It’s not always possible to visit people in person to talk about science. Luckily, there are ways to use the internet for science communication. By hosting live conversations with people online, you can reach audiences that aren’t necessarily nearby.
- Find your medium. A webinar might work if you’re reaching other professionals, but for engagement with a broader audience think about what platforms they would use. Skype? Facebook? Reddit? Podcasts? Twitch? Snapchat?
- Prepare for technical issues. This is particularly important if you’re doing a live event online. Don’t have just a single channel to communicate. If it breaks down, you lose everyone. Make sure that you have a secondary way of reaching people to give them an update — even if just to tell them you need 10 minutes to restart your computer.
- Promote your online activity. How will people find you online? Who are you trying to reach? Don’t waste your time communicating into the void, but let people know when and where to find you online.
Make it interactive
The trickiest thing about online events is keeping people engaged. At in-person events, a lot of valuable discussion is informal. You talk to people before and after an event, or in the breaks. That unstructured informal connection is really important in science communication, because it helps you get on the same level as your audience.
How can you create this online? One way is to make sure there are opportunities for people to engage with you. That can be through comments, social media hashtags, live chats or Q&A sessions. If your audience is spread out in different locations, make sure they have a virtual space where they can talk to each other as well as to you. Give them a sense of community, and then take part in that community yourself.
One way to do that is by asking the audience questions. Make it clear that you’re not just there to answer their questions, but bring some of your own. (Where are you from? Have you been to online science events before? Why are you interested in this?) This doesn’t have to take much time, but lowers the barrier for people to engage.
Who communicates science online?
- Science YouTubers specialise in using videos for online science communication, as described in the New Scientist article.
- Skype A Scientist and I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here both researchers with schools.
- In the past, the r/Science subreddit hosted “AMAs” (ask me anything) where scientists answered questions from people on Reddit in an intense but interactive online Q&A.