Thursday, October 29, 2009 for Scientists and Schools?

This is not a story about dating. Six weeks before October of 2009, the DC Coalition on Public Understanding of Science, a loosely knit group of science cheerleaders from associations, federal agencies, local schools and businesses decided to hold a Meet the Scientist program in October.

We’d been kicking the idea around for months and hoping someone would volunteer to make it happen and that person ended up being me. Why? Because for five years of elementary school I saw almost no science taught to my son. Because I’ve been working in public understanding of science for the last eight years in the DC metro area and we needed it.

Because I love challenges – except in dating. How’s that for an intro?

Ed Rock of the National Science Teachers’ Association is a tech guy and one of our COPUS volunteers. He built two databases for us – one for scientists and the other for schools. The scientists told us what area of science they specialized in, how comfortable they were talking to students and at what level, how to find them and when they were available.

The science teachers (some were schools but most were individual teachers) told us what type of science they were looking for, which class they wanted scientists for, and what their expectations were.

DC COPUS – which has a small core group of about six people – and then a network of maybe 100 more – sent out the request for scientists to everyone it knew. Our best response came from the National Institutes of Health and we don’t really know why. A couple of federal agencies got cold feet and didn’t help but some of their people signed up anyway.

Since we had no budget – a local news release distributed by PR Newswire was out of the question. So I created a local media list and sent out a release that didn’t really go anywhere. I also posted on a free site called Impact Wire which got us some attention.

What worked? Facebook. I posted notifications for teachers and scientists on every page I could find where scientists and science teachers gathered – particularly young ones. I posted on the college and grad school pages of those nearby. AAAS sent out notifications to its Facebook Science Careers’ fans in the Washington, DC area (you can segment your audiences now with the last redesign).

I called some of the bigger scientific organizations in DC and got help from some – the neuroscientists in particular.

For the schools I tried two tactics – in Arlington, VA I went to the science supervisor for the district and she sent it to her entire list of science teachers. In Montgomery County, I randomly selected schools off its web site (it was the only local district that had all its people information on line) and sent to their science leads. In the end, the Arlington administrator worked better. Now we know.

Then Ed the tech guy matched the scientists with the schools. One of our big concerns was we didn’t want to get in the middle of schools talking to scientists because we didn’t have enough people to manage it (there were three of us) and we didn’t want to be responsible for what happened.

We had just over 100 scientists sign up and 50 plus schools. I could have gotten far more schools but I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough scientists. In the end, Ed was able to give each school two choices of scientists and the suggestion that they could have them come in as a team. Emails were sent to scientists and schools telling them what they needed to know. We will do a follow-up survey to see what they thought of it.

One issue is that many scientists don't really know how to talk with kids. But since we had no time for training, we posted information from organizations who do public understanding of science on the COPUS web site and hoped they'd use it.

I promoted the first Meet the Scientist event at Takoma Park Middle School and got the local paper to cover it as well as the district. A second event held by Johns Hopkins a few days later got the Washington Post.

October is almost over and it’s working. Yippee. Can we duplicate it somewhere else and do it the same way? I’m not sure but I’m going to try.

Some links that will be helpful:

Press Release for Meet the Scientist

COPUS DC Facebook Page

Before Scientists Go to Schools - Resources

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ninety Two Year-old Aunt Helen Vs. The Web Developers

Web sites have come a long way in the past five years, which became evident at two presentations I saw yesterday before one of the communications groups I belong too. Twenty six dollars for browning roast beef, honey mustard dressing, and the salad greens I buy at the market and scoop out with tongs.

The space was nice but the Topaz Hotel should be ashamed of itself. My local deli would have done a much better job.

First of all these were old presentations. The world is changing way too fast to do presentations pretty much on anything that was developed more than a year ago. You used to be able to get away with 3-5 years when there was a computer and only the beginnings of the Internet.

I designed my web site two years ago and I’m embarrassed at how dated it is. And it’s much better than these.

What was wrong with these sites? Let’s start with the one for senior citizens, whose presenter's lessons learned after four years of research and development on a plain HTML site were:

• Nothing should be more than two clicks away.
• Don’t clutter up the page.
• Use the same headings on every page for consistency.
• Organize your content organized clearly and simply.

