Category Archives: #SciCommChall

#SciCommSunday: The reason why I choose to post selfies on my #SciComm Social Media

“I don’t want my face on the internet!”, “My science should speak for itself, it shouldn’t matter who I am as a person!”, “I just don’t like what I look like in pictures!”, “People won’t perceive me as professional when I include selfies in my science communication work!”: There are many reasons for not posting selfies on the internet, and I sympathise with many of them. However, I have chosen (and continue to choose) to post the occasional selfie. Why is that?

My main goal I am trying to achieve with my scicomm Instagram @fascinocean_kiel is to show that exciting science (specifically ocean physics) can be discovered EVERYWHERE if you are open to seeing it. This means that I post pictures of water that I take on walks along any kind of river, lake, ocean, but also in puddles, sinks, or tea cups, pretty much daily.

#ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike

But in order to make my Insta relatable to other people, I find it important to put these pictures in the context of my life. Yes, I live on the Baltic Sea coast and therefore have the opportunity to see “the ocean” (well, kinda) on an almost daily basis, which is reflected in my Insta. But I commute to work in Hamburg (where I see Elbe river and the Port of Hamburg, which you also see quite a lot), and I travel a lot throughout Germany and beyond. Some days I’m on the train — on those days you’ll often see pictures of water taken from the train window. Or if I am giving workshops in locations with fancy taps, you will see those. My point is: You can discover oceanography everywhere. If you choose to look for it.

But then who does get this excited about this kind of stuff? Well, I do. And this is where #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike comes in. I’m not wearing a lab coat, and I am not even observing this science as part of my job. I’m not even employed as a scientist any more, nor do I want to be. But I didn’t loose my identity as a scientist when I decided to stop pursuing an academic career. That was a huge fear I had when I was in the process of wanting out of academia — that I would be a failed scientist if I left, even if I left because I would rather be somewhere else. So for me, showing that I am still a scientist even if that’s not my day job anymore is my way of offering myself as the role model that I wish I had during that time, showing that leaving academia doesn’t make you any less of a scientist.

Of course, #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike also includes other aspects, for example making women or other minorities in science more visible. Or showing that there is no one “correct” way of being a scientist. For example the clothes you wear or how much effort you put into looking put together are in no way correlated to how serious you are about your science. Contributing to spreading that message is a nice side effect for me.

But does posting selfies do anything to how people perceive scientists?

#ScientistsWhoSelfie

There is a 2019 study by Jarreau et al. that looked at this. They compared different kinds of Instagram posts, some showing selfies of scientists, some showing only lab equipment or other pictures of the work only. And they found that posting selfies does actually have an impact on how scientists are perceived.

Scientists posting selfies (as opposed to those only posting “work stuff”) were perceived as significantly warmer. Appearing warm is definitely desirable in this context, as warmth is a component of trustworthiness. Obviously, as a scientist we want to be, but also be perceived as, trustworthy. This perception is created in this study when selfies were used.

Another finding is that posting selfies does not result in scientists being perceived as less competent, both for male and female scientists. So here goes the fear mentioned above that posting selfies will make you appear less serious about your work! Or does it? Note that of course this study does not guarantee that nobody ever will think less of you because you are posting selfies. Of course there might be people you are working with, or more generally, that see your selfies online and think any number of weird things. In general, this does not appear to be the case. But you know your bosses, your community, your life best, so ultimately if this is a concern you have, you need to weigh the potential benefits of posting selfies against that risk. In my case, I have decided that I can totally live with what some people might think about me posting selfies because I know that the people who matter to me don’t think less of me because of it. Additionally, I have gotten a lot of feedback that people actually enjoy seeing selfies on my Insta occasionally, because it does make it more relatable.

As a women, I also find it important that I post selfies, because the study showed that this can contribute to making science be perceived less as “exclusively male”. The common stereotype of what a scientist looks like is still to this day an old white male (in a lab coat and with messy hair). Of course there are plenty of those around, but there are so many brilliant and inspiring women out there, too, that I’d like to see that stereotype change.

