Recently, John White did a twitter poll on the ratio of native rodent species compared to introduced ones. He encouraged his audience to retweet the post, resulting in 6000 views and 397 votes. In his niche, that is an awesome result.
My first thought when seeing those results was that the results were going to be skewed. John is an Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and a wildlife photographer. His approachable tweet style and regular photos attract anyone who has an interested in biology. These include naturalists, students, academic peers and citizen scientists. It was incredibly likely that the person voting would have an advanced understanding of ecology compared to the general public.
The resulting tweet showed that over half of the respondents thought that there were either no native rats, or that there were more introduced rats then native.
Thanks to all for participating in the Oz rodent poll. Interesting outcome😀
I wonder how these results would be across other species groups? pic.twitter.com/8f5oZYHjc5
— John White Wildlife (@JWhiteWildlife) October 16, 2016
I saw the tweet and immediately knew it wasn’t representative of most peoples understanding of native rodents. I’ve been birdwatching for 3 years and have only begun paying attention to mammals in the past 12-18 months. I’m only aware of the plight of many rodents due to following so many academics and ecologists on social media.
I looked at the data
I’ve been out of the digital marketing scene for a couple of years due to mental health issues. I could only see 20 of those who had retweeted but half of those were heavily involved in ecology and conservation. They were an ecologist, a student or worked as a science communicator.
I need to emphasize that isn’t a proper analysis and that my views are based on my past experiences in community management.
What this means
This reminded me of what I used to write viral list posts for Problogger, detailing the top bloggers to watch for the next year. My first experience was in 2009. My twitter feed went nuts. There was a lot of conversation in multiple communities I was part of online. I was so excited that I asked Darren, the blog owner, how the traffic had compared to previous years. His answer? It was the same.
This was my first attempt at curating a list post like this. And, as one commenter pointed out, there was a definite bias. I focused on reaching people with one main audience. Within those readers, there were smaller audiences that had a lot of overlap. A lot of the conversation on social media was limited to those within that community.
I suspect the same applied to this twitter poll. And, it isn’t that big of a deal – it’s just one unofficial poll. I do believe it is worth being aware
How could he have changed the results?
I’m not sure. He could join certain Facebook groups, where there seems to a higher number of amateurs seeking help. He could have asked somebody else to run the twitter poll, although that may not have had the same impact.
This post is less of a critique and more about making sure that science communicators are aware that there audiences may have more knowledge then the average person. Different audiences will need different strategies. Always pay attention to the types of people who are sharing your message.