Social Media in Science Communication: Why You Should Plan to Attend OceansOnline 2018!


By Keni Rienks

Information moving from conversation to the digital world is not news. Communication of scientific research, data, and revelations is hard-pressed to make it to the printing press anymore. The hashtag is the new Dewey Decimal system. Science communication, or #scicomm, is becoming the prominent way for scientists to promote their field of study and research. In fact, at the last science conference I attended, I’m not sure I was asked my name before I was asked for my Twitter handle!

Danielle Brigida

OceansOnline 2018 Plenary Speaker @starfocus – a #scicomm expert. (© Keni Rienks)

Science and social media outlets

Scientists who make themselves available on social media are a gift to one another, educators, citizen scientists, and the media. And the number that are professionally utilizing social media is on the increase. A 2016 study entitled How Are Scientists Using Social Media in the Workplace? discovered its survey pool had a large percentage of Twitter users, with the majority of that utilizing it for less than two years. Social media usage is hot!

The authors of Digital environmentalism: Tools and strategies for the evolving online ecosystem reference the popularity of blogging. Many scientists read blogs and write their own blogs, and it is common to share science-themed blogs with colleagues.

IMCC4 Social Media Workshop

Participants and leaders of the IMCC4 Social Media Workshop. (©David Shiffman)

Opportunities for learning

Many universities today provide formal and informal courses on professional social media strategies. And, as you can imagine, many of these are instructed virtually.

My own formal experience with this alt-world of science communicators came in 2016 when I attended and presented at OceansOnline. This event was an extension to the 4th International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC4). Roughly 150 delegates and presenters collaborated on best-practice cyber-com for people working in marine science and conservation. Various workshops and facilitated discussions inspired delegates to get involved themselves. Topics included how online communication aided in policy making, collaboration and communication across scientific disciplines, integrating online tools in marine management, and educators virtually connecting students and scientists. These and many more topics discussed highlighted the importance the digital world can have for science education and conservation!

Student-Scientist Partnerships is one such platform discussed at OceansOnline last summer. Founder and coordinator, Patrick Goff, collects a database of volunteer scientists willing to Skype into classrooms to chat with students. His participation at OceansOnline gained him many more of these valuable connections to bring to his middle school class and greatly expanded his list of volunteers!

Keni & Patrick

Goff and myself in 2016 at #IMCC4 where we co-presented on using social media to connect students to science. (©Ocean Optimism)

OceansOnline has its roots in the first ScienceOnline: Oceans, founded by Southern Fried Science bloggers Dr. Andrew Thaler and Dr. David Shiffman in 2013. No strangers to the social media scene, Thaler and Shiffman have maintained their persona as some of the most well-known bloggers and Tweeters in the science communication virtual world. Shiffman served as the first OceansOnline conference chair, and Thaler was the first conference plenary speaker. Both social media celebrities will be returning to the 2nd OceansOnline, on the 29th of June 2018, in Kuching, Malaysia. This will serve as the final event of the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC).

“OceansOnline is a unique event for anyone interested in using the internet for public education and outreach related to the ocean! It brings together scientists, environmental advocates, and educators from all kinds of backgrounds who share a love for the ocean. There’s just nothing else like it.

My favorite part about OceansOnline is the facilitated discussion format. We assume that the collective wisdom and experience of the audience is greater than that of those leading a particular discussion, and events are run with that in mind. It leads to some very open and informal discussions that benefit everyone in attendance, even the organizers! I loved popping in between the different sessions, which cover a huge variety of topics. I learned so much from all of our attendees!” —- David Shiffman


Curious about science communication and conservation? Wondering how you can develop yourself and your message to reach key audiences online? Then come join our community at @OceansOnline and we hope to see you in Kuching!


Collins, K., Shiffman, D., & Rock, J. (2016, October 12). How Are Scientists Using Social Media in the Workplace? PLOS ONE. Retrieved from

Smith, N. S., Cote, I. M., Martinez-Estevez, L., Hind-Ozan, E. J., Quiros, A. L., Johnson, N., . . . Shiel-Rolle, N. (2017, August 2). Diversity and Inclusion in Conservation: A Proposal for A Marine Diversity Network. Frontiers in Marine Science, 234. Retrieved from

Thaler AD, Zelnio KA, Freitag A, MacPherson R, Shiffman D, Bik H, Goldstein M, McClain C (in press)

Digital Environmentalism: Tools and strategies for the evolving online ecosystem. Forthcoming,

2012 in SAGE Reference – Environmental Leadership: A Reference Handbook D. Gallagher (Ed.).

Keni Rienks is a high school science teacher and ocean-lover from Wilmington, NC, USA. She assisted in the organization of IMCC4 and is the Communications Chair for OceansOnline. Rienks is currently pursuing a Masters of Environmental Management degree at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.