Science talks go live on Facebook

(This is a guest column by Scott Pegau, research director, Oil Spill Recovery Institute)

Since 1999, Alaska Sea Grant and the Prince William Sound Science Center have hosted a weekly lecture series in Cordova called “Tuesday Talks.” These winter talks feature speakers from government agencies, tribal groups, nonprofit organizations, and research institutes along with other visiting researchers, writers and travelers.

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A recent Tuesday Talk in Cordova, Alaska.

Focused on topics of marine and terrestrial research of interest to Cordova audiences, the talks are hosted by Torie Baker, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agent, and Arissa Pearson, administrative staff with the Prince William Sound Science Center.

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Torie Baker, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agent, and Arissa Pearson, administrative staff with the Prince William Sound Science Center.

Recently, audience participation was expanded thanks to Facebook Live.

“We always are assessing the impact of these talks,” said Baker. “In recent years we’d noticed a slight decline in attendance which led us to wonder if the event was losing local audience ‘market share’ to other evening options including home entertainment like Netflix.”

With new streaming technology available, Baker and Pearson decided to test the waters and see if they could draw new participants to the talks. They looked into the various features of Facebook Live, including its ability to send notifications and to archive events.

“We were a little nervous that online streaming could further reduce in-person attendance, but that hasn’t been the case,” Baker said. “Instead, it’s been similar to the experience of bar owners who have made the decision to go smoke-free. Business has increased.” 20181120_184124

Pearson agreed.

“To our delight, local residents who can’t make the event are accessing the talks from home, and we’re creating a non-resident online audience, a direction we had only dreamed of,” she said.

On average, the live streaming attendance has been in the single digits, but within a few days, views of the archived Facebook presentations are typically between 100 to 350 —a hundred-fold increase in attendance.

In October, a new twist unexpectedly doubled online viewership.

A visiting anthropologist gave a well-attended presentation on a Canadian commercial fishing community case study. The next day she shared the presentation from the Prince William Sound Science Center’s Facebook page to her professional Facebook page.  

“After our speaker posted the PWSSC Facebook link to her page, analytics revealed presentation views doubled from 625 to over 1200,” said Pearson. “Our IT folks tell us this is evidence as to the algorithm strength of her page.”

The next challenge Baker and Pearson are taking on is to invite speakers from outside Cordova to participate in “Tuesday Talks” via video conference.

“We won’t make live streaming the default for ‘Tuesday Talks’ because there might be bandwidth challenges and other issues. There’s also a lot to be said for attending a lecture in person with a live human in the front of the room. But we’ll try this format early next year, gather feedback, and if successful we will add it to our outreach toolbox,” said Baker.