In total, results of the study are that showing selfies can potentially help change attitudes towards scientists towards the better. The study doesn’t explore the mechanisms through which this happens (so it might depend on, for example, facial expressions, features of the background, or tons of other things), so it is by no means guaranteed to work for every selfie being posted on the internet (and also how many selfies do people need to see for this effect to kick in, or what does the ratio to “science stuff only” pictures need to be? And how long does the effect last?). In any case, to me, this study is indication enough that me posting selfies might have all the intended consequences, and that’s reason enough for me to choose to post selfies. And I encourage you to check out the study and consider posting selfies, too!

P.S.: This picture is clearly not a selfie, it was taken by my brilliant colleague Sebi Berens (www.sebiberensphoto.com / @sebiberensphoto). Thank you, Sebi!

Literature:

Jarreau PB, Cancellare IA, Carmichael BJ, Porter L, Toker D, Yammine SZ (2019) Using selfies to challenge public stereotypes of scientists. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216625. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216625

November #WaveWatching: A summary of my daily Instagram

All throughout November, I’ve posted pretty much daily to my #WaveWatching Insta @fascinocean_kiel.

And here are all the posts for you! If you prefer daily updates, why not follow my Instagram?

But here we go with a month’s worth of wave watching pics. First: a wake reaching the beach. How do we know it’s a wake? Because it is so super regular (and also because I saw the ship it belongs to ;-))

And then: Tiny rip currents!

It was very nice to observe this dangerous phenomenon on a tiny scale.

More rip currents…

And a seagull that flew away before I could get the picture I wanted.

The Oslo ferry changing course and sailing towards the sun… At least for a short moment, before finishing the 180 degree turn and backing up into its berth in Kiel port.

Such a nice criss cross pattern of waves!

And a movie of a criss cross happening in a different spot.

Another criss cross.

Fog in Kiel. I guess it’s November…

More fog.

Another seagull that flew away before I could take the picture I wanted to take.

The Oslo ferry turned and left us with its turbulent wake.

On the train south. This view usually looks a lot nicer with either a fountain or a Christmas tree… Plus there are super pretty street lamps that were taken away for the construction period.

This is the view I know and love… At very low wind conditions.

Slightly more wind… And can you see it’s taken from a train? Wave watching from trains is fun!

And even more wind!

And even more wind!

Oh, and then my sister & her kids & I went to look at the ship lift in Scharnebeck. So awesome! Here we are looking out on the lower part of the canal, the basin with the ship is what looks like the ceiling in the picture below!

When that basin has been lowered all the way (38 meters! Quite impressive, don’t you think?), we can watch the ships sailing out.

Bye bye, ship! Have a safe journey!

Waves in a little well.

Autumn leaves and hydraulic jumps!

Sun set on the train home.
Oh, and a sun rise with a ship sailing backwards. Some days are weird like that…

A seagull watching the Oslo ferry arrive in Kiel. Welcome!

And the Oslo ferry turning.

Pretty sunset on a very windy day!

On the picture below, I commented if people thought those rain curtains would look like Northern Lights if I used the right filters.

And this is what my brother-in-law did. Yep. Northern lights in Kiel! :-)

More sun set in Kiel.

And pretty autumn leaves!

The faucet at a conference center I gave a workshop at.

Part of my Insta-Story that day:

More pics from Kiel.

No idea what caused this very sharp distinction between the two parts of Kiel fjord!
I like this little plant!

Fog again…

But autumn leaves!

The pilot ship and the Oslo ferry.

Very cool discovery that Sara made, check out the blog post I wrote about it.

A small tug and its wake.

And the wake by itself.

Now the wake arrives at the sea wall!

And is being reflected.

Very cool interference pattern, especially with the added waves caused by the irregularities in the sea wall.

Looks so pretty!

I find it super fascinating.

No idea where all those higher order waves come from!

Oh, and my overturning circulation experiment.

And the comparison of rotating and non-rotating thermally driven circulations.

And salt fingering!

And wave watching in the dark.

Aaaand: A trip to the beach!

Always nice to see waves running around obstacles into sheltered areas like here:

And here:

And even though at first I was pretty annoyed that someone was walking through my picture, I think it makes it kinda entertaining. What do you think, did her feet stay dry?

