“Mine is Bigger than Yours”: Social Media Ranking and Scientists

Cartoon from Tom FishburneOne of the things I’ve struggled with during my online career is how to figure out what impact, if any, I’m actually creating with all my blogging, tweeting, and other online social media activity.   It would be nice to show a potential funding agency or employer that I’m not just farting around on the internet.  I’m actually accomplishing something.

By. Um.
Farting around on the internet.


There are a lot of different ways that you can try to measure how far your online efforts are spreading your ideas. (BTW, there is a large and argumentative literature about the differences between Assessment, Evaluation, and Measurement.  I am going to stick with the less controversial term ‘Measurement’ here.)

You can track your traffic using Google Analytics.  You can count how many followers you have on Twitter, Friends on Facebook, Followers on G+, and Pinheads (?) on Pinterest.  But before you jump into measuring, stop and think.  You are a scientist. Would you run around measuring all possible variables for an experiment?  I hope not.

social media planning strategyStart with WHY you are online. What do you want to accomplish? I really like this graphic, because it shows how what you measure should be driven by your goals.

When I started blogging, I wanted to try to get better at writing for a non-technical audience (personal goal) and I wanted to get more people thinking insects are cool (squidgy professional goal).  Those are not, of course, proper goals. But it’s a start.

I’ve had 1.3 million visits to my blog.  But what does that really mean in terms of my goals?   That traffic could just be the result of very good search engine optimization.  It might be a million people clicking through, going “Damn it, no porn!” and then leaving.

If you are counting followers, or blog visits, you probably have an upward trending line. Yay!  But that doesn’t actually mean that you are changing any behavior, or having any influence. What you want to know is how many “Likes”, RTs, comments, or other sorts of things that show people actually engaging with your content there are.

What’s an appropriate metric for those goals? Google Analytics data for length of time on a page tells me if people found my writing interesting enough to stay for a while.  Number of return visitors tells me if people ever come back, or if they read one thing, and then decide that’s enough.

Don’t measure everything from the giant firehose of internet data.  Choose metrics that actually help decide if you’re heading toward your goals, or at least give an indirect measure.

Do you really need to keep track of any of this stuff?

That depends on your goal! If you really are messing around on the internet just for fun, then why worry about investing time in this sort of record keeping? That’s time you aren’t writing awesome stuff.

On the other hand,  you might want this info for a portfolio.  Much better to have some data than none.  You can set up a few monthly routines or use some automated tools to gather basic info that you might want, so it won’t eat a lot of your time.

This post will focus on Quantitative data about your online activity–things you can measure.  You should also save things that are qualitative–really nice comments, emails, or other interactions. Those are nice for portfolios, and also preserve moments you can look back on for a warm fuzzy feeling.

There are good tools out there that can give you lots of data about your social media and blogs.   Many of them are expensive, but some are free. Lets look at some of the biggest free ones. (more…)

Social Media Tips and Tricks #2: Read Smarter

Welcome to part 2 of the series on social media! This series of tips will focus on how to make your online reading more efficient.

Must. Read. All. The. Things.Social Media Tip #4: Work Smarter, not Harder. 

I love the internet. Billions of fascinating bits of information, lovely photos, and hilarious viral videos are uploaded daily.

That would also be the primary problem with the internet.

It’s easy to end up curled in a fetal ball under your desk just thinking about all the journals you aren’t reading, but that you think you should. And that’s the boring stuff.

What amazing podcasts and blog posts are you missing? What fresh hell of asshattery is some politician spouting off about?  The most important corollary to Tip 4 is:

4.1. Give yourself permission to not read everything.  

You can’t read it all. It’s impossible.  So stop feeling guilty about it.

4.2. No. Seriously. Don’t try to read it all.

Later in this post, I will explain how you can have have all the awesomeness of the internet delivered to you automatically. That can then become an additional source of stress.

Journal Table of Contents in your inbox? For a journal you haven’t looked at in months? Unsubscribe.
Feed or bookmark for a blog that updates rarely, or doesn’t match your interests anymore? Delete.
Be realistic. If you have a bunch of stuff sitting in your inbox, and you haven’t read it in weeks? It’s not urgent, and you can just delete or archive it.

Before you start using any of the tools I’m going to tell you about, take a hard look at what you are doing right now in terms of your reading and work habits.  What can you stop doing?

Look at your “dumb things I gotta do” list and get rid of items that are vague.  Take a day and clean your inbox and workspace completely.  Have you turned off your email notifications, so that you aren’t interrupted constantly?  Everything piled up digitally or physically around you is taking up emotional space.

This paper (just pages 4-8 to skip the academic jargon) has a very nice summary of the Getting Things Done methodology. Give it a look. GTD made a HUGE difference in my stress levels when I found it 7 yrs ago.

Now you are ready, grasshopper.

4.3 Use tools to make the time you spend sifting and looking for information as short and convenient as possible.

Still clicking through a bunch of bookmarks to look at stuff? Dude. UR Doin’ It Wrong.  You can have information delivered to you!

Many of my readers already know this, but I find that when I start talking about “RSS feeds” to my medium to low-tech-savvy friends, eyes tend to glaze over.  So let’s have a very brief review, and then jump into tools I like.

You can even get your comments via feed!XML is basically a type of web language that contains the content of a blog, newspaper, or many other types of media,  stripped of formatting and packaged to be portable. XML feeds are usually indicated with an icon; this orange RSS one is the most common.  Here’s the Bug Blog Feed, for example.  Because of this packaging, you can have news, blog posts and comments, or journal Table of Contents ported into a web application or emailed to you at your convenience.

Personally, I try to avoid having emails sent, because it not only further clutters my inbox, but it is delivered to me when it’s convenient for the publisher, not me.  Then it sits there in the inbox.  J’accuse! You have not done your reading!

Email is such a bastard sometimes.

4.4. Sometimes being a tool is a good thing.

Here are my favorite tools to automate my reading; most of them work on a “dashboard” model that allows you to arrange your feeds into groups, and even play a little with colors.  The key here is that I retrieve information when it is convenient for ME. Not when it is published.