Duh - isn't that Web 1.0? Did I miss a decade or something.

Maybe these were Big Ideas to the federal government web designers, the ones who make sites that have so much stuff on them you can never find what you are looking for. The search engine was Boolean, which basically means it was created by developers who know how to look things up on the sites they build.

There was not a word said about any of the things that matter right now - SEO, integration with other forms of media, branding, whether or not anyone uses them, what they think? They are working on a redesign of the site.

Somewhere in there was one piece of information I could use. It had a button that would help make the font bigger. Yipee.

To be fair, at the time this site was designed elderly people were just learning to turn on a computer. Now I’d match 92 year-old great aunt Helen with any teenager I know.

Part two of the worst web site presentations ever tomorrow.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What Happens in Vegas. . . Can Be Shared A Little

Went to a panel discussion on branding your organization through social media the other day - one of the better ones I've been too. Learned a few things too. Here are some highlights:

Google Wave - Haven't had a chance to look at it yet but hear it is the next best thing out there and will give other social media sites a run for their money. Check it out.

Social Media Policy - A smart one. On office time if you go on Facebook you are a representative of your company. Don't post anything you wouldn't say to your mother at a family dinner. After hours you can be a little more risque but remember it can come back to haunt you.

Should You Keep Work and Life Separate on Facebook? - This question always comes up. Facebook now has enough privacy settings that you can literally segment your groups into different sets of fans and only let one group see certain posts while others can see posts more applicable to them.

Branding in the Social Space - Every company and individual has the opportunity to develop a personality on line that is uniquely yours. That's how you brand. Figure out who you are and what you want to be and make sure you emphasize that. If you don't have a personality (seen this a lot on blind dates) then it's going to be pretty tough to make a social media one.

Facebook Advertising - One participant had a lot of success with this by spending very little money. His ROI was fantastic. Again though what are you trying to accomplish with advertising? The Facebook words you can use for SEO on your ads can be pretty limiting. But they're getting better.

Cross Promotion - I tweet, blog, Facebook, Plaxo, YouTube and cross promote my business and products on all of them. How much you toot your own horn is up to you and your audience. How much will they tolerate? Best bet is to connect all of them and then figure it out.

Lawyers Online - The loss of control freaks them out - totally. How can you protect yourself if it's up there for everyone to see? They're still trying to figure it out.

Many Companies and Associations Still Not Using Social Media - NOOOOO - REALLY - they're not. And they're still in business, thank you very much. You have to start with your customer base. Are they on there? How are they using social media? Are you trying to reach young professionals - then you'd better be there. Is your client base white men over the age of 55 - social not so much. Know your audience. That's pretty basic.

There's more but it's my birthday and I'm blogging. Done for the day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Wild Wild West of Internet About to End

Today was a win for PR people, reputable journalists and those with ethics. I cannot count how many bloggers out there refuse to cover the clients I pitch (even when they really are different and useful).

Why - because they live by "pay to play" a form of marketing that fools the masses into believing that the products they are covering - and what they say about them - is an honest opinion. But the truth is these blogs and their writers are for sale. If you pay them, they will write about you. If not, well shrug, shrug, shrug.

Reputable journalists hate this because they are bound by ethics and rules. They can't take gifts. They can't take money. And most important, they try not to be sleazy.

Recently I realized just how bad it had gotten when I got an email from a personal finance blogger who just flat out said, “Tell your client to spend some of the marketing budget they are spending on you here on my blog and I’ll write about him.” WOW.

Sorry bloggers but your reign of ethics free writing is taking a big hit. According to an article in today’s New York Times, the F.T.C. said that beginning on Dec. 1st, 2009:

Bloggers who review products must disclose any connection with advertisers, particularly if they are paid for placement.

Celebrities will need to disclose any ties to companies, should they promote products on a talk show or on Twitter.

Advertisers are losing the ability to gush about results that differ from what is typical — for instance, from a weight loss supplement.

The important thing is that the government is beginning to impose rules on the Internet, similar to the same sorts of regulations that other forms of media, like television or print must live by. They must have some powerful lobbyists out there.