And super cool: The YouTube video that uses my “dead water” experiments went live!

More wave watching

And ships meeting in the dark

And sitting inside with flowers and a nice fire and watching ships.

But then November was pretty grey for many days in a row…

So I worked on my Advent calendar: 24 Days of #KitchenOceanography!

And went more wave watching.

And went to play at GEOMAR with Torge and Rolf Käse!

This is a team picture of a successful Friday evening.

More experiments!

And then it got cold: Frost on leaves on the pier!

And a beautiful sunrise.

Now sunrise with frost in the foreground.

And the third picture that I needed in that row so I could start with the Advent calendar afterwards :-D

And this is the blog post advertising 24 Days of #KitchenOceanography

Documenting the little walk I took to stay sane while trying to finish up the Advent calendar

And here we go, that was my November on Instagram! I am quite impressed with the sheer volume of pictures I have posted, and that I managed to write semi-useful captions to most (on Instagram, that is, not in this blog post ;-))

November’s #SciCommChall: Science communication on coasters!

Remember #SciCommChall? I started it almost 2 years ago and have recently felt a little burnt out when it came to coming up with new challenges and motivating people to join. But luckily Nena, #SciCommChall enthusiast from Day 1, stepped up. Nena has posed #SciCommChall-Challenges before, and her current challenge is a lot of fun: Bringing science on coasters to make it visible in pubs!

And I am happy to report that no matter how burnt out about #SciCommChall I felt only this morning, I still had to respond to the challenge and come up with a couple of quick ideas right away. And now that I did these, there are so many other possibilities in my head! Thanks for the inspiration, Nena! :-)

October #wavewatching: reposting my Instagram posts

My scicomm Instagram @fascinocean_kiel is back! As in it’s something that I am putting more thought into again. While it started off strong almost two years ago with daily posts written specifically for Instagram, I’ve been in a bit of a slump. For a while, I just posted pictures from current blog posts with a description like “read more about this on my blog”, but this didn’t feel satisfying. It also meant that I had a lot of #wavewatching posts on my blog, which I felt were taking over what I want the focus of this blog to be on. So the current compromise is that all the #wavewatching stuff happens over on Instagram (in German, but they have a really good translator at least to English), and only the most outstanding highlights will get their own post on here. But there will be a summary post of what went on on Instagram every month or so. Or at least that’s the plan for now!

I started out posting on Instagram again at the end of my month-long trip to Bergen, Oslo, and finally Gothenburg, when I got the exciting opportunity to “meet” Anna Wåhlin’s AUV, Ran, and take part in a short cruise on RV Skargerak to see her in action.

Btw, the reason I am posting more selfies now is that I’ve been thinking about the research around #ScientistsWhoSelfie that shows that showing selfies is beneficial for being perceived as warmer, more trustworthy and also as reducing gender-related stereotypes about who can be a scientist (at least if you are a woman posting selfies). And I think that it’s a very easy contribution to make if it helps achieve scientists in general being perceived as more trustworthy and also helping people to see that scientists are not always old, white men with beards and messy hair in lab coats. Sometimes it’s also me, sitting in the rain, grinning because I get to see a cool AUV up close! :-)

On that cruise, there was of course also CTD work going on.

And work doesn’t stop just because it gets dark…

Then this is the library in Gothenburg — a beautiful building that I passed several times on the way to the institute, and always admired.

And then I was on the ferry to go back home! In a cabin with sea view! That made me so happy. I was so tired after that exciting month, so sitting in my bed instead of standing on the cold, wet and windy deck felt like heaven :-)

And then we were home! Or at least almost. The Kiel lighthouse is situated offshore in Kiel bight, and it’s where the pilot station is (you see the pilot ship returning to the lighthouse in the picture below)

And this is the ferry arriving in Kiel port. I always love watching how these big ships are carefully maneuvered into port!

And this is another lighthouse on our way into Kiel port, and the ferry’s wake.

And then we had a little throwback, reminiscing of Pierre & my adventures on Straume Bru.

