What to expect from chapter 4

Chapter 4:
Social networking and computer modeling aid sea turtles

This chapter is about how the oldest sea turtle conservation organization in the world is leveraging online communication media to reach out to its stakeholders, expand its activities and increase its overall public pres­ence. In addition to having several well crafted websites, they strategically implement Facebook pages, a blog, YouTube videos and Twitter to reach audiences as diverse as young children, government officials and the gen­eral public. Not only do they know their media, they have a reputation for backing up their presentations with solid research data. Therefore, this chapter also includes a discussion of how computational models can be used to present complex information, containing many “unknowns”, in visual formats that are very easy to interpret. Working with limited staff and resources, the organization is using technology to build a community of active supporters and increase their effectiveness for the sea turtle cause.

There are some unique characteristics of this chapter. For example, social networking sites are not always taken seriously as a tool for improv­ing “the bottom line”. Computing disciplines in particular have some­times overlooked the relevance of social networking for a professional computer scientist. This chapter profile demonstrates just how false that perception can be. Like any technology, social networking media can be used well or poorly. In this case, a comprehensive strategy integrating the various social media in alignment with the environmental goals of the organization proves extremely powerful.

With computer science skills you can understand how to really lever­age social media. Perhaps the most obvious and important skill is under­standing user interface (UI) design. Online interfaces should differ from media to media and audience to audience if you want to be effective. One size does not fit all. In addition to coursework in UIs, graphics and multi­media classes are also helpful so you have available at your fingertips all the latest tools – and know how to use them properly.

If you are not already well versed in social networking tools you need to become so. As an active and alert user of blogs, Facebook (etc) you can watch for the nuances of each and study why something “works” or not. By actively contributing (i.e. posting) you will learn what can happen when people engage in conversation online. It can be surprising. Some media may not be appropriate in certain situations and you should know why. It is also helpful if you are interested in portable computing devices because more and more people expect to access online resources from so called “non-traditional” hardware.

It is worth noting that if you work in a for-profit organization, the skillful use of social media is rapidly becoming a skill that differentiates technical people in marketing, sales, training and other areas. If those professional routes appeal to you: go for it. If you are interested in how to make the most of technology without large outlays of funding, if you are interested in working for an environmental cause or non-profit orga­nization, this chapter provides insight into how you as a computer scien­tist can make a career doing so. The opportunities are vast because what social media does, if used properly, is engage an audience.