OceansOnline Plenary Speaker Danielle Brigida: Social Media Maven

By Keni Rienks

With such accolades as “one of 10 People to Follow Who are Saving the World” and “Social Media MVP”, Danielle Brigida is the perfect addition to OceansOnline. As one of the plenary speakers for the special IMCC 5 add-on day, Danielle’s experience with promoting conservation through social media has led her through a decade of successful outreach and communication.

I asked Danielle to paint us a larger picture of her career path and strategies before we have the pleasure of hearing her speak next month:

How do you use social media to communicate your research?

I’ve been using social media to engage people around conservation issues for the past 12 years, and I’m always learning and meeting fascinating people. While the platforms and techniques have changed, some of these tactics still help me day to day:

  • Listen. All. The. Time. We often strategize how much to post when we’re talking about social media. But the truth is, I think a lot of social media success can come from being a good listener. I have found listening or monitoring keywords, friends, thought leaders and topics to be one of the best ways to understand and engage with the communities I am a part of. I prioritize listening over talking, and follow and engage with conversations of current and desired audiences so that I can better identify ways to engage and help bridge their connection to wildlife.
  • Be present daily, even if just for a short time.  I try to check in daily and find this builds trust but also expectation (so be careful!). I use social media and aim to be a reliable member of the community.
  • Own what you don’t know. I work to show that I’m there to curb misinformation and be a resource. Of course I make tons of mistakes doing this! But the key is to apologize, correct the errors and work to prevent future issues.
  • Share what you know.  I use social media to connect with experts and leaders in different areas, whether business, government, nonprofit, etc. I want to be the first person they think of if they need help around an issue about wildlife so that I can direct them where they need to go.
  • Tap into creativity and everyday life. There’s so much to be in awe of and draw inspiration from—don’t limit yourself! Use tasteful humor, art, and others to inspire you and play online. When you’re enjoying yourself, that passion translates and makes others enjoy your company.

Bobcat shark

Being creating when sharing messages on social media is one good way to help reach more people! (© Twitter)

 What advice do you have for someone who is interested in online communication but isn’t sure where to start?

Whether you’re communicating about your personal research or on behalf of an organization, what has worked for me is remembering to always add value and passionately participate. Follow people you want to learn from, interact with them where you see fit and determine how you’ll be a perspective that is meaningfully unique. If you’re just getting started, learn the technology and the communities that exist within each platform, but never forget your humanity and to have fun!

Where do you see science communication in 10 years from now?

In seeing how people document wildlife and nature, I’ll be interested to see how we continue to blend online and offline experiences. We bring our phones out into nature often now, we watch bald eagle webcams, we are constantly learning and perceiving new information based on technology enhancements that make our research stronger and deeper. I’m definitely interested in how our realities shift to incorporate AI, AR, and VR but also how those can become knowledge sharing platforms for researchers and scientists as well.

There is already a trend toward humans seeing animals as individuals, more than just broad species. I see this playing into research and how we track and follow wildlife in interesting ways. Maybe in how we discuss research or how we connect to the public.

Danielle 4

The common use of technology, like smart phones, in the field makes connecting with people easier these days. (© US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Have you had any run-ins with “trolls”? If so, how did you handle it?

Representing a government agency online, I very much want to encourage peaceful unrest on our channels. We make decisions, and often someone is unhappy or displeased. When we receive negativity around decisions online, I want to give people a place to express themselves, but in a respectful way.

We do receive a lot of negativity and some trolls, but most of the people I interact with are just very passionate. I try not to dismiss anyone, but see most conversations as an opportunity to clear up misinformation. That being said, when someone is just trying to get a rise out of you, keeping your cool, responding with factual information and dropping it is my best advice.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that a real person reads their comments, and I hope to convey that when I respond. Their yelling on Twitter or Facebook isn’t actually influencing decisions. You can be rude or mean to our social accounts all you want, but the way to enact change is through the more traditional channels still.

Where do you think the largest gaps are in science communication?

I think science communicators are doing a great job connecting with one another and forming a tighter bond online—I see this on Twitter and I’m heartened by it. However, I think there is still opportunity to reach out to people who don’t yet know they love science (everyone!). It’s a fine balance between fostering a curiosity in people and remaining accurate. Sometimes we forget how far encouragement goes. Often I see scientists pointing out flaws over encouraging people. The more we can jump into conversations by adding value, the better—but just remember that sometimes the message will be better received if done in a gentler way.

I think there is a lot of room to make research and our work relevant, but sometimes that means going outside of our current comfort zone and having the challenging conversations that not only relate to people but that inspire them in hopeful ways.

What role should scientists play in science communication, particularly online?

I think scientists can help shape a lot of the discourse online in a positive way. There’s currently a lot of misinformation out there, and by engaging in conversations and helping to provide logic, reason, and the wonder and passion that got you into your field, you can provide a huge value to the online space, and to science in general. Scientists can help represent their field, and remind people that supporting the brightest minds and supporting the scientific method will keep us focused and continuously learning as a society. I want us to continue to be supportive of one another, and I have great reason to hope we will.

What are you hoping delegates take away from your plenary talk at OceansOnline?

I hope they feel inspired to explore and empower people on social media. We need their voice. We need their curiosity. I want them to see that by being human beings online, we have a great potential to make incredibly important relationships and help represent scientists in a very positive way that inspires others to support or join the field.

What are you most excited for during IMCC and/or OceansOnline?

Meeting the attendees and learning from everyone! I love meeting people in this field. From what I know, it’s such an incredible group and I think the more we can work together the more successful we will be.

Follow Danielle on Twitter (@starfocus) and tune-in to her blog!

Keni Rienks (@kenirienks) is the Communications Chair for OceansOnline and one of the organizers for the 1st International Marine Kids Congress. She is a high school science teacher in Wilmington, NC, USA, and a graduate student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.


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