Hi – We are Michelle Cerrone and Daniel Light and we are researchers at EDC on an NSF-funded project, Twitter and Informal Science Learning and Engagement (TwISLE) that is exploring how adults use Twitter to engage with institutions like museums, zoos, and government science agencies.
For TwISLE we’ve interviewed and surveyed Twitter science enthusiasts around the country, and have learned a lot about the realities of recruiting research participants via Twitter. NASA may have 5 million Twitter followers, but getting ten to take a survey was harder than expected!
The networked world is full of noise and recruitment is not just getting someone’s attention, but also fostering a connection – even a minimal one. We have learned to use the cultural norms of Twitter to help us out.
Lesson Learned #1: Request to follow the people you are interested in talking to. For the initial set of interviews we identified frequent “retweeters” of science-related tweets and then tweeted interview invitations to dozens of them. But, we got no replies. After a bit more experimenting, we found that we got far more responses by sending invites through Twitter’s direct message system. The only catch is that in order to send a direct message, that person must be following you. We found it surprisingly easy to get someone to follow us – we just had to follow them first! Even though people followed us back without knowing who we were, once they are a follower people are more willing to consider speaking with us.
Lesson Learned #2: Survey requests need to come from a trusted and connected account. It was actually easier to recruit for interviews than for a 5-minute survey! For our first survey, we tweeted 10-15 invites a day for two weeks to @NASA, and multiple hashtag conversations about science-related events (i.e. #EarthDay or #plutoflyby). Only 6 people took the survey. Since then, we get science organizations to tweet out the invitation and we get better responses. Recently, a natural history museum working with us got 130 completed surveys after three invites.
Lesson Learned #3: Survey recruitment needs multiple and well-timed tweet invites. First, you need to tweet the invite multiple times since you never know when people are looking and have time to take a survey. But there is an even more important aspect of timing that will impact your sample. These science organizations have large and diverse followings; events going on in the real world influence which segment of their followers are looking at Twitter. For a zoo we worked with, half of the survey responses came in the night of a gala fundraiser and our sample over-represented the highly educated science professionals who support the zoo’s science research.
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