And then we are back to wave watching in Kiel! Reflections on the sea wall, and total reflection.

And what was going on here with all that foam? And is foam actually a passive tracer, or is the distribution also influenced by surface tension or other stuff?

Here is where the foam ends up in Kiel fjord. And what I find fascinating is how towards the upper edge of the picture, the ring waves of the water draining into Kiel fjord are really visible, whereas in the lower edge the picture seems dominated by wind waves. Even though both types of waves are probably fairly equally present in all parts of the picture, just the different angle makes one or the other appear more prominently.

It’s really fun to bring this collection of screenshots of my Instagram together. I’m a little impressed by how many wave pictures I post!

Here we are looking at a ship’s wake that is reaching the beach.

And I just love the sound of waves on a stony beach!

Not every day is wave watching day, sometimes we just have to be content with water.

And autumn leaves…

But then there is of course always the opportunity to make the waves you want to see (and be the change you want to see ;-)). Here we are looking at hydraulic jumps in the sink at work.

Although with these views it seems almost silly to go to a sink for wave watching opportunities…

But now a wave riddle. What’s happening between this pic…

…and this one? Any ideas, anyone?

And then there was the day where I went to play with four rotating tanks simultaneously in the morning, and then later to a conference on “Screening the Sea”, audiovisual media and the sea. That was one exhausting day!

The next day, walking down to Kiel fjord, I was in a bit of a gloomy mood and thought that there might not possibly anything going on that I hadn’t taken a million pictures of already. And luckily I was so wrong! My faith in daily wave watching was completely restored when I saw the sediment clouds and how they behaved in comparison to surface waves.

And then there was the day with very low water, where we could really nicely see how the shape of the ground influences the waves.

Shallow water waves always look a bit ridiculous, don’t they? Like sausages moving onto the beach.

And then I finally combined a lot of selfie movie clips about meeting Ran, the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, into a 5-min-movie and advertised that on my Insta, too.

When I went to go vote, I happened to wave watch in a spot that I don’t usually go to. Also fun! And nice to see how this floating bridge is sheltering parts of the lake from the wind. Although some waves come through, as you see in the deformation of the reflections of the hand rails.

And then I went to Hanover to give a workshop at their university. But first, I had to go do a picknick with Frauke :-) And, of course, a wave riddle. Can you guess who or what made the waves in the picture below?

Frauke is the best. She brought soap bubbles to our picknick! And there is so much physics in soap bubbles. From the films that change color as the bubble ages, to the shapes they form, to how their size is related to how hard you blow when making them. So cool!

Also super interesting to watch how the soap is sliding down the soap bubble, leading to a discoloration starting at the top, sliding down, until it finally bursts when enough water has evaporated.

And now for some drop photography! Water is dripping down from somewhere fairly high up, so the crown of droplets that is thrown up into the air by the surface bouncing back after each drop is quite large! As I was watching, someone moved a window in the office building right there, so that the sun’s reflection lit up the point of impact perfectly.

Then a morning walk with my sister in Hamburg. There was some fog in the shadow-y bits of the river but it’s really hard to spot…

And then back home in Kiel! Perfect wave watching, right?

Later that same day my favourite spot at the Holtenau locks.

I just always love it there!

And then: A day full of jellyfish watching! They are SO beautiful! (For more jellyfish pics, see this blog post)

Jellyfish!

And one last selfie with jellyfish.

So this is where we are at with my Instagram @fascinocean_kiel now: 444 posts! And the last three all featuring jellyfish :-D

And I am thinking about switching it back to English again. So much for knowing my goals with this profile… :-D

“Using social media in science communication — the Kiel Science Outreach Campus shows how it’s done” (part 2)

One of the 2018 achievements that I feel pretty proud of is developing a social media strategy for the science communication research project Kiel Science Outreach Campus, and implementing it together with the project’s 11 PhD students (plus a couple more colleagues who we “entrained” along the way). And the second article we wrote about the social media project has just been published! (See first part here, new (second) article here).

