Scicomm Tips

The “George Takei Method”

Perhaps you’re familiar with the “80/20 rule” for social media: the idea that only 20% of your posts should be explicit self-promotion (for yourself, your brand, your organization, your business—whomever or whatever the social media account you manage is for) and the other 80% should be content that your audience will find entertaining or useful. Social media “experts” may differ on whether this rule of thumb is really universally applicable, if it ever was, but the idea is that it’s that other 80% that makes people want to follow you and keeps them coming back.

In my head, though, I always think of this not as the 80/20 rule, but as the George Takei method. The reason goes back to the work I did for my master’s degree, which is not in writing or communications, but in environmental education.

Baby Rebecca, back when I lived in Wisconsin and led hikes for a living.

Even then, when I was only vaguely aware of the existence of science communication as a viable career path, I jumped at the chance to do research on promoting environmental education through social media as part of my degree. For my “project” (my program’s equivalent of a thesis), I surveyed nature centers and other similar organizations across the U.S. about their use of blogs and social media, and then I interviewed staff members at nine of these organizations to get a more in-depth picture of how they used these tools.

This was back around 2012—a few epochs ago in internet time. (Instagram, which was two years old at the time, is not mentioned once in the report I wrote up for my project; TikTok would not come into existence for four more years.) But some of the major themes that came up in my interviews still apply. People still love content about animals. They still love content with nice photos. And if you’re just venturing into developing a social media strategy for your organization, I still think you could do worse than following the lead of George Takei, whose Facebook page was at the height of its popularity back when I was doing this research.

A thing I wrote in a past lifetime. Or at least it feels that way.

Here’s what one of my interviewees had to say:

“You know George Takei? He’s a social media genius. He’s got millions of followers, and he just re-posts stuff every day, and it’s all just funny content. He does have an agenda, he’s really big into gay rights stuff, but only one percent of his posts are about the causes he cares about, and there are a lot of people following him who don’t support his cause, but they see his message [anyway]. So don’t have your social media feed be like, come to this program, come to this program, come to this program! Because people will ignore it. You need to have lots of good, really interesting content that people will always want to see, and then once in a while they’re like, oh, and there’s a program coming up.”

In other words, if you’re running a Twitter account for, say, a nonprofit or a scientific society, but you only bother logging in and posting something when you have some specific program or accomplishment you want to share, you’re doing it wrong. (We all follow a couple organizations that do this, right?) Social media should be fun, it should be interactive, it should be informal, and it shouldn’t be all about you. This is a principle I’ve tried to apply each time I’ve tried to apply each time I’ve been handed the log-in info for an institutional social media account, and I’ve gotten good results.

Do you have beautiful field work photos to share? Interesting facts and tidbits about whatever area of science you focus on? Do you have members who are out in the world doing cool things? What is it that makes your organization unique and vibrant? That’s what will keep people coming back. And your social media accounts should reflect that.

If you’re looking for ways to make your organization’s science communication more accessible and fun, check out my consulting services.

Scicomm Tips

Down With Jargon

The funniest (to me) moment of my experience with chemotherapy in 2020 was hearing my oncologist tell the nurses to get me some “oral cryotherapy.” This sounds very fancy and technical, right? Except he was asking them to get me a cup of ice.

Doctors aren’t the only specialists who are guilty of peppering their speech and writing with phrases that make perfect sense to them but are humorous (at best) or incomprehensible (at worst) to outsiders. Here are some edits I suggested to a blog post by an ornithologist that crossed my desk several years ago:

OriginalMy Suggestion
“function as proxies”“be good stand-ins”
“temporal changes”“changes over time”
“more mesic habitat”“wetter habitat”
“interspecific differences”“differences between species”
“interannual variability”“variation between years”
“proximate explanation”“immediate explanation”

Most of these would be fine in a scientific paper, written for an audience of other scientists. If you want your blog post to be accessible to a broader audience, though, I’d argue that you’re often better off using simpler language, even if it means sacrificing some precision of meaning. What do you think? Are there any particular examples of unnecessary jargon that drive you nuts?

If you’re looking for ways to make your organization’s science communication more accessible and fun, check out my consulting services.