A field guide to ocean science and conservation on twitter

A few of my colleagues recently came to me looking for advice on how to get started on twitter. Even for seasoned marine scientists who grew up during the internet revolution, establishing a twitter presence can be a daunting task. When used well, it provides a steady stream of news, commentary, and discussion that can provide broad insight into the current state of marine science and conservation. When used poorly, twitter can become a continuous, unrelenting torrent of irrelevant nonsense, punditry, and manufactured controversy. I put this guide together to provide a foundation for those interested in using twitter to engage with the Ocean Community.

There are several great basic guides on how to get started on twitter, so, rather than reinventing the wheel, here are a few of my favorite resources:

All of these guides have some good advice, but really, the best thing you can to get a feel for twitter is to create a personal account and play around for a week or two. Always start with a personal account. You’re going to make mistakes, faux pas, or perhaps accidentally tweet something that you’d wish you hadn’t. You don’t learn to ride a bike on a Pinarello Dogma 60.1 and you shouldn’t learn to use a new social media tool on an account that will be permenently linked to your online reputation.

Once you have a rough feel of how twitter works, you should decide how you want to use it. Are you looking for a rapidly updating newsfeed or do you want to have conversations with other people in the field? Are you interested in tracking politics or finding out about the latest science? Do you just want a few interesting articles to read every day without spending too much time searching for them? The good news is that you don’t need to have a concrete idea of what you’re looking for going in, your twitter account can evolve and change with your interests.

There are dozens of articles out there (and that’s only focusing on the Science Blogging Community) instructing people that they absolutely must use twitter, that it is essential for professional development, that if you’re not logged on, you’ll be left in the dust. These are wrong. Twitter is a tool. It’s a very useful tool for some people, and a very poor tool for others. It’s a way to find information and have conversations, but it’s not the only way to do either of those, and it’s not the best way for everyone. If you decide twitter is not for you, that’s perfectly fine, and the people claiming every scientist should tweet have, perhaps, an unrealistic view of what the medium is actually capable of accomplishing.

Now that we’ve gotten some of the philosophy out of the way, let’s talk about the real reason you’ve read this far: who should you follow on twitter to maximize marine science and conservation information and minimize irrelevant fluff. There’s actually two qualitatively different groups of people that you want to connect with, the broadcasters and the engagers. Please note that twitter is a dynamic place, and while these recommendations may serve you well today, they may not be as useful a year from now.

Broadcasters are your go-to sources for information. They’re the ones with their finger on the pulse of marine science and conservation news. They tweet the latest information from a variety of sources and many different disciplines. While they’re not always the ones having discussions about specific topics, they are a great source to find out who is, by watching who they retweet.

But twitter is a conversation, and the Ocean Community on Twitter is a big and engaging bunch. You can log on at almost any time of the day and find oceans tweeps discussing any number of ocean issues from the recent developments of the Rio +20 convention to the finer points of flatworm penis fencing. Fair warning, the conversation can get raucous.

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of Ocean engagers on twitter, but, if you follow these few people, you should quickly build a list of accounts to follow based on who they’re talking to.

Starting with these 18 accounts will provide you with a decent coverage of the Ocean Community on twitter. By tracking who they talk to and retweet, you can begin to expand your list of people to follow. And don’t be afraid to dive into conversations, we’d love to hear from you.

There are plenty of great ocean celebrities, like Sylvia Earle, Carl Safina, and Wallace J. Nichols on twitter, but if you’re already interested in marine science and conservation, you probably have a good idea of the ocean celebrities you want to follow.

There are two final issue that you should keep in mind before you begin your dive into twitter:

1) Hashtags: hashtags (words that begin with a pound-sign “#”) are easy ways to track conversations. Because hashtags emerge from specific conversations and events, and tend to erode once the event is over, or become so popular as to become useless, there aren’t any specific hashtags to follow right out of the gate. #DeepSN is managed by the Deep Sea News crew and will give you plenty of info, but if you’re already following them, you’ll see it anyway.

2) Followbacks: you are, absolutely and unambiguously, not required to follow anyone regardless of how many times they tweet you asking for a followback. You follow the people you are interested in and there is no obligation to follow anyone that you’re not interested in. The fastest way for your twitter feed to become flooded with irrelevant and pointless tweets is to follow every single person that follows you.


  1. coturnix · June 30, 2012

    Great! I also like to send new Twitter users this post by Anton:

  2. Southern Fried Scientist · June 30, 2012

    Awesome, I totally missed that one when it came out. Adding it to the list now.

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