Check it out, as well as our Twitter @KiSOC_Kiel and Instagram @KiSOC_Kiel — both lead to the project’s central social media. Sadly, these accounts have not been kept alive after I left, but checking out especially the Instagram is still pretty interesting, because it links to all the different PhD students’ accounts, which are awesome, and which are actually what we describe in the article. A lot of inspiring content to be found there!

P.S.: The pretty design was made by Sonja Taut — thanks so much for that! :-)

Experimenting with Insta stories for my wave watching scicomm

Inspired by the absolutely brilliant job that Kati is doing for my project GEO-Tag der Natur, I have recently started experimenting with “Insta stories” on the topic of wave watching.

Insta stories, for those who aren’t familiar with them, are a special type of post on Instagram that only stays visible for 24 hours (unless you save them as highlight, in which case they can be watched until you decide to delete them). They are usually used to give quick glimpses into what’s going on that day, and can be anything from random snap- or screen shots to elaborate stories. The latter is what Kati has been doing for GEO-Tag der Natur — she tells cute and engaging short stories about different topics, using photos and video clips, which she combines with fun gifs to make them even cuter (if you have an Instagram account you can watch them in the highlights of our account).

So that’s what I have been trying to do, too.

My first attempt is posted below — except that what I post below doesn’t contain the links and gifs and stuff, because it turns out that while you can export stories from Instagram, I couldn’t convert them into a format that my blog or vimeo would accept and still keep the gimmicks (original version here). But I still like the format of telling a story. What do you think?

The feedback I got on that story was super positive, so I decided to do it again.

Since my second Insta story contained so many cute gimmicks, I didn’t even attempt to export it, but wrote a separate blog post using the same videos and pictures (But you can watch the story — including the cute gimmicks! — here).

(And then, when writing this blog post, I realized that if I did a screencast, I could that then convert into something my blog accepts. Duh! So below you can watch my story the way I see it when logged into my account — including how many people watched it and all the buttons that I could click to edit and exit etc.. In the future I should probably just do the screencast from a different account to give you a cleaner view…)

By this point, it started bugging me that I was putting effort into Insta stories but that I didn’t have a good way to use them on my own blog (remember, I hadn’t come up with the screencast idea yet). I like having full control over hosting the stuff I don’t want to disappear, and I don’t like telling the same story twice for different platforms (although I realize that customizing stories for each platform and thus audience is always good advice).

So the next story didn’t use fancy gimmicks (except on the last slide), and I could export the pictures and combine them into the .gif you see below.

Mmmmh, I like that!

Except now I am thinking I should still do an English gif for my blog and keep the German one to my Instagram. Which, again, feels like a lot of work for something that I want to do in random pockets of time like on my commute, not as a real task. So my next story was a language-free one:

So in the end it turns out that classical gifs work quite well for transporting my stories. Not nearly as cute as they could be, but maybe that’s ok?

What do you think? What style of Insta story would you like to see more of?

Option A: Give me cute little gimmicks like ducks on surfboards and ladies jumping into pools!

Option B: GIFs work well and I don’t need all the cutesy gimmicks

Option C: Other. Please elaborate! :-)

Why “But I don’t have anything interesting to say, I am just teaching a block course right now” is not a good excuse for not tweeting

Sometimes I feel like I have pressured all my friends into using social media for their science communication. Today I was talking to Kristin, who was apologetic about not having tweeted in a while and tried to excuse that by saying that she didn’t have anything interesting to tweet about right now because she is currently teaching a block course.

Of course I came up with a dozen interesting things she could tweet about if she wanted to, that I would actually love to read and respond to! Here is the blog post that sums up what she could tweet, sorted by for what purpose she might actually want to do it (other than getting me off her back, of course ;-)).

I am posting example tweets below, but for readability imagine that, wherever possible, she’s pointing out that she’s currently teaching a block course (and she’s doing that for the second time, so clearly she’s doing well enough that people wanted her back! Doesn’t hurt to broadcast that), on what topic (because that’s where she is a renowned expert, establishing her expertise online by providing insights that are helpful to others), the university that the course is happening at (tagging it on Twitter so they can retweet and give her more visibility).

