Mashable, the online go-to source for information on digital and social media, has declared today, June 30, to be social media day. We're celebrating with a who's who of those promoting stem cell science through social media and a comment on why social media is such a valuable tool for science education.
First, why social media? Many times I've had disbelievers tell me that there's no way to educate people about complex topics in 140 characters or less (Twitter) or through a sentence or two on Facebook. This is true. However, there's nothing like Twitter or Facebook for propagating interesting news articles, exciting discoveries or fascinating blog entries (ahem).
In today's media landscape there's a shortage of science reporters writing accurate, in-depth news stories. If, for example, Keith Darce at the San Diego Union Tribune writes something excellent about stem cell science I want all stem cell fans in Los Angeles, San Francisco, D.C., and internationally to see it. If I post a link to that article it goes to our ~700 Twitter followers and ~1,300 Facebook fans, but if those people "like" or retweet the link, it can easily be seen by tens of thousands of people. Not a bad return on 140 characters and a few minutes of my time, I'd say.
Here's the other thing. When I post to Facebook or Twitter the first people I'm talking to are those who are already following CIRM. It's important to keep our existing supporters informed — but it's also important to be reaching new people. Social media helps with that. I can't assume that everyone out there on Facebook, Twitter or reading blogs knows or cares about stem cell research. But many of those people care about diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injury or other disorders. If I write a blog entry about CIRM's diabetes awards and post it to Twitter, thousands of people who follow the word "diabetes" on Twitter will see it. (On Twitter you can follow words or topics, not just individuals.) And maybe because a person follows diabetes, they'll click my link and read my post and learn how CIRM-funded stem cell scientists are working toward a therapy for that disease. Education! In 140 characters or less.
Are you inspired? I'd love to see a few more stem cell advocates following CIRM and being a part of the online stem cell conversation. Here's a link to our Facebook page and Twitter account.
CIRM isn't alone in valuing social media. Many other California state agencies are keeping taxpayers in the loop through social media (here's a list), and other state or national stem cell organizations are quite active, most notably Missouri Cures, Texans for Stem Cell Research, New York Stem Cell Foundation, Irish Stem Cell Foundation, Scottish Stem Cell Network, Australian Stem Cell Centre, and the Canadian Stem Cell Network (which recently had an excellent blog post about the value of scientists communicating on the web). Patient advocates like Roman Reed also promote stem cell research to a wide fan-base online.
But the social media stem cell conversation isn't all backslapping among like-minded organizations. As Paul Knoepfler, a CIRM grantee at University of California, Davis, often points out on his excellent blog, those opposed to stem cell research are also active, and very organized in how they promote their views.
If you want to see research with all forms of stem cells and good national stem cell research policies, then celebrate Social Media Day by following your favorite stem cell or science organization and joining the conversation. Invite a few friends to join with you. (Have I mentioned our Facebook page and Twitter accounts?)
You can generally find Facebook and Twitter links on an organization's home page. Comment on posts, retweet articles you want people to read. It only takes a minute and can help spread the word about progress being made in stem cell science.