of Social Media," at the end of which attendees helped to compile some best management practices, which are as follows:

1. Use the platform(s) that work best for you - Try them out, evaluate them. Ask yourself: Is this platform worth my time? Is this where my audience is? What kind of content do I have to share - videos, photos, stories or articles? This will likely dictate which ones you will gravitate toward. When posting content, measure over time which topics resonate the best - this could be RFP announcements, social science updates, stewardship initiatives or impacts related to aquatic invasive species, harmful algal blooms, etc. Remember: quality trumps quantity, so don't feel pressured to post tons of content. Just make it the right content.

2. Engage your followers & partners, gain influence - "One person or follower can really help to amplify your message." Use call-outs (@) and hashtags (#) to, respectively, cite partners and followers and index your content. Keep in mind that paid posts may not be best for a non-profit org's everyday use, but they can occasionally help to promote an event or initiative and get your program's content back in the forefront of your followers' news feeds. It's important to say "Thank You" (Fridays are "Follow Fridays," so cite new followers as well as faithful retweeters and supporters with the hashtag #FF. Be visual whenever possible, using images and video clips along with text - If an image is worth a thousand words, what about a video? Finally, make content easy to share from your blogs and Web sites - there are widgets and features that allow for this.

3. Maximize use of "professional advantages" to the social media learning curve - Writing shorter posts with character limits can help to sharpen your writing skills. The process can help increase informal dialogue about topics that resonate - think of these platforms as a "bin-ing" up of like-minded people and organizations. These modes of digital communication can help aggregate current events as well as new developments in research that may impact stakeholders. Blogs are a great way to get everyone involved in the conversation, as they can serve to mobilize and inform citizens as well as drive media coverage on "hot topics."

4. Timing & frequency of posts is key, as is branding - Keep tab on national and state-wide "Awareness Weeks," storing up content beforehand to distribute in those designated time periods when the topics will be more trending. Also, don't forget that "shift happens" - if a severe storm is approaching, maybe tomorrow isn't the day you post out on swimming or boater safety. Be nimble and adapt to what's going on around you.

5. Have a strategy! - Colleagues should be on the same page, especially if they are overseeing separate accounts on the platforms your program is utilizing (eg., different Twitter accounts targeted to specific counties or stakeholder groups). Stay on track with posting content on a regular basis to build your following and bolster conversation. Whether you have a social media manager or several people in control of your social media platforms, have some policies in place to guide staff and keep things uniform.

6. Learn to align - with partners and supporting institutions like your universities and NOAA and its other line offices. Use "other people's media" if they have more reach or are on a platform that you are not.

7. Repackage content, Cross-promote on platforms - Your Web site should be the hub from which there are links to your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube,  Instagram, blogs, e-newsletters, etc. Platforms like Facebook have apps that you can install that will sample some of the content you have on your other platforms, including Twitter, YouTube and even your e-newsletter program eg., Constant Contact, MailChimp) for a quick e-list sign-up. Promote your platforms via links and logos in your e-newsletters, in your Web site header, on printed postcards, via your E-mail signature, on business cards, facts sheets and other materials.

8. Evaluate with analytics to justify your ROI, or Return on Investment - There are Insights (Facebook), Notifications (Twitter) Web site statistics that will show click-throughs from social media platforms to your Web site. Keep tabs on retweets/reposts, likes, mentions - perhaps weight them on a scale that measures least to most "action" to count up your successes. Use external "dashboard" services to view multiple platforms in one place (SproutSocial, HootSuite, TweetDeck) and possibly automate the process of posting content. Other services, such as MentionMapp and Kllout) help to measure your reach and effectiveness/influence in the realm of social media. There are plenty of resources out there, including tips from Web sites  like Pew Research, Mashable, Social Media Today and Ragan's PR Daily. Also explore the Web for discussion boards and consult with colleagues, as networking is really what's most important when it comes to mastering social media.

More Info:

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, is one of 33 university-based programs under the National Sea Grant College Program (NSGCP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NSGCP engages this network of the nation’s top universities in conducting scientific research, education, training and extension projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources. Through its statewide network of integrated services, NYSG has been promoting coastal vitality, environmental sustainability, and citizen awareness about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources since 1971.

For updates on Sea Grant activities: has RSS, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube links. NYSG also offers a free e-list sign up via for NY Coastlines, its flagship publication, which merged with our e-newsletter, Currents, in 2014 - is published several times a year.

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