1) Tweeting to get input to improve teaching or save prep time

Tweeting can actually be a great time saver when prepping teaching. Need a good graphic to illustrate a phenomenon, interesting reading assignments for your students, an intriguing application of some dry theory? Yes, all this stuff is perfectly fine to ask for on Twitter! Chances are that someone in your network has taught a similar course and has suggestions that might be really helpful

“Calling all your sea level specialists. How do you visualize that melting sea ice doesn’t contribute to sea level rise?” (Of course, she does have an experiment in her repertoire, this is just an example)

“Is there any graphic out there that does give a good representation of the upwelling part of the Great Conveyor Belt?” (This I am seriously considering Tweeting right now because I am wondering myself)

2) Tweeting to get advice or answers

Struggling with a student question or need advice on a teaching method? Ask on Twitter!

“Today, someone in my class on x asked y. Do you have any ideas where to even start finding answers to that question?”

“I would like to get some feedback on my class while I can still change things. Does anyone have any ideas how to do that?” (Yes — Continue, Start, Stop!)

“My students are having a hard time coming to terms with concept x. Any ideas how I can support their learning here?”

3) Tweeting to spark interesting discussions on a topic

When prepping a course, you usually come across interesting articles related to the field that you feel everybody should know about. Why not share interesting finds on Twitter? Other people might be grateful, and it might lead to discussions with people interested in the same topics as you are

“How did I not know about the article x by y at al.? They show how z is influencing sea level rise! [link to article]”

“I read up on topic x for my class and the article by y et al. is super fascinating!”

4) Tweeting to establish yourself as authority on your field, spreading interesting information

Sometimes, some of the interesting literature on your topic might actually be your own work. No harm in sharing how it relates to the topic you are teaching right now and how you integrate it!

“Today students read my article x on y as assignment during class and they prepared these summary posters! [Pictures of posters]”

“The project students worked on during my class today directly relates to my Research: they plotted x and discussed y! Here are some results [pictures]”

5) Tweeting to establish yourself as authority on teaching your topic, spreading interesting ideas

Surely she has come up with new and interesting teaching ideas specific to her topic, or maybe some that are transferrable to other topics. Share them on Twitter helps others and builds her credibility as a teacher!

“To help students understand x, I asked them to do y in class today, and here is a picture of their result!”

“Using method x, we investigated y in class and it went super well! Next time, I would only change z”

Or, an example that Kristin posted herself (see? It’s working! :-))

Click image to get to the original tweet

6) Tweeting to let people know you are around

If you are visiting a place to teach your topic, there are probably other people somewhere close by who might be interested in catching up with you. You might not even know they are around until you tweet that you are, they read it and respond!

“Bremen people — I will be teaching a class on sea level rise in May! Who’s around and wants to grab a coffee?”

 

So here you have it. Tons of interesting tweets related to her teaching, all of them actually contributing to interesting exchanges of knowledge and ideas on Twitter, none of them “just bragging”. Do you have more ideas what Kristin should be tweeting about that you would be interested in reading? Let us know in the comments below!

Thinking about giveaways for my scicomm consultancy for April’s #scicommchall

Be warned — this is a long blog post without a real conclusion at the end. You are very welcome to read it, but I’m writing it mostly for myself and for a friend who has offered to help me work on this (The amazing Ronja of Treibholz. Thank you!). Once I have a real conclusion and have settled on a giveaway that I actually want to produce, I’ll let you know :-)

Continue reading

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #3: Checklist and logistics

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

For part 1 on what the literature tells us about giveaways, check out this blog post.
For part 2 on designing an actual giveaway, check out this blog post.

Checklist for a successful giveaway

Now you have a whole bunch of ideas. Maybe you have a clear favorite, maybe there are several. In any case, I like to make sure that my giveaway checks all or most of these boxes:

Is it actually conveying my message?

  • The message is clear both explicitly (in the text) as well as implicitly (in the form & function of the object)
  • The giveaway matches the scicomm goal that I designed it for
  • It is actually suitable for the target audience. That means for some audiences it can be funny (using plays on words or similar), while for others it should only contain facts, graphics, ….
  • It is project specific and not something that any other project would also be able to give away without everybody being completely confused about how it is related to that other project
  • It shows the concept of interest
  • It is made easy to follow up (i.e. find additional information, contact relevant people, …), so the giveaway includes a QR-code, link, or at least the search terms that will lead directly to your project’s website
  • It is something that people can easily integrate in their work/life so they see it often and are reminded of the message

Does it spark joy and the desire to keep it?

