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.
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.
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.