A few words about social media and DLR's online communications
Ever more frequently, we in the DLR Communication Department have to answer the question how and why we use social networks and social media in our work. In this blogpost I'd like to go into our social media strategy - and to explain our approach to online communications in general.
First of all, I have to emphasise that the DLR's web portal is the key medium with regard to our entire communications strategy. Everything comes together here: Breaking news, press releases, interviews, videos and webcasts, electronic editions of the DLR magazine, as well as live web transmissions, image galleries, animations and much more.
In the same way, social media have been growing in importance for quite a while now - around two and half years - also for a big research organisation and space agency like DLR, which stands not only for excellence in scientific research but also for technology, innovation and progress. For this reason we started using the most important social media in our work early on - widening our target audience-based approach and taking the initiative ourselves.
Obviously the 14 to 29 year age group, making heavy use of social media, is very important to us - of course also because we at DLR would appreciate very much if young people interested in space and aeronautics were to decide to work for DLR in the future. But other important factors also play a role here. As a complex organisation with a multitude of activities, DLR cannot hope that www.DLR.de and its publications and formats will be found or browsed by all potential readers and users – especially since, as a public institution, we are not allowed to run publicity or image campaigns. My colleague Henning Krause put it like this: "Go where the people are!" and I think he hit the nail on the head: with half a billion Facebook and YouTube users and around 200 million Twitter subscribers (Source: Google, "1000 most-visited sites on the web"), there can be little doubt of it. So we haven't sat back and waited for our target groups to come to us, but actively approached them: two years ago we set up channels on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Livestream, and their popularity is growing.
With a little delay - due to complex development - our DLR Blogs platform went live in January this year. As the originator of this platform, I’m quite satisfied with 30,000 unique visitors so far. It is still under construction, with four blogs now active, and as we find new bloggers, we will of course be further expanding the site. DLR Blogs is also a good example of a very important further factor in the use of social media: feedback. Practically all social media platforms, whether produced in-house (like DLR Blogs) or external (like YouTube) offer the possibility for direct contact: users can contact us or one of our authors by commentary, trackback, Twitter-"@"- Mention or sending direct messages, etc., and usually get an answer in a very short time. Email and web-based contact forms are perceived as less transparent and flexible by users, at least in my opinion, and are being used less. Our statement in this regard is: we want our users to be able to speak to us and reach us, we want to react quickly in an open and transparent way and, occasionally, also in realtime. Henning Krause will be writing another blog article about this in near future - as he has already done with regard to the German Aerospace Day 2009.
Despites the popularity of our social media platforms, we also get criticised: blogs, Twitter and Facebook are often seen as being unsound (both inside and outside the DLR) and as unsuited for the communication of complex research. Twitter in particular, due to the communication of sometimes trival or senseless information, is often harshly criticised - but this is true for other social platforms as well. But the way I see it, social media, with their enormous numbers of users, are just a reflection of the entity of internet users and hence of society as a whole: the significant coexists with the trivial, the complex with the simple, the sophisticated with the primitive. The World Wide Web itself was criticised in just this way a long time ago - and since then has emerged as a mass medium with a comparable reach to that of TV, as the latest ARD/ZDF Online Study 2010 (german only) confirms: "76 percent of German internet users go online every day. The reach of the internet has grown to be almost the same as that of television: for the majority of users, the internet is part of everyday life, used almost every day". That pretty much says it all.
Top image: Historic WWW logo, designed by Robert Cailliau. Source: Wikipedia, public domain.