  • Something you want to keep, not eat and throw away (Non-branded chocolate hearts! Not project-branded sweets that then aren’t even any good)
  • Useful, so people like to keep it around
  • High quality product (not cheap looking)
  • Sturdy (I HATE it when the clipsy-things on pens break off right away)
  • Attractive design
  • Positive association
  • Can be kept for an appropriately long time (Doesn’t perish quickly, doesn’t break)

A couple more thing to consider: Does the giveaway suit the context it is to be distributed in? Will there be time & people power to explain what it’s all about or is there some information provided? If the giveaway is designed for a specific occasion (science day) and are there statistics on typical audiences? How do you make sure you target (and reach) only specific people, not everybody (so that you connect to the right people and don’t “waste” a lot of giveaways on people who aren’t even interested)? Is it easily mailable/transportable or does it need specialized packaging or something that makes logistics super expensive?

Basically, what I want from my giveaways is that they provide value for free, i.e. make sure your give-aways are products or services that people are happy to receive and to share. This should go without saying, but it’s scary how much stuff I have gotten over the years that I really don’t want in my life but was too polite to refuse in the situation. I have absolutely no use for ugly mugs, I have more pretty ones that I love than I could ever use in my home and my office and my imaginary holiday house (and even my even-more-imaginary seminar space in my future light house). Or key chains — is the one you are trying to give me really so awesome that you think I will be using it? Especially when it’s not even used as a lanyard for a name tag when you are giving it to me, but just an empty key chain?

Using multipliers

When gifts are given with the intention to develop an effect beyond the first level of recipient, using that recipient as multiplier, marketing principles of viral online marketing can be applied (Wilson, 2000):

  • Make it scalable so you can cope with snowballing demand. Or be aware that you might be disappointing people if they want your really cool giveaway but you’ve already run out.
  • Make it easy for the recipient to share the giveaway with others (so maybe not an exclusive dinner invitation, but rather some funny toy or a gif, link, game that can easily be shared electronically)
  • Play on motivations like greed, hunger to be popular, loved, understood to have your message shared. People aren’t sharing because you are asking them to share. If however people feel that it is making them look cool / wise / knowledgeable / whatever to share your stuff, they are going to share your stuff!
  • Place your message into existing communications between people to make it even easier to share, so use Facebook or institutional newsletters, booths at fairs that would be there whether you ask them to hand out a couple of your flyers or not, …
  • Use someone else’s resources to share your message (e.g. affiliate programs that place texts or graphics on someone else’s webpages so that someone else’s infrastructure is conveying your message)
  • Give away something that provokes reactions / initiates conversations by other people when they see it, so that recipient is often engaged in dialogue about the message, and thus is both reminded about it all the time as well as acting as a multiplier, thus doing your job for you.

Next steps

Now. Are you ready to come up with a giveaway for your project that ticks all the boxes of this and the two previous blog posts? Then you should check out #scicommchall on Monday, because (spoiler alert!) designing a giveaway will be April’s #scicommchall! :-)

Literature

Wilson, R. F. (2000) The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing. Web Marketing Today, Issue 70, February 1, 2000

Using giveaways as a tool in science communication. Post #2: Designing the actual giveaway

Many big research projects and institutions regularly spend a lot of money on things like pens, mugs, canvas bags, or even pool noodles (I kid you not, one of my former employers did that!), all typically branded with the institution’s or project’s logo, that they give away in large quantities. Many of those are certainly useful and others funny. But since they are already budgeted for, anyway, why not use them as a tool in science communication?

For part 1 on what the literature tells us about giveaways, check out this blogpost

Part 2: Design criteria for giveaways

Let’s assume you’ve gone through the three basic scicomm questions and know your goal, your audience, and your message:

1) Why do you want to give away a giveaway? Your goal.

