A recent discussion on the Sea Grant webmasters’ email list suggests that while most of the 30 (or 32, depending on how you count us) Sea Grant programs are interested in the outreach and information possibilities posed by social media, few have had the time or staff resources to do much about it yet.

For those few programs that have tested the social media waters, the effort appears to be paying off. Here’s what they report:

Michigan Sea Grant: Primarily uses Twitter, making multiple posts a day. Much of it is “recycled” program content, but they also tweet about breaking Great Lakes news.  They also maintain a presence on FaceBook, YouTube and Flickr. Their web referral statistics show that those who come to the program’s site via a Twitter link stay longer and go deeper into the site than the average visitor. Insights gained, according to communicator Stephanie Ariganello:

  1. Whatever social media platform you choose, keep at it. Fresh content is what keeps people reading your blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed., and draws new followers.
  2. Keep your posts interesting and give them a human voice. If the content isn’t engaging, people won’t keep reading. At the same time, don’t mix your personal blog/page/Twitter account with your personal one.
  3. If multiple people are contributing to a single social media outlet, a management system (such as Hootsuite) can help you stay organized by setting up posts to be released on a schedule, managing multiple user accounts, etc. And use Google Analytics or other statistical services  to keep track of the metrics.
  4. Social media is an accompaniment to, not a replacement for, traditional outreach.

Louisiana Sea Grant has a Twitter page, a YouTube channel and a new members-only discussion forum. So far, writes Melissa Dufour, “Our main problem with this so far is that many of the ‘members’ that have signed up are spammers.”

Connecticut Sea Grant has a FaceBook page “but so far most of the ‘fans’ are other Sea Grant programs,” writes Peg Van Patten. As a member of the Long Island Sound Study, the program has been working on a social media plan for over a year with  communicators from the EPA, Sea Grant, state agencies others. “The stumbling block is figuring out exactly what the behavior change we want to bring about is, and what target age set, in order to define the audience and the message.”

New York Sea Grant uses Facebook and Twitter for general news distribution, and blogs for specific projects such as the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewards program. They find blogs to be “a great marketing tool for specific programs or efforts .(while)  Facebook and Twitter have helped to further promote what we’re putting in our regularly-published newsletter, New York Coastlines, as well as other publications and new content added on our Web site.” Writes Paul Focazio: “We’re all certainly very busy, but using these and other social networking tools can serve to enhance the great work we’re doing,  and there’s really not that much time investment when you think of them as other outlets to get out your messages already being circulated via email and other more traditional methods.”

Delaware Sea Grant: Outreach specialist Lisa Tossey manages the program’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter presences, and writes, “Twitter in particular has been a great local networking tool to connect with the community, educators, and leaders. Because of our Twitter feed we were recently invited to an event with the Governor to discuss engaging Delaware residents through social media.”

Most other Sea Grant programs appear to be in the position of Mississippi-Alabama, where Melissa Scheier writes, the two-person communications staff is interested, but “quite busy with what we have to do now.”

Observations: It appears that SG programs with newer/younger communicators are the ones leading the way on social media, probably because they’re already comfortable with the tools. In most cases, social networking seems to be seen as a communications and marketing enhancement, not a tool for direct outreach and engagement.