2) Who do you want to reach and how will you reach them? Your audience.

3) What do you want people to take away from your scicomm activity? Your message.

Now how do you now come up with a good giveaway? I have collected a bunch of points that I think are helpful to consider in this context.

Combining the verbal message with a physical object

While giveaways don’t have to be physical objects, let’s assume that that’s what we want to give away, so people have something to take home with them, to look at, to use, to remind them of your scicomm activity or support them when engaging with your topic. So first, let’s think about what images come to mind that are relevant for your topic, then look at functions that might be connected to what you are doing.

Considering shapes / forms / images / …

It’s likely that some thought has already gone into creating a logo for your project, or an acronym, or a key visual, or some sort of visual representation. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick with that; and if there isn’t anything like that — now is your chance to come up with something!

Rapid ideation is a method that works well to come up with shapes related to a message: Come up with 30 different ideas for shapes or symbols related to your message, even if you don’t immediately see how they can be converted into a giveaway. Write them down, don’t stop before you have a list of 30! It’s amazing what you come up with once you get over the slump that happens after you’ve initially run out of ideas.

Considering functions

Now this is what I think of as the fun part: Combining the functionality of whatever object you decide to give away with the message. Or rather the other way round — figuring out what functionality would work well to remind people of your message.

For me, this leads to two main questions to ponder:

In what context do you want the recipients to be reminded of your message?

Depending on your goal, your audience and your message, you might want to bring it back to people’s attention at very different times.

Going back to the fish example of the previous blogpost, you might want to remind people of what fish to buy when they are out shopping, or maybe when they are at home, thinking about what meal to cook the next day, or maybe even when at the office, planning tonight’s dinner. For each of those cases, you would use different physical objects as your giveaways (and which one you end up choosing should really depend on good research about your audience so you know they will actually use the giveaways in the way you envision).

Here are a couple of examples (and there are probably tons more if you actually think about it): If you want to remind people of your message while they are at work, it might be a good idea to use office supplies, desk helpers, USB sticks, coffee mugs — objects that people regularly use at work. But remember, the assumption here is that this is when they make decisions about what fish to buy! If you think it’s more likely that those decisions happen when people are out, shopping, then using coin purses or those coin holders for trolleys or even canvas bags might be a better choice. And while fish-related cooking utensils are a cute idea (don’t you love kitchen gadgets??), it’s probably not the best timing for your scicomm, because the fish has already been bought at that point.

Another approach is to think about functions that are related to the message itself, not the time when you want to remind someone of the message:

What are functions related to the content of your message?

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of two collaborative research projects people at my old job were working with, one on magnets and one on materials changing properties with changing temperature. Both of those have cool applications that can easily be used in scicomm.

The one with the materials that change properties can do really cool things related to for example colors changing depending on temperature: there are all these cool “thermometers” like color-changing ducks that tell you the temperature of your bath, eggs that change color and tell you whether your eggs are soft- or hard-boiled, mugs that display different images when the contents are hot then if they are cold, or — my personal favourite — mood rings (!!!). Or if you want to make it about light changes rather than temperature changes, you could do these indicator strips for UV light that tell you when to apply sunscreen, color-changing nail polish (this actually exists!), fairy lights with sensors that come on when it gets dark, … All of these things show versions of what the research project is all about, and make great giveaways that can either raise interest or remind people of having been engaged in some scicomm related to that topic.

The collaborative research project that is all about magnets, on the other hand, could use anything related to attaching things to metal, pattern of iron filings in a magnet field, these little boards that kids have that you can draw on with a magnet.

While both of these projects have a very applied topic, but if your project was, for example, on salinity in the ocean, maybe consider nautical-themed a salt shaker branded with your project’s logo or a slogan that relates a number of shakes per cup with ocean salinity in different oceanic regions? (Now I want to design a giveaway for a project on ocean salinity just because I want to play with salt shaker ideas!!!)

Moving forward with your idea…

…is what we will be talking about in tomorrow’s blog post, that provides a checklist of things I like to make sure I have considered before committing to a specific giveaway, and then some logistics stuff to keep in mind. Stay tuned! :-)